Monday, June 16, 2008

Dirty words

I'm talking about the "F" word. Not the "F" word I don't use in front of my parents, but Feminism.

It can be a dirty word these days. Call yourself a “Feminist” and some people conjure up images of a cropped-haired, Doc-Marten wearing, man-hating harridan.

Yet we’re quite willing – well, women are – to reap the benefits of Feminist activists. We can work, vote, and by-and-large women have far more freedom now than at any point in history.

But I certainly don’t feel equal. My parents and brother (understandably) don’t like me catching Public Transport alone late at night. I don’t particularly like it myself. (Though I will have it noted that I’ve seen far more “trouble” during the day than late at night). There are still occupations that are considered “manly” and that women have no place doing. If you play sport as physically as men, derogatory insults follow you off the field.

I used to play pool. I was, at the time, one of only a handful of women who played. Because most of my friends are male anyway, I didn’t think much of it, until you’d come across a man who thought you must be “One of the boys”, a slut, or in some other way deficient. It couldn’t possibly be the case that I just happened to like a sport that more men than women indulged in, there had to be a reason for it. I hate that attitude.

I don’t wear make-up every day. I wear heels to work, but switch to sneakers when I clock off, and on the way in, mainly because I do a fair bit of walking to get to and from work. I don’t take as much care of my appearance as some women, and I have few female friends. I firmly believe that within the obvious physical constraints of the sexes, I am as capable as the next man.

Does this make me a freak? Sometimes it feels like it. There’s still a huge belief, especially amongst the older generations, that women are just different. And I agree. Biologically and physically there are differences. But when they use the word “different” it feels like they’re saying “inferior”

I hate the fact that I can’t walk the streets like a man because I’m seen as easy prey – That’s not equality.

I hate that if I’m not wearing make-up every day I’m “not making the most of myself”, yet all a man has to do is brush his hair – That’s not equality.

I hate the fact that women who try and do something about it are told they”should be men” or aspersions are cast on their sexuality – That’s not equality.

I don’t want much, really. I’d like to be able to get a late train home without being concerned that people are worrying about me. I’d like to be able to be myself without people looking at me like I’m letting myself down. I’d like to be able to have the same options that my brother does – but I don’t.

Have we stalled? Are we at the limit of freedom in terms of being a woman? Will the glass ceiling get any easier to shatter? I hope it will.

I don’t want to be treated like a man; I’d like to be treated as an equal. I’d like to live in a world where my contribution is seen as every bit as valuable as men’s – regardless of whether I wear high heels or make up.

I don’t think we’re there yet.

But how do we get there when our one option – activism, has become a dirty word?


BTask said...

The feminist movement has allowed old, conservative men and their so called "real women" to convince a generation of young women that the fight for equal rights is over and nowadays being a feminist means not shaving under your arms, cropping your hair short and hating men.

Young women need to be shown that this is not the case and that feminism will still be needed until the day that women are paid the same for doing the same work as men, are not discriminated against as a matter of course in corporations and institutions etc etc.

thr said...

Whilst activists are demonised, I suspect this probably isn't a new thing.
What may be new is the way in which feminist ideals have been coopted by forces who are largely indifferent to the welfare of women, or anybody else for that matter.
Women still face significant disadvantages on the work and home fronts, even in Australia. Women still make up the bulk of the global proletariat. As btask said above, feminism needs to continue fighting against the systematic exclusion of women from equal rights.

Magic Bellybutton said...

It took me many years to admit that I was a feminist - purely because of the negative images the word brings to mind. It wasn't until I was in my early 20's that I felt completely comfortable with describing myself as such.

I think we have to remember that we can't overcome centuries of discrimination (oppression, or whatever you want to call it)in a couple of decades. Like it or not, we are still considered weaker or inferior by many. I believe this is a combination of society's deeply ingrained beliefs and general sexism. We also need to remember that no all women embrace the concept of equality, for whatever reason.

As for people worrying about you - I think this is in part because of gender but also because they care. I worry about my flat-mate when he walks home from his second job at night. Because I care about him. Would I worry more about a female friend? Yes. I'm still not sure if this is due to sex discrimination, or me projecting fears for my own personal safety. Probably both. If it is the former, I'm not entirely pleased that I feel this way but I guess a part of me recognises that physically, women can (not "are" but "can") be weaker than men. We are also frequently bought up to feel threatened in certain situations, even if our parents are trying to instil caution, this can easily give way to fear.

I don't wear make up. Mostly because I find it irritating and a waste of money. But I must admit that part of it is because I just can't be bothered and because no one has ever really sat down with me and figured out what suits me and the correct way to apply it. But overall, it doesn't really bother me.

I also have a tendency to forget to change out of my sneakers that I wear to and from work. It is something I just don't think of. I'm not obsessed with clothes or shoes or handbags or any of the stereotypical stuff. But the only feminist connection I make to any of this is that I am comfortable being myself, not that I don't do any of this because I am a feminist.

jeanie said...

I remember once at work (early 90s, advertising) having to explain feminism to a young female colleage.

She did not realise that without feminism she would have no education, no chance at (approximating) equitable employment opportunities and no vote.

There is a lot of "ooh, I am not a feminist" from a lot of women these days who only see hairy legs and burning bras (a myth, by the way) as feminism.

New to your blog, but I like.

Keri said...

Wow, guys.

Great comments.

Jennifer said...

Great post - came her via the Carnival.

On the walking home late thing, I try and tell myself that men are actually more likely to get beaten up late at night than men. Certainly true from the crime statistics. I'm not sure if its still true if you correct for how many men and women are walking late at night, though.

So it depends on the place, but I do walk late at night, and I mostly feel pretty safe doing it.