I’m not a feminist. Never identified as one; never wanted to be one.
I’m an equalitarian.
Firstly, there’s the word itself. ‘Feminism’; I’m no linguistic expert, but it seems to have its roots in the belief in the superiority of, or at least support for, the feminine against the alternative, or alternatives.
Why don’t I like that?
Because I don’t believe women are superior to men; neither do I believe men are superior to women. Each gender has its strengths and weaknesses, but neither is better than the other. Equal, but different. Additionally, I don’t believe that all women (or men) are the same, that they can be easily put in a box marked ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’. People are people; some women act or think more like the average male than like the average female, and the other way around. If I am a feminist, then what am I supporting? A chromosome type, regardless of the qualities that the person expresses? Or if it’s a set of personal qualities, then what if I don’t feel I share them?
The difference in male and female cultures is not just down to societal conditioning; on a population level, men are bigger, more aggressive. It’s a biological thing. Testosterone and all that. It’s hard to separate nature from nurture – do fewer women take part in traditionally male pastimes and careers because they just don’t want to, or because of lingering societal pressure even when the way is officially open to them? – but the research says that men are different from women. End of. So if we agree that men and women are fundamentally different on a population level, what about those individuals who fall outside gender norms? The girl who likes combat sports, and whose friends are mostly male? If we’re talking about feminism as promoting the feminine, does she count? She doesn’t display the ‘usual’ feminine traits.
If we’re talking politically, that feminism is about changing women’s status as the second sex, discriminated against either openly or subtly, why don’t I connect to that? Even as a not-very-feminine woman, surely I can relate to that?
Well, yes and no. But for me, it’s not about ‘up the women’. It’s about equality. For everyone. It’s not just about women wanting to be engineers (in case anyone was wondering, I don’t) and soldiers, and not having it implied that they have to sleep with the boss in order to get promotion. For me, it’s also about men not being discriminated against – being able to be primary school teachers without their female colleagues looking askance at them and treating them like a paedophile-in-waiting. About men being able to be midwives, if they want, without anyone making comments about them only wanting to do it because they get off on it. (To which I would reply, in that case, what about lesbians, and also, sack all the male gynaecologists too.)
Everyone has the right to make their own life choices without being discriminated against, not just women.
Then there’s the whole dungarees-thing.
I’m not against dungarees per se; I even own a pair. But even though dungarees are not nearly as fashionable as they used to be in feminist circles, their ghost is still alive and well and rattling its chains.
This is the school of thought that says that since high heels and nice dresses are symbols of male-dominated society and thus the subjugation of women, a feminist does not wear them because that’s Selling Out.
I mean, WTF? To be a feminist, I have to look dowdy?
Firstly, I object to anyone trying to make my wardrobe choices for me. Secondly, by refusing to wear high heels just because men see it as sexy, that leaves a woman’s wardrobe choices still in the hands of the men. The dungarees-wearers are still the prisoners of male choices, as it were – only instead of wearing high heels because men find them sexy, they’re wearing dungarees because men don’t find them sexy. Personally, I think that’s even worse, because not only are they still allowing others to make their decisions for them, but they also end up wearing something that they don’t like either. Which is, to me, a net loss and I find it hard to see how that could possibly be thought of as an advantage. Bra-burning (or not wearing) is another. I’m not making any comments on my level of endowment, or otherwise, but I will remark that the bra performs a very practical function, especially if one is going to do something more strenuous than a little light flower-arranging, or leaflet-distribution.
I prefer to be an equalitarian and wear what I please, without reference to whether people I don’t even know might consider me a sex object, or not. My choices are my own.
Then there’s the modern feminists who are now saying that it’s not just right for a woman’s place to be in the home, it’s better. A wife and mother is the best thing anyone could possibly be, and it’s an option only open to women. Women should stop wanting to ‘compete with men’ and concentrate on the things they are ideally fitted for by nature, which are more worthwhile, more morally valuable, than ‘men things’. Women should celebrate being women.
This kind of thing doesn’t leave me speechless, because very little ever does (have you noticed that?). But it does make me spitting mad.
This is another reason why I am not a feminist. I object to being defined as a person by my chromosome type, even if it’s a superior chromosome type. Allegedly. A patriarchal society puts all women in a box, saying ‘Women are all like this; these are the things they are good at, and these are the things they are bad at.’ Assigning qualities such as nurturing, compassion, gentleness, and so on to women and then lauding these qualities has a long tradition. It’s been going on for thousands of years, and usually been done by men who wanted to keep women subjugated. Now the feminists are doing it. This can be translated as ‘You can put us in a box, but that’s OK because we like it there; it’s a good box. We don’t want to go outside the box.’
I don’t want to be shut in a box, even a nice box. I want the freedom to choose whether to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, or a top-flight professional, according to my personality and talents. I don’t want it forced on me by anyone else, even by people who say that one way is ‘better’.
To finish with, I have a little illustrative story. It’s true, although it didn’t happen to me; it was told to me by the person to whom it happened.
The year is 1983; the height of the Cold War. The Russians have shot down a South Korean airliner; things are tense, to say the least. And CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) is holding a protest at Greenham Common, outside a Royal Air Force base which is one of the two from which planes would be launched equipped with the nuclear Cruise missile.
A young man, an ardent member of CND, goes on an organised bus trip to the protest camp. Wandering around the camp, he encounters a woman and makes some perfectly respectable comment (about the weather, or the camp, or the protest). He is told to “F*ck off, we don’t need any more men around here. Men are the cause of all the problems.” Supported by her friends.
The young man, astonished by this, leaves, and goes to talk, instead, to the guard on the other side of the wire. This guard is female. And they have an interesting talk about nuclear disarmament, the political situation, the protest, and several other things.
After that, the young man left CND.
OK, the moral of the story?
Well, the obvious thing is that, as my friend remarked to me, that kind of uncalled-for rudeness is enough to make even a man who supports equality into a male chauvinist. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.
But think, we have two women here – who was the better ‘feminist’?
Firstly, the dungaree-wearing (she was, apparently, with a lumpy jumper) political activist feminist who antagonises the very people she should be trying to make into allies?
Or the guard who has forged her career, presumably successfully, in a male dominated area? She proves, every day, to everyone she meets, that she – a woman – can do ‘a man’s job’.
Yes, we need political activists – but we need people who do not automatically see everything as ‘if you’re not with us (and we define that by criteria such as chromosome type, so not everyone is allowed to be ‘with’ us whatever their beliefs) then you’re against us.’ We do not need people who are gratuitously offensive, or who play up to negative stereotypes, thus giving ammunition to our opponents. We need people who will show that women are to be respected, that we can be trusted with authority (a weapon as dangerous as the female guard’s rifle). We need people who can show that women are equal, and therefore it is wrong not to treat us as such.
We also cannot afford to see equality for women as a separate issue to equality for people of all races, or for people of all sexual orientations, or all ages, or equality in any other area. Equality is equality. Inequality spreads, like disease; you can only wipe it out if you wipe it out everywhere.