Man is not the enemy here; but the fellow victim.
— Betty Friedan
Popular opinion nowadays frequently labels Feminism as ‘Hate’. Feminism as Women Hating Men, feminism as the flag of Angry Lesbians, feminism as Terrorism enacted by those hateful females to instill fear in our enemies, men.
The actions of women before us – radical gestures of empowerment, outrage or defiance – often define the feminist movement, providing memorable samples of revolutionary behaviour to be assembled in a case against it in our contemporary, politically-correct society. Why, were Feminists not those who stormed court houses to make their case, who smashed shop windows on London’s high streets, who marched with banners bearing messages of impassioned resistance to patriarchy, who used their naked bodies to make political statements on a global scale? Did they not hijack mainstream media with their own agenda, throw themselves into public disgrace by breaking the law, fill gallery spaces with graphic vaginal iconography (representations of female genitalia), make paintings with menstrual blood and rally women to revolt against the very foundations of western society?
These are things that women did for the cause of feminism, yes: they adopted the language of social change because passivity and acquiescence had proven ineffective. What was heard – what was moving and memorable – were words and actions that so shocked and disquieted the public that their plight became at least a blip on society’s radar. Feathers were rustled to rouse rigid minds to flight: this, irrefutably, is still the case. Almost everything you think of has been done before; you need to find a way to shock and move your audience lest your work go tragically unnoticed.
Susan B Anthony: helped establish the American Equal Rights Association in 1866 with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which vocalised her calling for the same rights to be granted to all regardless of race or sex. Anthony and Stanton created and produced The Revolution, a weekly publication that lobbied for women’s rights in 1868. The newspaper’s motto was “Men their rights, and nothing more; women their rights, and nothing less.”
Alice Stone Blackwell: in the early 20th century, Blackwell translated and published several volumes of verse from various oppressed groups, notably Armenian Poems (1896 and 1916), Songs of Russia (1906), Songs of Grief and Gladness (1908; from Yiddish), and Some Spanish-American Poets (1929), and she wrote against czarist oppression in The Little Grandmother of the Russian Revolution—Catherine Breshkovsky’s Own Story (1917). Her focus was not on her own experience of oppression: it was on the cause of equality for every person, everywhere, regardless of gender, race or religion.
The Redstockings: Womens’ rights lobby group The Redstockings stormed a hearing of the New York State Joint Legislative Committee on Public Health in 1969, which was considering abortion law reform. They objected to the hearing, asking “Why are 14 men and only one woman on your list of speakers—and she’s a nun?” The committee chairman countered that these were the experts on the subject, to which The Redstockings responded by saying that there were no better experts on abortion than women.
We need to be long-distance runners to make a real social revolution. And you can’t be a long-distance runner unless you have some inner strength.
Steinem to People magazine, 1992.
The Guerrilla Girls: a group of female artists passionate about leveling the patriarchal playing field that had always been the Arts, this group’s motto is reinventing the F word: Feminism! The Guerrilla Girls formed in 1985 and threw long-accepted ideas into the light of interrogation, and the under-representation of women and racial minorities in major galleries and publications was their overarching focus. To me, the more important message is conveyed by their decision to mask their identities with gorilla masks, drawing the focus away from their identities and directing it solely towards the issues. In this way, their modus operandi was not to terrorise, to obfuscate, or to hide; it was not about who they are or gaining notoriety for championing the cause of women everywhere or ingratiating themselves as artists with political motivations.
Judy Chicago: few will be unaware of Chicago’s iconic work, Dinner Party (1979). Indeed, Chicago chose to depict the women of Western society throughout history with fine porcelain sculptural representations of their genitalia. Widely misunderstood and considered, at the time, obscene and antagonistic, I see this work is the wrangling of femininity out of obscurity and into a self-contained symbol of power, pride and beauty. By taking the institutionally and socially taboo vagina and flipping into an art object and symbol of female empowerment, Judy Chicago subverted prevalent notions of femininity as inferiority—as lack of masculinity—and earned herself a permanent place in feminist history.
Today, what characterises ‘feminazism’ is the impassioned expression of outrage, defiance and frustration by women online and in the streets. ‘Feminist rant’ has become a term with which such expressions can be swiftly and subtly discounted, and one that is frequently stamped on outspoken womens’ rights activists, from Australian politician Clementine Ford to global comedic success Amy Schumer. Other MPs who have voiced feminist notions have been hit with criticism for ‘not being able to handle mean tweets’ (mean being physically threatening or using, more often than not, the words ‘slut’ or ‘whore’) or labelled as humourless ‘control freak feminists’ taking issue with petty annoyances.
It is easy to forget that we are all victims of a distorted way of thinking that inhibits global equality, and that equality, not antagonism, is the purpose—the only reason—that women express their frustrations, or at least it should be when they call it Feminism.
In the fight for equality, we are not fighting against each other: women are not fighting against men or fellow women, nor race against race, nor religion against religion.