So I’d been having one of those days and I decided, in a moment of complete stupidity, that I’d wind down in my lunch hour by going on Twitter (yes, I know!). And then of course the first thing I spotted was this:
We’re doing a talk later about why feminism isn’t more popular amongst young women. What do you guys think?
— The Vagenda Team (@VagendaMagazine) January 10, 2013
Now, it’s not necessarily a bad question. And on a good day I’d have been thinking hmm, interesting. I’d say it’s a mix of influences such as … (at which point I’d have realised there was no way of putting this into 140 characters and given up). But I was having a bad day so my immediate response was Well, that’s f***ing obvious. It’s because most people are useless and young women are no exception. And that’s only 100 characters. I didn’t tweet it though as I thought it would annoy most people (what with them being useless).
Of course, I found myself looking at the responses Vagenda did get. Pah, I thought. Even the feminists are useless. Blaming other feminists for the stereotypes promoted by anti-feminists. When actually feminists are ace. Apart from these ones, who are useless.
Judgement duly passed, I then stalked off to retrieve my sandwich.
It’s evening now and I’m feeling better. I’ve had a cake and made friends with humanity again. Out of curiosity I’ve had a look at the tweets again. Alas, they still don’t look any more appealing. I might be a part-time misanthropist but honestly, some people just are annoying at times.
I am interested in why some young women aren’t attracted to feminism, yet many of the reasons supplied in Vagenda’s timeline fill me with discomfort. An awful lot of women don’t seem to like feminism because it’s too feminist. And what can you do with that?
Explanations tweeted to the Vagenda team include the following:
• not wanting to be seen as a “man-hater” or “bra-burner”
• finding feminism too “intellectual”
• disliking “the lack of humour/pious attitude of many older feminist authors”
• objecting to the “policing of language”
• finding feminists too “radical”
• feeling it’s too focussed on women – why not make it about “gender equality”?
• believing feminism makes women feel bad about being beautiful and caring about their looks
• feeling under pressure to toe a “party line”
Now, I get some of this, I do. Not all feminists are nice people all the time. Some feminists might, for instance, deem most of the human race to be shit until they’ve calmed down over a prawn sandwich. All the same, I reach a point where I think give me a fucking break (and some chocolate Hobnobs)! Feminism should not be about marketing feminists to non-feminists by making it less feminist! That’s not a movement – it’s a copy of Cosmo!
There are many people who have legitimate reasons to feel wary of the word “feminism”. People who’ve been excluded by those who genuinely believe they’re speaking for all women when in fact they’re only speaking for themselves. I’ve done this. I suspect most feminists have. If you’re a feminist and a woman, there’s going to be an element of self-interest (unless you’re a bloody saint). Empathising with others is an effort and, being a particularly selfish sod, I frequently only notice I’ve ignored the needs of others when I become one of these others myself. I used to think it was dangerously essentialist to link feminism and motherhood, then I became a mother and decided it was a good idea after all. I’d get pissed off with older feminists and their air of disapproval, then I got older and decided that the ageism was mutual. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? And if I’m like that with things that are within the limited sphere of my own privileged experience, what’s it like for everyone else? No wonder some people shrug their shoulders and want nothing to do with the feminist movement.
All the same, I’m feeling unable to have truck with people who object to feminism solely because it’s a bit opinionated, or a bit clever, or a bit serious, or because it involves taking clear moral positions. I look at these people (in my imagination, obvs) and think WHAT DO YOU WANT? How many jokes to I have to tell to show I’m not humourless? How many times do I need to ostentatiously list all the books I haven’t read and the words I don’t understand? How much effort do I need to put into being feminine – how much do I need to compromise my beliefs by cashing in on my heterosexuality, my married status, my fecundity – just so you can feel comfortable? Just so we can have a feminism that is nothing to do with change or equality at all?
I realise it’s more complicated than that. Some people are genuinely afraid of getting feminism “wrong”, despite their good intentions. Sometimes feminism feels unforgiving of mistakes and ignorance. But there’s a fear that goes beyond that, and if someone doesn’t like feminism because they don’t like difference in others or standing up for ideals, then this isn’t a problem with feminism per se. It’s broader than that. The desperate need people have to feel “normal” isn’t something that can be challenged by feminism alone – and it certainly isn’t something feminism can help to combat by becoming more “normal” in order to appease others.
Of course, sometimes I wonder about the value of clinging to the word “feminism” at all. Perhaps we do all need a rebranding exercise – isn’t inclusion more important than defending one word to the death? But then I think if we changed it once, we’d have to keep changing it again, because we’ll all keep on making mistakes, wanting what’s right but also being cruel and self-absorbed and unthinking when the moment takes us. I just don’t think feminism works as a marketing project. Perhaps the best we can do is plug away at being less “normal” but more equal. And on that note, I’m off to burn my bra in solidarity with some imaginary feminist allies.*
* Not really. I bought this one in Triumph. I’m not made of bras, you know. Although having said that, perhaps there’s a gap in the market for flammable disposable bras especially for feminists? … See, look at me, mocking bra burning and making crap jokes. THAT’s what they’re making me do!