Update from Simone de Beaver - Friday, 02 December 2011 @ 1:38pm
This week in the world of feminism, we're linking you to the best of the best in what's being said.
Feature from Ivy Sircus - Friday, 25 November 2011 @ 9:00am
Feminism. So many people have laid a claim to that word. So many people want to own it, to imbue it with meaning, postive or negative. So many people wrestle over its application, its essence and to whom it is rightfully applied. Just google it and you’ll see how many people claim ownership of the Truth about feminism.
Within that context, and having come to my belief in the right to gender equality somewhat organically, I have struggled in the past with the label ‘feminist.’ What does it mean? How can I be sure it applies to me? What if the application of that label is twisted by someone else to lump me in a category I’m no longer sure defines me? What if by using that word I am forced to defend the entire movement? Do I know enough? Will I be accepted by the movement, at large, as an adequate spokesperson? Will I have to defend myself to them too?
I have read feminist theories of International Relations and considered overseas development aid in the context of gender equality but I wouldn’t know the first thing about where to place the start of the feminist movement. With the ancient Greeks and Sappho? With women’s engagement in the French Revolution? Or in the sufferage movements that swept the developed world in the early 1900s? Where did feminism start and what is its elusive essence?
It seems to me that there is a belief that feminism is underpinned by an essential notion that women and men are treated differently because of their gender and that if you compare the relative treatment of women to men, it seems that women aren’t faring as well. Its about looking at the assumptions that go un-noticed, unchallenged, unseen in our everday, micro lives—and its about unpacking those same assumptions as they play out in the systemic and macro community of state and nation. It’s the fundamental adherence to the notion that women and men are equals and the disparity in treatment between them is not a product of innate characteristics but rather the way that societies have formed and maintain the status quo.
So there you go—my macro definition of what feminism is characterised by and why, in holding such beliefs, I feel proud to call myself a feminist.
So, if that’s what feminism means to me, how do I live my feminism you ask? What is the practical application of this belief in equality, in challenging unquestioned assumptions, in examining the systems in place to maintain the status quo?
I pick a fight with my partner and his friends, of course, over their discussions to go kayaking for a weekend—just the boys. That’s right; no marches or protests or theortical literature for this feminist!—just a good old fashioned look (or shall we say, yell!) at why I damn well better be included in this weekend kayaking adventure!
To his credit, and from the outset, I should say, my partner fully has my back on this one. But here is how the discussion went:
Boys* we’ll keep it general so as not to offend to anyone*: So, a weekend kayaking trip—just the guys—well camp, we’ll kayak, beers and bbq the whole thing.
Me: Wait, I want to go on this trip! I love camping and kayaking. I think the girls should be invited too. Won’t you have more fun if we come, anyway?
Boys: I don’t think the girls would want to come really. Its camping and drinking and boys paddling as fast as they can and racing—trying to beat each other (to a fictious end-point I couldn’t help yelling in my head!)
Me: I just said *I* would want to come. I like camping and I enjoy drinking. Are you saying I can’t keep up or I’ll slow you down?
Boys: Yup; plus we can’t just hang around and be ‘guys’ if there are girls around
…and on it went something like this.
Now I take the point that not all girls would like this activity, but I have to counter it with the plain fact that not all boys would either. And I agree, it is possible that I wouldn’t paddle as fast as some of the boys—not because I’m inherently incapable of it, but rather because I don’t spend my workouts obsessively devoted to upperbody! And furthermore, I don’t see the point in going away for time together, to enjoy one another, only to spend the time alone, racing as fast as you can to the aforementioned (in my head) fictious end-point.
But the real fact of the matter is this: had it all been presented to me like this I might have just let it go and sent them on their way. But instead of acknowledging the fundamental capacity I might have and countering that with solid evidence for why I wouldn’t enjoy myself, the crux of the boys’ argument was that I inherently incapable of something. Whether it was loving camping or being dirty, or paddling as fast as they could I wasn’t being invited because they fundamentally didn’t see me as equal.
And that’s the kind of thing that can pass unnoticed in one individual’s life. It’s the kind of assumption that hardly gets your hackles up, challenges your sense of justice or even makes you think twice—especially if you’re not a camping/kayaking loving kind of girl!—but applied over and over, in big ways and small ways, in private lives and public systems, in education and in sports, in hiring practices and tax systems and banking regulations and in literature, it reinforces a long tradition of inequity.
So that’s how I see my feminism. Its flawed and very real in its application. It is evolving and understanding more. It still has to navigate the complex set of relationships and systems that characterise the ‘now’ even while working towards the ‘more just tomorrow.’ It chooses its battles (wisely, obviously, as above story demonstrates, of course!) and has lots of room to grow—with me.