The F Word – Feminism

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Angie Norman questions the lack of understanding about what feminism is and laments its current use as a derogatory slur.

Forget ‘freak’, ‘fucker’, ‘fatso’, ‘flaccid’, or ‘fake’, it seems what people really don’t want to be called is a feminist. The term has always had a bad rap, but considering the post Sex and the City, Spice Girls, Hillary Clinton world we live in, it is surprising that feminism still has trouble rolling off the tongue in a positive way. Is it still stooped in the 1960’s stigma of hairy legs and questionable hygiene? Are we still bound by some unspoken yet implicit set of rules in regards to the role of women? If you asked the ever vocal Ann Romney, she would happily condemn feminism as the worst “silliness” a woman can partake in, but she is an extremist, isn’t she? Maybe not. It seems that not only do women resent the term, they don’t understand it either.

When interviewed, a group of women aged 16-18 all denied any connection with the women’s liberation movement, more frighteningly each admitted they didn’t understand it. The most common association with the word ‘feminist’ was unfortunately the predictable “lesbianism” and “butch”, while “equality” was often the fifth or sixth thing mentioned. Of the group, only 20 per cent knew who Germaine Greer was, and of that most only knew of her from her most recent somewhat questionable antics. These girls admitted that to be a feminist they believed you had to be “aggressive” or “stop shaving your legs”. These same girls when questioned however expressed a passionate indignation at the idea of being discriminated against because of their gender. This same group of young women demonstrated a desire to be both socially and financially independent, and admired women who portrayed independence, such as Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton.

So why is it that these females were so afraid to be a feminist?

Sadly, because they were still entrenched in an archaic anti-female attitude, often subconsciously instilled through media and offhand comments. Many of these women commented that “strong women are portrayed as bitches or kind of manly”, that it wasn’t a desirable perception to foster, fearing social judgement, or some kind of identity as an extremist. Feminism was not only a dirty word, but it was socially and culturally repressive to this group – the complete opposite to what it was intended to be. The group claimed the main perpetuator was the media, with ‘strength’ and ‘femininity’ being unconnected ideas, but rather ‘sex’ and ‘women’ was the supposed preferred combination.

So is the sexualisation of females undermining the feminist movement?

If you reviewed the modern feminist community, which despite what my interviews indicated are absolutely active, the answer would be yes. The most common concern of these Third Wave feminists, known affectionately as RiotGrrrls, is the two highly linked cultures of “slut shaming” and “rape culture”. As uncomfortably titled as these movements are, they address and rebel against the Western world’s pathological societal obsession and demonisation of female sexuality witnessed in the form of international “Slut Walks”. These walks confront the idea that women are “asking for [rape]” with streams of women in everything from their lingerie to their Doc Martins, holding placards challenging the onus upon women “to not get raped”. This movement also avidly works to demolish “Slut Shaming”, in which female sexuality is presented as innately evil and somehow so perverse that extreme social reactions are acceptable, thus fostering Rape Culture. The modern feminist will also lambaste against societal pressure of beauty and perfection, targeting preconceived ideals of gender and the concept of “woman” perpetuated via the various industries invested in such an image.

This image is of the supposed “perfect” woman, who is often scantily clad, thin, big-busted, non-confrontational and generally happy. This image, which is promoted by million-dollar industries, works against feminism as it presents women as objects rather than individuals. This fosters a norm rather than exploring an individuality, presenting the unattainable vision of what a woman should be rather than could be. The damaging (anti-feminist) aspect of this is, once a norm is established, prolifically so, abnormality instantly becomes a possibility. Thus, the negative social connotations of female independence, strength or determination are instilled as somehow not feminine.

Within Australia, women supposedly enjoy the same rights as men, and in some cases men will argue more so. We are told there is no glass ceiling anymore and are placated with the images of Julia Gillard and Gina Reinhart as proof, yet the statistics don’t back that up. For every dollar the typical university educated heterosexual man earns, a woman earns 80 cents. Women are still underrepresented within the higher echelons of politics, both state and federal. For every 17 male CEOs, we have one female. A woman’s net worth tends to be seventy five per cent of a male’s net worth in the same position, and women are also more likely to be passed over for promotions within the workforce.

Maybe the fear of the dreaded F word – feminist – enabled statistics like those stated above. It is this fear which allows anti female attitudes to be fostered. Scarily, it is still the minority of women, even after women fought and died for the milestones of equal pay, suffrage and self-determination, who can proudly profess themselves as feminist without fear of stigma. We are living in a world where presidents and world leaders are able to diminish women’s roles and rights and still be endorsed by women. Maybe “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t back women”, as Margaret Albright said. Maybe that hell is the result of anti-feminist movements skewing the society we live in and further enabling an illusion of equality to be propagated while women are discriminated against? Maybe.