Fem(inism)me Fatale

Renae Burgess asks if it’s harder to call yourself a feminist today than it was when the movement began. 

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These days, it’s not hard to find men and women alike who agree that there should be equality between the sexes. What does prove to be a little trickier, however, is having them call themselves a feminist. Despite approving of all the common goals of the movement, no self-respecting person would associate themselves with ‘The F Word’.

An overview of feminism from Wikipedia:
“Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment … A feminist generally self-defines as advocating for or supporting the rights and equality of women.”

Originally coined in 1837 and surging into popularity in the late 19th century and early 20th, feminism is a movement that brought women the right to vote, own property, access to contraceptives and abortions, bodily autonomy, and sexual freedom and liberation, just to scratch the tip of a rather patriarchal controlled iceberg.

However, in the wake of all of these tidal waves of feminist rallying and societal shift, surely – I mean surely – we don’t need it anymore. Right? I mean yeah, there’s still a huge wage gap between men and women, and yeah there’s a severe lack of women in male-dominated fields like science, engineering and trades jobs due to social pressure to conform to stereotyped gender roles. Yeah, there’s disrespect from male coworkers too, but what can you do, boys will be boys after all. Yeah, a female tutor at university has to spend a whole semester earning the respect of her class, women still don’t feel safe going anywhere alone at night – or even during the day, rape victims expect to be asked what they were wearing to prompt their assault, and I am still being scoffed at if I’m genuinely upset by your bullshit behaviour because it’s ‘obviously my time of the month’.

So maybe we do still need it?

But are these issues seen as important enough to warrant an entire movement, one with a name and a reputation, when really, they’re only minor, right? Wrong.

As one minute example, we’ll let the money talk.

In 2013 the gender pay gap in Australia reached 17.5 per cent and I know that number means absolutely nothing to anyone outside of maybe an economics degree, so let me elaborate. In 2009 the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling stated that after critical evaluation they concluded that “simply being a woman is the major contributing factor to the gap in Australia, accounting for 60 per cent of the difference between women’s and men’s earnings.” The results showed that if the effects of being a woman were removed, the average wage of a full time working Australian woman would increase by $1.87 per hour, equating to an additional $65 per week, or $3,394 annually.

When I asked a male co-worker of mine earlier this week what he thought of the gender wage gap, he laughed at me. He thought I was joking. It’s not just misinformation and a lack of knowledge that makes feminism still necessary today, but it’s also the misconceptions of the movement that make it hard to label yourself ‘feminist’. I’m not sure if I’m doing something funny when I say the word, maybe I go a little too heavy on the ‘m’, but somehow people are constantly mistranslating it to ‘man-hater’.

So, is it harder to be a feminist today than it was when the movement began? Not having personally experienced the plight of the Suffragettes, I can’t say what would be harder: having men tell you that it’s not a woman’s place to have a say in her society and screaming for it anyway, or trying to explain to a man that there are still existing inequalities between the sexes without getting called an angry, sexually-frustrated lesbian. I can say with informed experience though, that it is definitely hard today to have someone correctly understand you when you do expose the label.

To sum up the tone of my research and incredibly brief interviews that I undertook for this article, more often than not I would begin with the question, “What do you think about feminism?” and they would end the conversation shortly thereafter with a dizzying array of sighs, eye-rolls and grimly-set frowns. Most people looked at me the way I looked at the cockroach I killed last week when it invaded my personal space, and I’m taking this line to apologise to you, cockroach. Like you, we feminists are also misunderstood and feared things, less dirty and detrimental to the general public’s health than given credit for. It’s just the extremists and those god-awful flying roaches that give us both a bad rap.

This misunderstanding of what feminism is, what it stands for, and what it hopes to achieve is causing the movement a lot of grief, particularly when most girls I talked to either responded to my questions with “I don’t really care”, “It’s about equality and stuff”, or “I don’t like it, it makes girls look weak/like man-haters”. In an astounding Facebook argument that lasted 13 hours, and through approaching multiple women and asking for their views, I was disheartened to discover that very few women would want to be labelled as a feminist.

“I mean, it’s a good thing,” agreed 19-year-old, Ashley. “But there’s a line and too many cross it. You shouldn’t push it on people.”

“I believe in total equality, of course,” said Tyler, a 20-year-old commerce student, “but I don’t like the word ‘feminist’. I makes me think of old women yelling on shows like Oprah.”

Angus, a 25-year-old architect student and proud ‘equalist’, said, “Feminism isn’t about female superiority, but that’s what people seem to interpret it as these days. Why can’t they call themselves equalists instead, if they want true equality?”

Most men that I talked to listed all the qualities of feminism as desirable, however, not one of them would like to be called a feminist. The connotation of the name, it seems, makes them believe it is a movement they are excluded from, their entrance barred by a glass door locked by discrimination, and a ‘no boys allowed’ sign hanging in their faces.

However, feminism welcomes everyone to be apart of the struggle for gender equality, and holds its arms out wide to incorporate women, men and anyone from the broad spectrum of the LGBT+ community. The movement has even grown to incorporate the protection and expansion of rights in relation to men’s rape, freedom of sexuality for queer men and women, and the abolishment of gender stereotyping.

But, while feminism does include all of this and does not close its doors to anyone, to rename ‘feminism’ as ‘equalism’ would be a blatant disregard of the oppression of an entire gender within a still patriarchal driven society throughout centuries and grossly insults the foundations of a movement that has brought about so much positive change, and will continue to do so, negative connotations and all.

So, while it’s surely not harder to be a feminist today with the vote and job security, it’s certainly not easy to call yourself one because of these things too. My advice for you all is to do your homework, assess your values and don’t be afraid to call yourself a feminist if that’s the conclusion you come to.