Feminist, but...

The Mumsnet Poll on Feminism scorned by many as being unscientific and unrepresentative….suggested inter alia that ‘feminism’ has an image problem. This perhaps unsurprising insight has nonetheless renewed the debate on what is modern feminism about. The Mumsnet Poll also revealed that only one in seven among those 1,300 polled self-identified as a feminist despite espousing the causes of feminism. The reasons for rejecting the feminist label, many proposed with tongues-in-cheeks, were, again, not totally unexpected. Feminists were stereotypically; ‘shouty’, hairy-legged, man-haters; dungaree-clad, cat-loving & Saphist. And despite some interviewees & commentators saying all of that sounded perfectly fine to them, there seemed to be an underlying concern that to call oneself a feminist was to seriously threaten claims to sexual attractiveness and social viability.

Independently, in another recent study fear of being seen as ‘feminist’ (or alternatively ‘gay’) was raised as the reason why few men take gender studies courses in university.

However, UK Feminista established in 2010 as the ‘leading national voice for feminism in the UK’ dismisses the discussion on decline of feminism and claims that there is an amazing resurgence in the UK with new ‘grassroots’ groups popping up like mushrooms.

UK Feminista’s lobby of Parliament (24 October 2012)
Throughout its evolution there have been many criticisms of ‘feminism’ other than the sartorial and social concerns expressed through the Mumsnet poll, the most notable being that feminism is a white, educated woman’s concern which has little to say to women of other ethnicities, non-Western cultures or the less well-off, or according to many.. to women who love women. The press coverage of UK Feminista would suggest that it may fall into a somewhat privileged mode (despite the sub-title ‘ a movement of ordinary women and men campaigning for gender equality’) with its march on Parliament led by the great-grand-daughter of the most famous suffragette – Emmeline Pankhurst – though we’ll try not to pre-judge. An important area where we do agree with UK Feminista is in the absolute necessity to engage with men to bring about gender equality. It sounds obvious we know. We’ll be watching their space to see how they get on. It’s difficult not to be concerned that products whose name includes the syllable ‘fem’ are normally exclusively designed for women?
Although it would seem unreasonable for any one group to take on the special issues of all women – and many different brands of feminism have evolved – it would also seem a pre-requisite that groups working against gender discrimination do not discriminate against each other? Nevertheless collaboration for the common cause seems rather rare, not helped of course by competition for funding. Overall there is a tendency to parse the minutest of differences to demonstrate why ‘we’ are ‘us’ and not ‘them’.
gendercentric spotted earlier a rare example of enhanced inclusiveness in ‘Going South’ described as the first Feminist LesBiTransInter Gathering bringing together ‘creative, pleasure-oriented, hetero-dissident feminisms ‘. However, though they have added ‘lesbian feminist trans women’ to the mix in the meeting this time… in addition to ‘female-born lesbian feminists’ (and bisexual, transsexual, transgender, travesty, trans, transmen, lesboflexible, bigender, pansexual, agendered, androgynous )… we can’t help noticing that the G has been dropped from the acronym LBTI though maybe they are covered elsewhere?
In any conversation about feminism sooner or later someone will say ‘but men can be feminists too’ though this is an insight which remains very little operationalized. In general men are still not considered to be fellow soldiers in the same trench, even though Hannah Rosin assures us that they too are an endangered species .
We have discussed elsewhere on this page some European feminist examples of confrontation which seem to defy historical and common sense and perpetuate the impression that men are (always) the enemy
There are many areas where feminists of all stripes need to make more common cause with men and men’s groups in order to achieve the changes they seek. The most obvious of these would be in terms of work life balance and the sharing of child care…this being one of the key issues underlying the gender gap in wages and the continuing under-representation of women in the higher echelons of all institutions. Even in some of the most potentially ‘shouty’ issues such as reducing the incidence of Female Genital Mutilation, the positive involvement of men has been the key to making any progress.
Interestingly enough the term feminism is not much used in development cooperation – perhaps because of some of the connotations noted earlier… white, western, well-off etc. And it is not clear to what extent the Third Wave Feminism thinking on ‘intersectionality’ i.e.the recognition of the convergence of multiple discriminations (gender,ethnicity,ability,age) has been operationalized
Development workers tend to talk more about gender equality… a term which embraces in principle all issues of gender discrimination. And although the majority of development programmes may still be directed to women’s concerns increasingly programmes of development cooperation are involving LGBT constituents, and involving men as partners particularly in activities to reduce sexual violence.
Don’t say: A rose by any other name might smell even sweeter
Do say: if we are all working for ‘gender equality’ and against discrimination on account of gender maybe we should just say so
And finally, will the real feminists or gender egalitarians please stand up. This non – exhaustive list of actors and issues under the egalitarian umbrella shows just how difficult it is to get it right.
Birmingham City Council Employees:

Birmingham city council employees are after winning a fight for equal pay
These Birmingham city council employees are our unsung heroines. We don’t know whether or not they call themselves feminists or whether they are supported by UK Feminista but both seem unlikely. Their story exposes how easy it has been (so far) for the UK government and employers not to implement their Equal Pay legislation which has been in place for forty years. You grant long grace periods to employers to implement equal pay legislation; short periods to workers to claim that they have been discriminated against, and define some jobs as women’s work so there are no comparators on equality. Easy, peasy! But not any more. and
President Obama:

President Obama nominates Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court
Rushed into supporting gay marriage by his VP, he nevertheless came through loud and clear in his acceptance speech .Has pledged to undo the policy (actually repealed in 2010) of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’(DADT) which obliged gays, lesbians and bi-sexuals serving in the military to stay in the closet. Has nominated two women, one the first Hispanic, to the Supreme Court… and much more. Received massive electoral support from single, African- American and Hispanic women. Maybe the US will now ratify the CEDAW being one of the only six countries in the world not to have done that.
Julia Gillard:

Julia Gillard Prime Minister of Australia in Parliament
Whilst hailed by feminist groups for her speech on misogyny … later ratified by a change in the dictionary definition… critics have been quick to point out that her famous speech was made in the context of defending a party colleague forced to resign for sexist Twittering, and that she has no particular record of espousing feminist causes. Nevertheless she has put the issue of sexism in politics on the front page and has shown that she doesn’t care a bit about personal popularity. 

Sheikh Hasina: 

Sheik Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, flashes a victory sign
Do women leaders bring always feminism to the top table? Widely campaigned against by feminist groups globally for her actions against Nobel prize winner Mohammed Yunus founder of the Grameen Bank for rural women. Nevertheless under her watch several reservations on the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) have been removed, and she has strongly supported equal property rights for women, and women’s sport. Conversely the conservative opposition with whom Yunus is associated took many anti-egalitarian measures when they were in power. Whilst he is lauded abroad his constituency at home has not been able to mobilize effectively to support him.

Naomi Wolf:

Naomi Wolf thinks about her neural pathways
(Former) feminist (The Beauty Myth) has written a largely ridiculed autobiography entitled ‘Vagina: a biography’
Men working to end Violence against Women:

Campaigner signs on to End Violence Against Women campaign
A Man-ifesto for White Ribbon Day 

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