Tag Archives: Contemporary Feminism

Misconception Corrections: 1) Feminism Is Not… Degrading | Self-Victimisation | Redundant

While Feminism never disappeared from the collective consciousness, its manifestation has ebbed and flowed in four unique waves. Each wave served an absolutely vital purpose in improving life for women by advocating for social, economic, political and cultural equality.

Feminism in its earliest form rose from the dormant embers of 1900 years of inequality and oppression. Women’s social duties and responsibilities were not treated as equal to those of men: they worked longer hours for smaller wages, held no agency for those meagre earnings and were denied self-ownership because they were represented by their husbands and fathers. Its pioneers, the Suffragettes, challenged patriarchal power as it was, in this way, institutionalised in law and government. University professor and author of several essays on American culture, feminism and gender politics, Christine Stansell, once poignantly expressed the complex circumstance of early feminism.

Such challenges do not arise simply from a collective sense of sisterhood; they do not grow automatically from women’s everyday relations with each other. They involve a conscious organisation, collective changes in consciousness, and a shared set of ideas about the nature of power and how to seize it.”

They had no other choice: either they do something or forever be owned by, and inferior to, men, subject to laws they had no part in making or enforcing. In the utter absence of power, women banded together to develop strategies for change and advancement, with a focus on obtaining the right to vote. To do this required action above and beyond themselves, those men and those employers: they had to change the policy that upheld legislated inequality.

Emboldened by their dissatisfaction with their societal position, women – mothers, wives, workers and scholars – launched peaceful demonstrations and political protests for equal pay, self-ownership and voting rights. Their messages fell on deaf ears, and their punishment into hands desperately clinging to their privileged position. Suffragettes were beaten during protests, fired by their bosses, abused by their disapproving husbands and estranged from their children, for whom men were the sole legal custodians. They garnered negative publicity by staging happenings of public nuisance, ignoring the laws that ignored them, and were subsequently imprisoned in endless attempts to silence them.

Their battle was eventually won, but at great cost and with great sacrifice: women lost their families, jobs, freedom and even lives in the fight for these fundamental rights.

Just because we now enjoy social, economic and political equality does not mean that the driving purpose of feminism is redundant, nor its principles stuck in those decades in which women were victims of patriarchal mistreatment.

Feminism is Not Degrading | Self-Victimisation

Referring to the plight of the Suffragettes is a way of contextualising the social, economic and political rights that we now take for granted. The fight for equal rights was a war, and holding those who fought the battle – or suffered oppression before it was won – in living memory shouldn’t be frowned upon. Feminism does not decree that without it, you wouldn’t be able to get a job, it embodies the beliefs, actions and sacrifices made by others before you which are the reason that you can get a job. Feminism is not about what a disadvantage it is to be a woman: it is about leaving all remnants of disadvantage behind and addressing areas of society in which this progress – whether due to bureaucratic complexity, corrupt management or lacking information/education – lags.

Feminism is Not Redundant

Aside from the fact that there are still countries in which women are equally as oppressed – or worse so – as the Suffragettes, there are many reasons why Feminism is still a positive, relevant and important movement.

I’d like to put this into perspective, but I have long struggled to express my frustration with the ‘women are equal now, get over it’ logic (with which I believe many of the video’s stars are familiar). Lost for words, I turned to more primal communicative tools: a black Biro, some coloured felt pens and a piece of paper:

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To say that, in less than one-twentieth of the time in recorded history, almost 2000 years of oppression can be resolved and forgotten, seems preposterously ignorant of the bigger picture here. Can colonising races, having destroyed the culture and livelihoods of indigenous people of their acquired lands in a mere fraction of their existence, declare the score even by outlawing racial discrimination and granting rights to the formerly persecuted some decades ago? No. The score is not even: the colonised and the colonising are not born on equal footing. Resolution to any degree requires a doctrine of equity rather than equality, whereby consideration of the significant, continuing financial, cultural, social and ethical difficulties faced by disenfranchised indigenous people.

In a similar way, thousands of years of inequality have left remnants in our social and cultural consciousnesses which perpetuate the values of patriarchy. They are so deeply entrenched in our society and collective psyche that we are often not aware of their operating in our homes, workplaces, governments and everyday interactions. The biological designation of child-bearing to women continues to hinder their career trajectory due to management strategies in the recruitment and return to work stages, and parental leave legislation sustains a salary (and superannuation) gap which undermines the tenet of equal-pay-for-equal-work policy to which many cling as a comprehensive solution. And, though targets are being ardently worked towards by our businesses and governments, women remain largely unrepresented in management and policy-making positions.

This is the purpose of contemporary feminism: addressing and removing those remnants of inequality that imply women should be a certain way, do certain things, choose a certain lifestyle and limit us by doing so. Women, as well as men, should be, do and choose of their own will. But for their choices to be made free of these inhibiting stigmas, as are those of men, there is much still to be changed, and much to be understood.

