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Thursday, 20 February 2014

A Feminist Education: Fear of Feminism

Fear of Feminism - fear of the word, of its connotations, of what it makes you. Fear of being seen as a 'man-hater', a 'bra-burner', or, even worse, someone who doesn't shave their armpits. Fear of being put into a box. Fear of being thought of as an angry woman, who shouts down anyone who dares to speak up. Fear of being ridiculed, of being seen as the stereotype. No one wants to be the stereotypical feminist these days, with her man-eating, hairy arms taking jobs from the hard-working men and carelessly throwing her ovaries to the wind.

These are stereotypes that, though slightly exaggerated, still exist. They may even be getting stronger. That, for me at least, is a huge worry.

Many women, men, girls, and boys are afraid of identifying with feminism, because they see it as undesirable. Being a feminist can only be a bad thing - they're shrill, they think women are superior to men, etc. etc. Some of my male friends think women don't belong in the financial sector, and whenever any of my female friends try to engage in debate, they spout 'facts' about how, statistically speaking, there are more men in the financial sector, and, illogically, they argue that this shows how women don't belong there. By that logic, surely that means that as there are more apples than there are apple trees, then apple trees don't deserve the privilege of existence (if you catch my drift - bonus point: apple trees bear apples, women bear the men that work in the financial sector, therefore surely the men don't belong somewhere if the vaginas they came out of don't belong there either).

Reading The Student Room, there are numerous threads about how feminism is a 'bad' thing, and why people should stop championing the feminist cause. People have come up with a new way to promote equality between the sexes - 'egalitarianism', which, in my mind, is synonymous with feminism. (This point, however, will be addressed in more detail in a later post)

Feminism does not mean women trying to become superior, or the dominant gender. Feminism does not mean wearing no makeup, covering up all of your body to stop men looking at you, or keeping all your body hair in its natural state to end the patriarchy. However, in relation to everything after the first point, these things are perfectly fine to do if you want to, go for it, they're just not inherently feminist.

Feminism is not a negative thing. The stigma surrounding feminism is non-sensical. 

Yes, there may be some feminists who do hate men, who do do all of these things and shout down everyone who opposes them. Yet, what society, or more precisely the media that feeds our society, is yet to realise, is that these women are in the tiniest, tiniest minority. I am yet to come across someone who holds these views, and yet they are what comes to mind immediately when the label 'feminist' is attached to anything.

What I find the most worrying about the fear of feminism is that it stops people believing that they can be feminists. It makes many want to distance themselves from feminism, proclaiming 'I am not a feminist, no way' in order to stop anyone attacking them as a shrill she-devil sent from hell to destroy mankind. When I was at a history course in summer, with some exceptionally bright people, I was pretty much the only one to put my hand up (not including the tutor, who will remain my hero) and say I was a feminist when we had a discussion about gender in history. I have to say, I found that quite shocking. I was surrounded by some of the cleverest young men and women I had met, and yet they all saw feminism as a 'dirty word' that they didn't want to be associated with. One boy even went as far as to give a metaphor for inter-gender relationships  - men are the engine of the car (aka the driving force), women are the wheels. When I asked him why a woman couldn't be the engine if she wanted to be, he said it was too forceful for a woman. 

Surely, a woman can be what she wants to be? Why can a woman not be a powerful engine? The simple fact is that many men (and I am generalising here - I know there are many exceptions to this rule, as not all men see women as their baby carriers and sandwich makers, and there are many men who identify as feminists) are scared of powerful women - they feel emasculated, and feel like their power is being usurped. These are the men who are currently in control of our society - the CEOs, the bankers, the traders, the media bosses. These are the men who need to be educated to realise that women are not a force to fear - women are here to help, to make the planet a better place, to improve on what we already have. They also need to realise women are not something to objectify and ridicule, but that's an issue for another time. 

The education needs to start young, before 18-year-old boys learn to spout whatever their daddy told them about women being subservient to men, and how they don't belong in the financial sector as they 'don't understand money'.
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