I was at a Science Grrl social a few weeks ago in London, a fabulous organisation aimed at encouraging more girls to get into the sciences, because ‘Science is for everyone’. Quite right. I got chatting to one of the young gentlemen who also attended the social (science is for everyone, and so is Science Grrl) and he said ‘So you’re a feminist then?’ To which I replied ‘Um, not really, I just want more gender equality in the sciences…but I suppose in the wider world too.’ He looked puzzled at this and said ‘…so you’re a feminist then?’. I suppose I am. Can you be a little bit feminist? Or is it an all or nothing phenomenon.
I appear to have fallen into a common trap of stereotyping a ‘feminist’ as a woman with extreme beliefs about women’s rights and generally being quite aggressive in these beliefs.
Shame on me.
In my defence, I first came into contact with feminists in my undergraduate university politics, where most of the FemSoc at my institution can be akin to my stereotyped description above, but this doesn’t excuse my sweeping generalisation. After this sudden realisation that I was a ‘feminist’ I decided to do some research. As a child of the internet generation my first port of call was Google:
I found it quite interesting that the majority of the first page was all recent articles from news websites, so rather than delve into personal opinion pieces I went to my back up port of call…the Oxford English Dictionary:
Feminism can be defined as “Advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex; the movement associated with this”
‘Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.’
These definitions seem fair, and pretty much what most women I know would agree with. Nowhere does it state in these definitions that feminists ‘hate men’, are aggressive, or give any impression that this is a negative movement. So why then was I surprised to find out I was a feminist? When I did more ‘subjective’ research on-line I came across numerous comments from women, that can be summed up as:
‘Somewhere along the way being a feminist has become associated with hating on men, rather than being equal with them’
A recent article written by RadioKate addressing the sexism in an advertising campaign was met with one rather odd comment stating that people were getting irritated by ‘cynical privilege seeking from feminists.’ Clearly this person had the wrong end of the proverbial stick when talking about Feminism…
I read an article in the Huffington Post, which stated that feminism needed a ‘re-brand’ of sorts. From my research I conclude that I couldn’t agree more. Its clear there is a kind of stigma attached to the word ‘feminist’ which can lead intelligent, forward thinking women to shy away from a word which, in its essence, embodies exactly what they believe in.
Its a common misconception to be a feminist is to want to be ‘the same’ as men or want to be more privileged than their male counterparts; this is not the case.
Feminists want ‘equal opportunities’ to men, not to be the same. Many women think that you have to be a ‘career woman’ to be a feminist; this is also not the case. Women shouldn’t look down on others because, for example, they want to stay at home with their kids instead of going out to work everyday. The idea of feminism is to promote choice rather than stereotyped expectations. Feminism stands to support all women equally; those who want to go to work can, without being expected to stay at home. Conversely women who want to stay at home are free to make that choice without being judged for not working.
There’s still a long way to go for the feminist movement before we reach our goal of complete equal opportunities , but if we can get more women to stand up and say ‘I am a feminist; I want equal opportunities for all’, then we’ll come a damn sight closer to achieving the goals envisioned when this whole movement began.
So the answer to my original question ‘Can you be a little bit feminist?’. No. http://www.lovelyish.com/2013/01/07/what-does-being-a-feminist-mean/ However you can have varying views and methods of expressing them within the wider feminist movement. I won’t be burning my bra any time soon, but I’m certainly going to do my best to change the stigma surrounding the statement ‘I’m a feminist’.