Misconception Corrections: Feminism Is Not…

Feminism has always been, and will always be, an evolving set of values and principles. Like all ideological movements, it is socially, culturally and politically receptive. The time and place in which it operates necessarily dictate the circumstances it fights to overcome and the ideals it fights to achieve.

Having become a loaded term, Feminism suffers now more than ever with damaging misconceptions about its purpose, its people and the progress that it has made and can continue to make. This video, in which people from all walks of life are asked to describe what Feminism means to them in one word, provides a comprehensive summary of these misconceptions, which include labels such as ‘self-victimisation’, ‘terrorism’, ‘hate’ and ‘female privilege’.

 

The next few Femoirs will comprise a series of responses to the misconceptions voiced by men and women in the video, who represent far larger social groups who hold similar ideas. Using the developmental timeline of feminism, I will respond to each of these misconceptions by following the trail of social, cultural and political opinions voiced about the movement throughout its lifetime.

I believe that the cause of these distorted impressions is lack of- or misinformation, and the false representations of feminism created by misinformed people using its name in the public arena. By addressing these misconceptions with information and analyses echoed by university curriculum, I hope to begin to resolve them and restore the integrity and reputation of the feminist movement.

Foremothers

What makes a woman a Feminist? Some things that shape our identity are universal: from our parents we inherit our biological make-up, our language and a spate of social and personal mannerisms. But change is instigated by those who break away from the frictionless familial, societal and cultural mould and forge a new path for themselves, undaunted by uncertainty. I cannot claim to have taken this kind of solo leap into the unknown: a century of empowered women have fought policy and prejudice to allow me – us – the opportunities that are now my rights. Moreover, the lives of my foremothers are emblazoned with tenacity, independence and self-belief in times before these values were so ardently indoctrinated for women.

With this in mind, when my maternal grandmother recently asked for help in recording memoirs of early life on a Dictaphone, I took the opportunity to enact my own information-gathering agenda. I prepared some questions with which to gently nudge her through cloudy memories and meandering stories of formative years (allowing maximal flexibility for the elderly person tangent factor).

My grandmother grew up in small town New South Wales, the second of nine children. I’m told that they “lived off the smell of an oily rag,” but not by Nan, to whom this seems to be an extraneous detail. Her father was a ‘service car’ (taxi) driver whose strict, Methodist parents had rejected him on account of his choice of wife: when he chose to marry a woman whose unapologetic delight in dancing would surely drag him to hell with her, they wrote him out of their wills and wiped their hands clean of him.

His defiant resolution to marry for love rather than socio-economic or religious propriety marked, I believe, the inception of a culture of respect for women that would expand the possibilities in life for his wife, his daughters, his granddaughters and their daughters after them. Ken Wein set a precedent: rules imposed by, and opinions of, institutions – be they religious or cultural, or people, be they politicians or your parents – should not overshadow or eclipse one’s own educated judgement of character and personal code of ethics. Ergo, just because others alleged that women should be a certain way, did not mean you should believe or endorse it. Love and personal freedom are our rights and universal, primal needs, and by holding them to be more important than social and cultural regulations, Nan’s parents modelled liberal ethics that recognised and promoted equality, respect and acceptance.

Indeed, they were unfazed by Nan’s unusual tom-boyish behaviour. At age 5, her hair entwined in curling rags per her adoring, unsuspecting aunt’s tradition, she had her brother hack it off with craft scissors and ran excitedly to inform her parents of the change: “LOOK! YOU’VE GOT TWO BOYS NOW!” Nan and her hackjob bob clung to her father’s and brothers’ company more often than her mother’s and sisters’, playing with sticks and stones outside rather than babies and bonnets inside. Nanny’s parents were supportive and gentle, never smacking with a disciplinary hand, and their preoccupation with maintaining the familial home meant she quickly developed intellectual autonomy and maturity far beyond her years. By the time she was 12, Nan was the acting Eldest Child for 7 younger siblings, a role that she took very seriously. She coordinated the Sunday Schooling of her siblings which they did by correspondence, leading them to the Homework Tree and supervising their completion of all coursework satisfactorily. Nan was bright: her performance at school earned her a scholarship to local government school otherwise beyond the reach of her parents’ income.

She continued to excel in her studies as well as extra-curricular activities – she was a writer for and co-editor of the school’s magazine along with her best friend, a role that she would have pursued as a career in an ideal world.

Unfortunately, the world is not ideal, and university was not free. Nursing was within the familial budget, and unlike Journalism or Teaching, both scholarship and board were provided. Nan became a nurse at age 20 and got a job at Beaudesert Hospital where, a few years later, she met her future husband, Bernie. They married at age 24 and had their first of four kids shortly thereafter, and just like that, aged younger than I am now (having barely started my career), Nan’s career was over: by law, women could not return to work as public servants after having children. While the post-war government had employed married women to alleviate the shortage of labour, the marriage bar remained until 1966, as did widespread unease over the ‘proper’ role of women. Still, she was happy – this was the norm, and she loved her husband and children – but what happened to all that promise, all that pent up intellect and strength and drive?

