Thursday, 26 April 2012
The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off- Gloria Steinem
This is my slightly controversial necklace (made by the fabulous types at Tatty Devine).
When I was thinking of a 'name' necklace, and the idea of using 'feminist' came to me, I never thought it would provoke strong reactions, nor was I expecting to feel apprehension myself about wearing it. Having the world slung around my neck seems more of a political choice than a cosmetic one. I knew this, of course, when I decided to have it created but this tension between my own apprehension and the reactions I have received (negative comments, derision, praise, questions- luckily no actual abuse as yet) is something I find intriguing and troubling in equal measure.
While reading an article on the F word about classism in modern feminism (here) I was asked by a colleague why I am a feminist. I realised I couldn't answer the question without knowing what HIS definition of feminist was, or what my own definition would be. My own definition of what it is to be a feminist is still fluid, still forming. There are some boundaries and fixed points, but other issues are so undecided as to be indefinable. I believe feminism is equality, and that there is not a level playing field to build that equality upon. I believe there is a strong male privelege at the core of society and that its exposure is too uncomfortable for many to face. I believe there's an insidious and poisonous defamation of female sexuality and expression at work in every facet of media, advertising and fashion. I believe a post-industrial movement of failed masculinities is causing a resurfacing of a near theocracy of misogynism in the southern US. I also believe that most of my beliefs are framed within my own privilege- of race, education and class.
This is the problematic area- I can only express feminism in academic terms. Terms which can mean everything and nothing. Terms which are so much purple prose in the face of the darket, most distressing issues facing womankind. Rape, domestic violence, forced circumcision, sex trafficking, the right to drive and vote and bear children, the right to walk down a street at night without society judging you complicit in any attack that results, the right to strength and weakness, the right to political respresentation, the right to fair working conditions, the right to raise children, the right to work, the right to speak and be heard, the right to power over reproductive choices, the right to live without cultural shame.
Is my feminism a Universal one? If so, how can I show it? Is it a Local one? Is it at work in the way I raise my son, the way I conduct my relationships: am I, as a feminist held to a higher standard, less forgiving terms? Should I be married? Should I wear makeup? Should I be spending my free time at the heart of activism? Should I be reading or doing? Am I meant to be part of an organisation. If so, which? Am I Fawcett or Unison? Is the marketing of a pink globe as important a point to fight on as the withdrawal of legal aid to victims of domestic violence?
Should I draw my own lines, or should I subscribe to a philosophy and take my guide from there? Can you be a hedge-feminist? Can I be a feminist and never use the term 'womyn' or want to discuss my inner goddess? Can I get my fingers dirty but still wear nail polish?
I still feel the closest I have ever come to discovering another woman with my world view was when I picked up Caitlin Moran's 'How to be a woman'. Yet that is viewed a feminism-lite by some I've come across, while others can't get past her stance on porn. Can we ever sit down in actual sisterhood and agree that 'Feminist' is all of us, an opt-out system rather than an opt-in? At its core is the truth that there is an imbalance. An imbalance of power, privilege and control. Beyond that- I begin to flounder a little.
Steer me a bit?