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why feminism is facing a PR problem

Image by James Cridland

Image by James Cridland

Until I began writing for Lip, I’d made a conscious effort to keep my feminist thoughts separate from my social media channels. Now, you could argue that this makes me a bad feminist. After all, it’s arguably one of the tenants of modern feminism that people are aware of the cause and what it stands for: equal pay, equal rights, and an understanding that the individual’s experience may be markedly different from another’s – especially in respects to someone’s class, gender, sexuality, race, physical and mental abilities. And, that power is awarded on a hierarchy based on these aspects. But, as much as I believe these honourable traits of feminism with all my being, I still refrain from commentary on these issues.

Why? Because admitting that you’re a feminist online is akin to proudly announcing to the world you’ve just joined a strict religious sect – and people don’t like having others’ beliefs shoved down their throat. Being a feminist makes you a target for harassment online.

Feminism is suffering from a public relations problem. The central problem with feminism is how it is currently perceived by the community external to the feminist movement. Apparently, being a feminist is the same as hating men, and wanting women to subjugate the opposite sex – ignoring the fact that gender exists on a spectrum. Not to mention the whole idea of behaving in a ‘politically-correct’ manner is actually a cover for wanting to control everyone’s thoughts and turn a profit (Because who doesn’t love faking public humiliation for a quick buck?). In-fighting is seen as disunity within the feminist movement, rather than active discussion and participation in shaping feminist thought. The perception of feminism has fostered a culture of ‘the other’. You are either a staunch feminist, or not. Nonetheless, the fact that feminism is suffering a PR problem ironically is a product of a system that privileges whiteness, wealth and the typical forms of masculinity – even in the process of acknowledging publicly one’s feminist leanings.

The problematic, and essential, part of feminism is that it effectively alienates the discursively powerful. This is paradoxical, for how are we to enact change without support from those who are seen to be powerful? In order for intersectional feminism to maintain its integrity, it must include ‘the straight, white, rich man’ in its conversations. This does not mean eliminating safe spaces for alternative dialogue, but engaging all forms of discussion from all people in order for the principles of feminism to be assumed into mainstream culture.

Even if the sole purpose of that voice is to highlight the source of the issues that we currently face. Or, in Emma Watson’s case, founding an organisation in partnership with the United Nations that specifically seeks to tackle the global gender divide we currently face: ‘HeForShe wants every voice to be heard … around the world … every unique contribution is essential to achieving gender equality.’ These efforts to educate the masses displace, rather than silence, the grand narrative that endorses the toxicity of traditional masculinity. By seeking to understand the damaging effects from privileging straightness, wealth, whiteness and masculine traits, we can then seek to eliminate the high rates of sexual and domestic violence, casualties in the face of racism, poverty and discrimination against LGBTIQ people. HeForShe promotes an education process that is essentially feminism in action.

I wish there were some simple solution to the quandary that feminism faces. In fact, I wish I could just bake a cake filled with smiles and rainbows and we could all just get along. I just have a lot of feelings.

But enough with the Means Girls references. I feel that the solution involves education – highlighting that men are not the problem, but the nature of masculinity and how it is treated in modern society. I also feel that part of that education process is writing think pieces for people to read. After all, I’m learning, too.

2 thoughts on “why feminism is facing a PR problem

  1. I think it’s old and flawed thinking to assume that ‘educating’ and garnering the ‘support’ of men in powerful positions is of benefit or necessary to achieve change. People, namely men do not want to give up their power however that presents itself. If men were genuinely concerned about equity between the genders there would be no need for feminism. What we as a movement actually need to do is take a page out of mens book – take and don’t ask nicely in the process. We make up for 50% of the population and yet we allow our gender to be unrepresented in government, in boardrooms… Something as simple as having a GST placed on our sanitary goods has been permitted by us and yet research shows women in a household are the ones to buy groceries and are the main decision makers regarding household expenditure. We seem to have forgotten we actually have tangible power in ways where we do not need to ask nicely and patiently for some sort of change. So, no we do not need to get the backing and support of men we just need to demand change in a very clear and demonstrative way to be taken seriously.

    • I’d love for you to expand on what you’ve said, Laura. I remember Germaine Greer making a similar statement when she was on a panel at the Opera House – about demanding change through revolution. In order to achieve a removal of GST from sanitary goods, among other things (reduce instances of domestic violence, close the wage gap, decriminalisation of abortion, eradication of internised misogyny … take your pick), what kind of clear demonstration do you envisage would be effective?

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