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Feminism: Fighting for the right of women to disagree

I really must give a shout out to one of my dearest social networking sites, Facebook. What a challenge it can be, every day to connect into the hearts, minds and walls of so many friends, colleagues, and often strangers whom you’ve befriended and now know many of their private details.  But despite the potential to stay in touch with people and find out about what’s going on in everyone’s lives, the unfiltered content that is so easily shared and liked makes me a little worried. So the latest is something that made me think long and hard before I could come up with the difficult decision whether to like, or not to like. It took me a while, but I just couldn’t bring myself to click that button.

It was this little chunk of text that made its appearance in my Facebook news feed:

‘If you’re a woman and you don’t agree with feminism, please close your bank accounts right now. Feminists fought for your right to them. If you’re not married and you live away from your father, please move back home…feminists fought for your right to be independent of him. If you’re married and working, learn to live on your husband’s income alone…feminists fought for your right to work after marriage. If you have a university degree, HELL if you have a high school certificate, rip it up…feminists fought for your right to gain that.’

That set me off into a whirlwind brainstorm session about what it all meant and the more I mulled it over, the more I began to realize the importance of individual choice in the grand scheme of the continuing feminist rights movement.

The achievements of our feminist foremothers are something to be proud of and grateful for, but the expression of gratitude, or lack thereof, is an individual choice. You can’t tell someone how to be appreciative, and you also can’t expect that it’d be your right to do so, especially when the very core of rights being fought for advocate the opportunity of choice, and freedom to do so without repercussion.

Seemingly adding to the negative stereotype of a bunch angry feminist women, these few lines on Facebook really got to me. The post was popular, with around 30 likes, and a succession of at least seven comments adding bits and pieces that followed:

‘…and don’t vote or go into public bars.’

‘Or wear skirts higher than your ankles, knees or pants at all.’

‘Or you’ve been able to get a safe abortion instead of being butchered in a back alley…’

But, continuing on my process of individual investigation, the more I thought about it, the more infuriated I became. Yes, feminists have fought for our right to be individual citizens and not just the lesser half of men. But by saying that women who ‘don’t agree with feminism’ should have their rights revoked, is immorally decrepit, to say the least.

It absolutely does matter where our rights came from, but the fact that we didn’t have them in the first place doesn’t mean we owe any type of gratitude for finally having the right to be treated as equals, no matter who fought for that right.

Of course, it would be nice, I can see, if people showed a little more respect for the history and herstory of men and women who’ve spent their lives dedicated to these rights; but it still leaves feminists no position to say or agree with any statement like this.

Please don’t get me wrong – I personally, absolutely appreciate everything I have and why I have it. Feminism comes in many different packages and as I explore them more I’m always finding new things to be grateful for. But as a high spirited, driven group of women and men fighting for the continued rights of women worldwide, our efforts, and the efforts made by those before us will probably be taken for granted by many.

The ‘father’ of the US constitution, James Madison said, ‘I may disagree with everything that you say, but I shall defend to the death you’re right to say it’, and in the same way our approach to the constant fight for equality must be of fair mind to allow for the fact that some people just won’t appreciate the rights they have, that other’s have fought for.

But you don’t fight for human rights only to receive a pre-formed level of appropriate appreciation in return, do you?

The beauty of the feminist movement is that we are fighting for women to have the right to choose their own pathways and what they want to do with their lives. Although it’s not the way that I would show my appreciation, or lack thereof, what I’ve learnt, as I do more and more each day, is to distance myself from the controlling behaviours that can be so easily slipped into; especially in heat of the moment when you’re so desperate for change and acceptance that every word you speak with every breath you breathe is at the highest level of passion.

Because the harsh reality is that it’s not my place, and it’s not your place either.

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What do you think, Lipsters? Do we owe our feminist foremothers anything? Are there any values you think are inherent to feminism?

6 thoughts on “Feminism: Fighting for the right of women to disagree

  1. I think there is a difference between having the right believe in whatever you want to believe in, and having the right to live in an alternate reality bubble where you are shielded from anything that contradicts your worldview.

