I’ve been a feminist from a very young age. When my Dad first introduced me to Star Wars, I remember thinking Han Solo was a sexist jerk and that Leia should have chosen nice guy Luke (don’t judge me, that was before I found out about the whole brother/sister thing).
I grew up idolising the Spice Girls and soaking in their message of ‘girl power’ and equalisation between the sexes. These were ladies who loved men, but also loved their female buddies, and insisted that platonic friendships were just as important to them as romantic relationships.
Back then, I was too young and ill-informed to understanding the connotations that came with the term feminism. But it seems that over the last few decades the word has come to mean very different things to different people. For many, it has become synonymous with man-hating, hairy armpits and bra-burning (the latter two of which I have no problem with, but I don’t agree with them being considered requirements of identifying as feminist).
To be clear, according to Dictionary.com, a feminist is a person who advocates social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.
That’s it. No man-hating or razor disposing required. When you look at it like that, no reasonable person would have a problem identifying as a feminist. And yet so many still do (with the notable exception of Tony Abbott, who is not actually a feminist and who is giving the rest of us a bad name by identifying himself as such).
Having said that, I’ve noticed that over the last few years it’s become less and less revolutionary to call yourself a feminist. Many cool male and female role models like Beyoncé, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Tavi Gevinson, John Oliver, Petra Collins, Emma Watson, George R. R. Martin and our own Julia Gillard are helping to educate the world on the philosophy and what it really means.
But I still find myself explaining what the word feminism means time and time again, often to people that are otherwise very intelligent and liberal. Many times I feel like I have to defend my point of view at the risk of appearing overly whingey.
Whenever I find myself doing this, I’m reminded of this quote from Kathleen Hanna: “I would much rather be the ‘obnoxious feminist girl’ than be complicit in my own dehumanisation”.
But are those really my only two options? Either allow gender stereotypes to run rampant or speak out and expose myself as the feminist b*tch that I am? I refuse to live in a society like that. And that’s the reason I wonder if feminism is in need of a rebrand. Not because of the definition, but because of the word itself and the connotations it holds for a lot of people. It’s just a word, but if we want everyone to identify with a word, we need to make sure it’s the right one.
I can see why people get confused, because the term ‘feminism’ obviously refers to females, which for some implies that women are superior to men, rather than simply equal to them. And we have a long way to go until we reach a point of equality. Sexism is still alive and well, even here in affluent, educated Canberra.
Just from my personal experience I can easily come up with dozens of examples of sexist attitudes expressed towards me or those around me. Take for instance the time I was addressing a staff meeting and one of the department managers told his team to make sure they paid attention as I was going to perform a striptease for them. Or count the numerous times I’ve been asked to make photocopies or fetch coffee, while seldom being asked to help move anything like my male colleagues often are. I’ve been told I “throw like a girl” (because I throw poorly just like all females obviously). I’ve been excluded from work events that I had every right to be invited to, seemingly because having an all male group would just be more fun. I’ve even worked in offices where trips to strip clubs and brothels were seen as a reasonable way to reward employees and clients (I myself was never invited of course, nor would I wish to attend).
This has to stop, and I don’t care how we do it. The word feminism is becoming more acceptable, so should we persist in changing perceptions of what this term means, or create a new one altogether? I was thinking something along the lines of ‘gender equalism’, but that seems too awkward and unlikely to catch on. Since I can’t think of a good alternative myself, I want to throw it out to you dear reader. Do you have any ideas for a new term for feminism that would feel more inclusive and marketable? Let us know in the comments.
(NOTE: When searching for a suitable image for this piece, the search term ‘feminism’ came up with a range of images of women in stiletto heels stepping on men’s heads, or s&m style images, or women with their fists up to men… I guess that kind of says something. Canfan)