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The Reluctant Feminist

I clearly identify myself as a feminist. I write for lip and link articles from Jezebel on facebook. I can identify advertisements or warnings which work to blame the victims of rape; I tell my brother off for buying Lynx deodorant; “the pay gap”, “the double-shift”, and “double standards” are phrases that regularly feature in my vocabulary.

But for me, feminism is a kind of armchair hobby. I write about it when what I see on TV makes me angry and I’ll occasionally have an argument about sexism with friends or family. I went to a slut walk once. I’ve never taken a gender studies course (though in studying Arts, gender is a concept I have had to be academically confident with), and I’ve never really taken my interest in feminism to a level any higher than having an opinion about particular issues which could be called ‘feminist’ in nature.

Feminism, as a movement, has been known to disengage young women for all sorts of reasons. Some feminists sound too radical and when their views are taken out of context or not explained very well, some people write them off as ‘crazy’ (Germaine Greer seems to be the main person people call ‘crazy’ without actually listening to her – compare this YouTube video with the comments it receives). Some feminists seem to be offended by things when they have missed the point, or the irony in that particular thing. This is something I felt with the vitriol poured at the television show At Home With Julia. Many people charged it as an anti-feminist programme, but I saw a humorous depiction of the negotiations that take place when one member of a partnership is committed to a high-powered job, and how especially difficult that is in terms of societal pressure and relationship tension when the bacon-earner happens to be female. This has never really turned me off feminism though, because while some feminists may over-cry ‘sexism’, the majority of society seems to be blinded to the many ways in which sexism does play out. It is important to stand up for women, even if I think there are a few people who don’t choose their battles necessarily very well.

The thing that has staved off my deeper engagement in gender issues and feminism is that it is boring. What I mean to say when I say this is best expressed by Simone de Beauvoir, who wrote (back in 1949!):

For a long time I have hesitated to write a book on woman. The subject is irritating, especially to women; and it is not new. Enough ink has been spilled in quarrelling over feminism, and perhaps we should say no more about it. It is still talked about, however, for the voluminous nonsense uttered during the last century seems to have done little to illuminate the problem.

At this stage, one would think that there would be little need for feminism. One would think that I could go and bake a cake or work for a multi-national corporation without a thought as to how my gender might make these things problematic or otherwise. One would think that it should merely come down to personal choice, rather than the muddy puzzle concerning tensions between social pressure, natural urges, and ideological stances that complicate feminism today. It is an irritation that these issues aren’t resolved yet. Ironically, what makes the world so unjust for women; that is the pure oddity that they are so disadvantaged, is what also makes talking about these issues frustrating, annoying, boring, old. Reluctantly, I keep writing and arguing. Reluctantly, I still see a desperate need for the rights of women to be finally realised.

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3 thoughts on “The Reluctant Feminist

  1. Lately I’ve been thinking why young women don’t identify with the word feminist. My conclusion is that it is probably because we grew up in the biggest and most sucessful backlash against feminism, and it is hard to let go of stereotypes that have been drilled into us through news and popular culture. Obviously stereotypes will sometimes be played out in truth, but that happens occasionally in every sterotyped group or culture.

    Also, I don’t think it’s up to older feminists to try and engage younger women, this doesn’t work and I think it’s kind of selfish to expect that they should, or that feminism is inherently flawed because they don’t. Young women need to engage themselves, create women’s groups, connect with other women about feminist issues. If you find feminism boring yet you’re passionate about the issues it’s probably because you’re not engaging yourself enough in real face to face interactions with other passionate women.

  2. Hey Catherine,
    Boring may not be the best word. I find it frustrating and irritating that feminist issues are still issues. Partly because the injustice seems so self-evident. I don’t expect older feminists to try to engage me, I don’t really know many of them. The vast majority the feminists I know are roughly around my age. Maybe I should have more offline encounters with feminism, I think it is worth a try, but I think it wouldn’t help the feeling that I’m shouting to a brick wall and that it isn’t interesting to be continually talking about the same issues which shouldn’t be issues in the first place. I’m passionate about them and it is important to me, it’s just that my thoughts and activities on gender issues feel underpinned by malaise and reluctance.

  3. Hey Erin,

    I definitely understand where you’re coming from and truthfully,I find being a feminist online really hard. It can be so disheartening, especially when you’re dealing with people who assume that an issue you feel passionate about isn’t an issue at all, or god forbid you have found yourself arguing with a ‘men’s rights’ activist. So yes, I often find that I feel I am shouting at a brick wall. The difference is that you know you’re not when you’re engaged with other young feminists because you are speaking face to face to women who feel the same.

    I even find arguments between feminists online somewhat pointless because no one ever reaches a happy medium (or learns anything). The best thing about meeting with other women is that you can do positive things that counteract these feelings (such as ripping down your local anti-abortion campaign posters), and you can also have nice debreifs with friends about all the shit things and everyone gets it.

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