    If someone doesn’t want to identify as a feminist that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean they should be shielded from arguments to the contrary, or that feminists should feel guilty for putting arguments in the public sphere trying to change peoples minds – how else do political and social movements grow?

    I guess it comes down to whether one takes the Facebook comments literally and assume that these people really do want the legal rights of non-feminist women curtailed. My feeling is that if a political party formed in Australia proposing those exact policies, however, it would not get much support from anyone, feminist or otherwise.

  2. I read Siobhan’s argument as being more philosophically based, Chris – as in ‘do we owe anyone anything for our rights?’.

    I find this tricky, because I often find myself wanting to shout at magazine articles where various female celebrities go on about how they don’t believe in feminism, as if it’s like a fantasy or fairytale as opposed to something concrete that has made a significant impact on their lives.

    But at the same time, they absolutely have the right to not identify as a feminist. I think I do wish that, on some level, feminism was acknowledged for all the good that has come out of the movement.

  3. I think ‘do we owe anyone anything for our rights?’ and ‘do people have the right not to identify as feminists?’ are different questions though. Whether or not someone identifies as a feminist is a subjective decision, yet their personal circumstances and individual agency are determined to a large extent by objective factors – ie. the historical consequences of the feminist movement.

    When James Madison said, ‘I may disagree with everything that you say, but I shall defend to the death you’re right to say it’, I don’t think he meant that people have the right to live in their own little belief bubbles where a contrary argument can be interpreted as a personal sleight. I think he meant that people, while free to believe whatever they want, are entitled to acknowledge that other values/theories exist.

    Famous celebrities don’t have to believe in feminism, but that doesn’t mean they should be shielded from the historical facts.

  4. I feel like these comments are branching away from the topic of my article. It’s not about “living in a bubble”, although that may be how some people choose to live, and it’s not about shielding so called ‘bubble dwellers’ from anything that may contradict their beliefs. It’s about their rights not to be attacked or judged.

    On the surface, online social networking may seem like it’s just a fun little community of people connecting; but it’s really a platform that can have the highest of influence on personal and social views. It’s very important, as is the need for self-reflection and thorough thought on things that are shared and liked – because I believe too many people jump on bandwagons of words that look nice without looking deeper into it.

    • “it’s not about shielding so called ‘bubble dwellers’ from anything that may contradict their beliefs. It’s about their rights not to be attacked or judged.”

      How is asserting the right not to have your beliefs/biases judged or criticised different from asserting the right to live in a bubble?

  5. I’m the author of that post. I did not expect to be taken literally. No one is going to go out and close your bank account down if you disagree with me mate :)

    My post was in response to something a Facebook friend posted. It was a weird YouTube video and to put it in a nutshell, the idea of the video was ‘feminism is bad/stupid etc because women and children got to go first on the Titanic”‘. A woman was the author of the video and she seems to be sincere and not actually taking the piss.

    This infuriated me because a lot of women and girls DON’T know what women fought for back in the day. Their views on who feminists are and what they wanted/want are skewed.

    This next bit is where I disagree with you. My personal belief is that women do owe appreciation to those people who fought for basic rights that we enjoy. But when I say ‘owe’, I’m not suggesting going out and taking away your rights until you show a sufficient level of respect. Again, I did not expect my post to be taken literally in the way seem to have taken it. The post was intended for my wall, my friends who know me and would understand my meaning. It got reposted, because undoubtedly it resonated with some of my friends. And then you came across it. And you and I aren’t acquainted so you have unfortunately interpreted it literally which none of my friends, knowing me would have done.

    Getting back to the word ‘owe’. Yes, I do believe we owe the women who fought for our rights. It’s not the kind of owe that you can make someone pay though. You can’t force someone to acknowledge what they’ve done for you. But my post was intended to be a wake up call to those of my friends who didn’t even know where all this feminism stuff started. Their only real contact with feminism is flashbacks of Marge Simpson burning her bra in an episode of The Simpsons. So it was a reminder of all that feminists have done to ensure future generations of women have rights they didn’t grow up with. And yes, I believe that to not show appreciation for this, to refuse to acknowledge that something is ‘owed’ makes you an ungrateful person. But I still won’t try and get your bank account closed :P

    Thanks
    Pippi

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