Tuesday, 16 November 2010

I Heart Feminism

Back in September Clutch magazine published an article on what it is like to be a Black feminist and the perils that goes along with it, well this got me thinking. Feminism whether you are Black, white or pink is a complex issue. Utter the word feminism and you will get a wide range of reactions from down right horror to sheer passion. Jane Bradley explained this point in a fantastic post that she wrote a few weeks ago. She was at the launch of Levi's website called Shape What's To Come which is an online community for creative women to network, share ideas and support each other.  Jane was in a space where successful business women were sharing their stories about their route to the top and the challenges and joys they had experienced. It was all going so well till Jane raised the issue of feminism and what it meant to women in the room. The reception she got was pretty much on the chilly side.

The ideal of feminism was to provide equality for women on a political, economic and social level. Over the world millions of women fought (and still do) for women to have equal pay and opportunities in the workplace, the right to vote and opposed against abuse in relationships. Today the image of feminism equates to revolutionary women burning their bras and butch looking dykes striding about in dungarees. The second-wave of feminism began in the early 60s and lasted to the late 70s and it dealt with issues such as inequalities, sexuality, family rights, the workplace and reproductive rights. Post-feminism became widely known is the 80s and was set up as a backlash to second-wave of feminism and there has been quite a few arguments on what it actually represents. Some post-feminists say that feminism is no longer relevant in today's society and some women argue that adding the post before feminism gives the idea that equality has been achieved. Some even point out cultural icons such as Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw are post-feminists because they are liberated and enjoy their sexuality. Now in 2010 we are in a limbo state - you know when you have the passionate relationship that all consumed you and now it is kind of over but you still really like it each and you have problems defining your relationship. Well to a lot of women, feminism is just like that. I decided to have a chat with a couple of female bloggers to find out what feminism means to them.

Bim Adewunmi is a freelance journalist and copywriter who runs a blog called Yoruba Girl Dancing.
Feminism for me comes down to 'choice' and freedom to express that choice. The fact remains that women are at the end of a lot of discrimination, purely down to their gender. Factor in other things like race and socio-economic status (which has a lot to do with gender and race anyway) and you're left with a very dire situation indeed. I find being a feminist empowering; it acts as a filter through which I see the wider world, and informs a lot of my thinking. It allows me to question the status quo and to seek ways to make it better and fairer for everyone.
I think feminism is very necessary in today's society. In this age in which we are constantly told that we are living in a post-feminist utopia, a lot of women believe the battle has been won, but it really hasn't. From advertising to popular culture to politics to the work place, women are pushed back into the dark ages, often insidiously and without us noticing. I think that a lot of the things which get touted as 'empowering' or 'freedom' are a result of normalised and internalised oppression and un-privilege. Things like lap-dancing, sex work etc. which have typically been the work of women forced into such work, are rarely truly 'empowering'; but have been adopted by people like Girls Gone Wild and Playboy etc to normalise it. For example, there's a lot of talk about 'being a lady' or 'being unfeminine', often written and said by women themselves. No-one stops to consider why these strictures are not placed on men, or why it seems to matter - it's systematic and has been in place for thousands of years - and oftentimes, we ourselves as women buy into the nonsense. Lots of us operate in a false consciousness, unaware of either our own privilege or the fights we still need to be fighting. Contrary to popular (and really rather stupid) belief, feminism is not about putting down or hating men, nor is it about raising women to a level above common sense. It is about recognising that the system is often patriarchal, with women bearing the brunt of negative bias. Feminism (and feminist activism) allows us to call out the bullshit and seek to level the playing field and make things fairer for everyone.
A lot of the feminists who inspire me on a daily basis and who I respect aren't famous. However, I respect Gloria Steinem's work, as well as Susan Brownmiller and Kate Millett. More recently, writers Kira Cochrane, Laura Barton, and Megan Carpentier have been brilliant. I'm also a fan of several writers in the Jezebel stable. My feminist beliefs are stated quite baldly in the strap-line of my blog, which is pretty much the second thing you see on my homepage - 'Race things, pop culture stuff, feminist doodles'. I make an effort to write about feminist issues, particularly seen through race and pop culture filters, as they are often the first and most common way many of us process the world.  I try to write things which connect with people on several levels but always remind them that the world is grossly unfair and it is up to us to change it.

Jane Bradley is a writer and web editor and runs her self titled blog.
To me, a feminist is someone who is passionate about achieving equality for women, and about promoting and celebrating women's achievements in every field. But, similarly to religion or other ideologies, it's a subject that people respond to very personally, meaning definitions and opinions on it will differ drastically and fiercely from person to person. Feminism has become a problematic term that many people don't want to be associated with. As a label, it's been so stigmatised and misunderstood that it makes people uncomfortable, meaning they shy away from applying it to themselves. But despite all those media clich├ęs about burnt bras and hairy armpits, and reports that insinuate that feminism is redundant in today's supposedly equal society, I passionately believe that feminism is still essential. From cultures where female circumcision is still common to statistics reporting that one in four women have experienced rape or attempted rape, to the fact that 71% of performances at this year's Glastonbury were by all-male acts, we are still a long way from equality for women.
My feminist icons are too many to count, and it changes on an almost daily basis. To name but a few, I love the Guerilla Girls, Barbara Kruger, Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Shelley and Cathi Unsworth. Some of individuals and collectives involved with Ladyfest Ten are incredibly awe-inspiring too; arts collective Storm in a Teacup have been behind several fab projects and events such as Swallows & Amazons and So She Said, and I remain convinced that Annette Barlow of The Girls Are secretly possesses superhero powers - she is doing so much to recognise and celebrate women in music. I incorporate my feminist views into my blog via my books website, For Books' Sake which focuses mainly on books by and for women, and there's a definite feminist slant to it. Although originally the site covered a broader range of books and authors, it's been a natural evolution to what is is now; there were so many passionate women with exciting projects that it made sense to tighten the focus of the site and give those authors, projects and events a platform and a voice. For Books' Sake has also been involved in coordinating the literature programme for Ladyfest Ten, and through that I've met so many other creative, passionate and inspirational feminists that it's completely reaffirmed my conviction about feminism's continued relevance and importance. I also rant about feminism and subjects associated with it on my personal blog. Strangely, my recent post about feminism and one from earlier this year about rape apologists and misogyny in Hollywood have been my two most popular posts ever.

So there you have it. Despite many acclaims it looks like feminism is well and truly alive.

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