feminist in focus: eden faithfull
Name: Eden Faithfull
Occupation: Psychology Student
Describe yourself in one word.
Do you have a ‘feminist philosophy’? If so, what is it?
Here’s something weird: the idea that if you call yourself a feminist, you are duty bound to support the actions and ideology of every other person in the world who has a vagina. Feminism seems to confuse many people. They seem to believe that wanting to be equal means wanting to be the same. It doesn’t; it never has. My feminist philosophy is simply about wanting equal opportunities, equal pay for the same work and an equal right to control and manage my own life and decisions. I, as a feminist, believe that a woman is of equal value to a man, not the same as one, but she is also someone who wants to be seen as a human being first and as a woman second.
What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing women (in Australia and the rest of the world)?
I believe part of the problem is the fact that a combination of community attitudes and having a history in which we’ve participated in a whole series of hierarchical standards, have meant that we have a very gender-based and stereotyped model of the way societies work. Typically, leadership and politics were not roles that were open to women. Partly what we see is a lot of “old-school” thinking around the role of women and the “appropriate” place for women in our society. Our biggest challenge as women is swimming upstream, against societal conventions and patriarchal institutions to reinforce the feminine position of power in the political, business and science sectors.
How do you believe Australia’s current political climate affect the way we, as a society, value women?
In most countries, women entered parliament soon after gaining the right to stand. The first women elected to the Commonwealth government were both elected in 1943 – 40 years after they were able. The major Australian political parties did not support any female candidates until the Second World War. Until this time, all female candidates were independent or backed by minor political parties. It seems as though Australia has always been on the back foot with regard to women’s influence in the political sphere. In our recent political upheaval in the Liberal party, Malcolm Turnbull, who had been expected to at least double the number of female ministers in the cabinet, has taken the number of women in cabinet from two to five. This is yet another disappointment – but no big surprise – for Australian women.
Do you think that feminism has a branding issue? If so, why, and how do you suggest we can “fix” it?
According to a new study at the Huffington Post there is a major disparity between people that believe in equality “between the sexes” and identify as feminist. The study found that only 20% of Americans identify as feminist whereas 82% believe that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” Equality between men and women is the most commonly accepted, mainstream definition of feminism. It’s not the only one, but it is what most people understand feminism to be about. As much as it is easy to rest on the “equality between the sexes” definition of feminism, if we really want to change the public perception of feminism, we actually have to change feminism itself. We have to both push for a world that demands gender equality, while pushing for a feminism that acknowledges, accepts, and truly incorporates difference.
There is no neat, simple, and linear model of feminist progression – there’s only how we can build a better future knowing what we know now – which is a feminism that is so much more than equality. It’s about humanity, compassion, and understanding across all our differences, and as cheesy as that sounds, I do think it’s a definition more people can get behind.
Who is your favourite feminist author, and why?
Is it bad that one of my favourite feminist authors is a man? The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism by George Bernard Shaw is an incredible book and has shaped my historical understanding of feminism as a modern movement. Polly Toynbee says it all in her new introduction to Shaw’s masterpiece. It is a brilliant debunking of the myriad excuses for inequality. Shaw hates the poor, pities the rich and is bent on the extermination of both. Women of all classes must free themselves from economic dependence on men. Raising children and family structures are at the heart of patriarchy; capitalism the villain of the piece. Humanity is driven by forces other than self-interest. Like slavemasters, men will not be free and realise their full potential until women are, and do. Super great.
What does the future of feminism look like?
My generation of women, I think, were mainly very lucky with our male contemporaries. We came of age when some degree of feminist thinking had seeped into the general consciousness, and before the “lads’ mag” phenomenon of the late ’90s ushered crude sexism back in under the flimsy cloak of irony. Before the mainstreaming of hardcore pornography for teenagers – a vast social experiment which has still to reveal its ugliest consequences – the attraction that young men and women experienced for one another felt more affectionate and romantic, and less reductive and cruel.
Looking to the future, however, the position of women is regressing, not legislatively but socially, and often for reasons that did not originate with men. It was women, after all, who voluntarily stampeded towards the creeping tyranny of needless plastic surgery and a pathological obsession with grooming. If women held a position of confidence, they failed to defend it; too many thought feminism was a dirty word. And so now we have a society in which mainstream comedians tell jokes on television about women allegedly liking rape; a fragile London schoolgirl plunges to her death in distress because she has been bullied into giving a boy oral sex and he is circulating images of it on his phone; and 20,000 girls in Australia are deemed “at risk” from the shocking crime of female genital mutilation, and not one person has ever been prosecuted for facilitating it. If we as feminists do not continue to persevere with the fight that has been led by our predecessors due to a convenient perception of “contentment”, I fear we could be slipping back even further.
You’re hosting a fictional feminist dinner party and there’s room to invite three influential feminists. Who are they? And why?
Mary Wollstonecraft would be my first thought, as she was the mother of feminism, and so beyond her time. She was an early supporter of women’s rights with her work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She argued that women only appeared intellectually inferior to men at the time because they lacked access to education. Secondly, as a personal hero of mine, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was the first woman to be elected to such a position in a Muslim country. Her impact while in office was huge: She changed the country’s political landscape from dictatorship to democracy, as well as tirelessly advocating for social change. Finally, I could never possibly go past Betty Friedan. She caused a sensation with her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, which challenged the myth women wanted to be homemakers and is credited with kick-starting second-wave feminism. In 1966 she co-founded the National Organization for Women. She also famously said ‘No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor’ so she gets an instant dinner invite.
If we want to change the world, first we must… collaborate with others to ensure that our change is as inclusive and comprehensive as possible.
That fictional feminist dinner party sounds great! I would like to be Louisa May Alcott: I just love her writing! An interesting read. Thanks!