Tuesday, 9 February 2016

secret: on feminism, feminists and more


As a white middle-class tertiary-educated woman, there are a multitude of claims and descriptors and arguments and rules and pre-conceptions that I trip over myself to avoid while also naming myself a feminist.

Claiming "female success" and the success of feminism elicits two responses. It intimates an end point, a final win. That the work and the goals of feminism and feminists have been met. That we have achieved equality. This seems wrong for countless reasons and listed pages of evidence that I mostly have neither the inclination nor the time and energy to write. The second response is the instinct to urge caution: don’t let the Patriarchy know we are doing well! They will respond by squashing us even smaller than before. They will redouble their attack. The backlash will be swift and unflinching.

There is a third response, which is: heck yes. Be afraid. Feminists/Bitches get stuff done. This one is muffled by the others, but it is there.

Feminism may have succeeded, but it also continues to succeed, and will log more success in the future. There is a real danger coming from those quietly chipping away at our energy by telling us it’s all been done already. Or that we should be happy with the progress we’ve made, as though there is not much more work to do. Or that things could be so much worse, that 'other people have real problems'.  Some of the key offenders and perpetrators of the ‘feminism is over’ story (a definite myth, let’s be honest) are (always) the ones who stand to benefit by way of our progress, motivation, anger and fire being set aside, distracted, placated into uneasy quiet.

I am not in any way interested in talking about post-feminism. I am only just on board with this concept of waves of feminism, because where waves from the ocean are dictated by the moon, so it feels to me that waves of feminism are dictated by historians and patriarchists (I made up a word, you're quite right) – to me this makes feminism a phase, or a collection of inconvenient phases. With all due respect to the suffragettes and the radical women in overalls with sassy signage, marching down city street and stopping traffic, with all respect to each woman who fought for any of the glorious joys I am consuming on a daily basis (the voting, the birth control, the right to the Morning After pill and the right to a safe abortion and the right to lean heavily on the crowd of strong, bossy, insubordinate women who spoke up before me while I speak up too, and loudly) I do not accept feminism in the prescribed phase format. We’ve been doing it for bloody ages and we’re doing it now and we will. Keep. Doing. It.

Long into the future.

There's a bit of outdated academic reading out there where the folk doing the arguing sit back and try to make the point that young women right now are rejecting feminism. That women being aware of and compliant to and complicit with the sex and the pornography and the high heels and the mascara and the hot wax and the prostitution and the red fucking lipstick, that which was rejected so vehemently by the feminists in the 60s and 70s means feminism is being rejected by young women. 

Here we are in 2016, for the next few moments at least. Now, where we are is most definitely not post-feminist. You ask Beyonce. You ask Roxanne Gay or Clementine Ford or Jes Baker or any other person I could name for you with more time and less respect for the apparent need for evidence. Unfortunately we did not buy the story that feminism was over. A backlash to your backlash, motherfuckers. Feminism looks different again, to me at least, or perhaps I’m searching for difference.

I don’t just want to be talking about wage gaps (although being that we live in a capitalist system it seems a pretty blatant oversight to pay women less for the same work – shouldn’t the patriarchy be hiding the evidence, not making a gap so obvious and easily put forward to compare an amount of cents to a dollar?).

I don’t just want to be talking about female reproductive rights (although why a gang of old white men should have so much impact on my ovaries is completely beyond me).

I don’t just want to be talking about the prevalence of rape culture in our media, down to the bare bones of the words that come out of our mouths (although if it’s gotten to the point that young women are carrying mattresses around college campuses in protest, we probably need to sit down for a chat).

I don’t just want to pick a few battles; I want to partake in a constant and evolving dialogue/Tumblrblog about all these things as well as cultural appropriation, discrimination against those not able-bodied, resistance to marriage equality, transphobia, body positivity, racial discrimination, refugees and detention centres, rights of animals. I want to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land. I want to listen to people who have voices either rusty from lack of use or hoarse from shouting their stories, either way to listen for truths that are not being heard.

I want to negotiate a way to apologise for the clusterfuck of a national heritage I’ve inherited as 6th generation white Australian to the people my ancestors killed, displaced and stole. I want to apologise in a way that promises I will do my best to contribute to change.

I want to stand aside and separate from industries that hurt, maim and murder animals, built on a belief that because humans have more means to power over vulnerable little lives we should take them. It should not be so easy to take lives, or to make lives as short and painful as possible. I do not want to participate in a system of oppression over beings that don't have voices with which to defend themselves.

I rant above to illustrate that I am a feminist and that means I care about how everything fits together. Other people do have different problems, but establishing a hierarchy of who's problems are the biggest is a tactic for distraction. Pulling a feminist cause out of any of the above is like trying to pull a loose thread out of a woollen jumper – the whole lot will unravel. It's all my cause. Bless you, patriarchy. I am not distracted. Feminism is not an historical category belonging to a museum, because we’re far from done.

When you tell me feminism is exclusionary, you’re not always wrong. White feminism is most definitely a story written for white women, where white women anniversaries are celebrated and women of any other colour disappear.  I hope I am working towards being the kind of ally I’d like to be. I’ve used some ‘we’ and some ‘us’ and some ‘our’ in this piece but I’ve tried to use plenty of ‘I’ and ‘my’ in this piece as well.  Speaking for myself here I’d like to say if you’re a man and you’re down with what I’m saying, you’re a feminist. Being a man and a feminist is a little tricky for you in the same way being a white woman and a feminist is for me. Do more listening than talking, I think that’s key. Listen, read, ask respectfully. The conversation can be about you, but it is mostly not about you. This is because if you’re chatting with feminists you are chatting with women who are acutely aware that patriarchy has set society up to listen to and cater to you, as a man. You benefit from that in ways you may not have realised yet. Be quiet, listen, and start to realise.

When you tell me you’re not a feminist because you believe in equality, I will dismiss you or dislike you or feel sorry for you or openly ridicule you or calmly explain to you that you need to educate yourself. Patriarchy has done a fantastic job of perpetuating the idea that the Feminists hate Men and are Out to Ruin Everything; that feminists think women are better than men, deserve more than men. This bad press is boring; let us scoff at it and move past it. Let us not pretend that feminism is utopian perfection. Nothing is perfect. Nowhere is utopia. Nobody is flawless, except maybe Beyonce. You know how we deal with that? We let it be imperfect and we keep right on moving forward for better things. We check in with our basic truths constantly, even if only just to reassure ourselves that are motives are sound. Flaws are not ammunition for derailment. No thank you.


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