Fate was kind to have given her two daughters who grew to match Nan’s indefatigable industriousness and incredible self-discipline. Studies have shown that communities with strong female leaders and daughters of working mothers have higher aspirations, complete more years of education, are more likely to be employed in management roles and earn higher incomes. Like many daughters of 1950s women, mum and her sister were raised with the knowledge that they could do anything they put their mind to – a climate of infinite possibilities and therefore, extremely high expectations.

It’s possible that my mother’s upbringing in this environment is responsible for a range of neuroses: a catastrophic, nuclear explosion probably still couldn’t stop mum from getting up at 5, going for a run, working a 12 hour day, doing a few selfless favours and coordinating the affairs of her parents and (adult) children. But it’s also the reason that she and her sister are both in high level management positions, my mother at a girls’ high school, being a strong female role model for not only her own two daughters but hundreds of other young girls at the precipice of their own independent, adult lives and potential careers. It’s the reason she chose to return to work after having my siblings and I, and that she was unfazed and resolute in doing so despite her (purest of heart and intention) mother-in-law’s repeatedly outspoken disapproval. It’s the reason she tactfully calls out everyday sexism with flawless argumentative intellect and points a finger at the remnants of patriarchy in our culture with an educated, analytical mind. Ultimately, it’s also the reason that I now do as well.

Through this retrospective of my maternal ancestry, one thing has become clear. I learned to demand respect and fight for equality down to the last socio-cultural stigma from Mum, and Mum would not be a model of feminist values if it weren’t for Nan: an obvious testament to the importance of strong female role models in the empowerment of women. But Nan would not have believed herself deserving of equal respect, rights and opportunities if it weren’t for her father, whose choices in life were manifestations of his own belief in equality, tolerance and liberal ethics. And to me, this is a powerful illustration of the fact that equality is a paradigm upheld by both male and female role models, never more powerfully than in collaboration.

The Gaze

Beauty is sometimes said to be a curse – I don’t believe that: beauty in this world is a social, economic and physical advantage. Indeed, there are times and places to enjoy being the target of desirous attention. There have been times of drought when a lingering stare or earnest compliment from a friend or passer-by has made my day. But there are also times and places when they irritate, unnerve and upset me: times when I don’t want to be looked at, fantasised about or antagonised by random strangers.  In this way, feminine beauty is more a double-edged sword: my breasts, bum, legs and any skin bared can feel like biological Hi Vis gear and collar bells robbing me of private and undetected passage in public spaces.

This is not to say that the Male Gaze is inherently malicious or intentionally offensive – it is natural for human eyes to seek attributes in the physicality of those around us to generate sexual attraction. Males and females alike find their eyes drawn automatically to bare skin and body parts associated with sex, and neither I nor feminist ideology, I proffer, take issue with biological truths and the behaviours in which they manifest. But there exist key biological and socio-cultural truths that problematise the female experience in today’s public spaces due to the Male Gaze: our generally inferior size and strength which can make us feel (accurately or not) vulnerable, and the statistically irrefutable implications that it has on our safety in public which we are loath to ignore.

The Male Gaze can make public space perilous for women because of the generally heightened intensity of flirting, the blatantly sexual nature of attention often received at bars and clubs and antagonistic behaviour that sometimes results from politely ignoring, firmly declining or outright rejecting it.

On a recent trip to Bali, my sister and I donned our ‘kinis and beach kits to hit Potato Head, one of Seminyak’s most popular clubs, for sunset cocktails. We had no misconceptions about the type of people we might meet at night clubs in Bali, so we were wholeheartedly unsurprised to see trios of Brits Abroad (identifiable by their vibrant, salmon-coloured skin), 18-year-old squads in cheeky shorts and Cons, and least of all, Australian bucks parties, boistering sloppily at the swim-up bar. After making brief eye contact, our expressions coloured with hesitance and disdain, we took a deep breath, squared our shoulders and sat at the pool’s edge with our feet in the water. We smiled – the sky was a soft, pastel peach, the music was popping, waves were crashing in on the beach beyond the club’s sprawling day beds as the sun set in the distance.

As we settled in, our skin prickled with droplets of sweat in the humid 5 o’clock sunlight. We decided to take a dip. No sooner had we stood and raised our hands to remove our shirts than did we notice the muttering, glassy-eyed gangs of drunk men moving towards us, looking us up and down. We exchanged a glance – nope, shirt’s good. As I re-took my seat, burnt ochre-coloured alpha-Geordie edged over and bellowed, I thor’ you wa gonna tehk I’ off, swee’heart? Cum on luv! TEHK – I’ – OFF! TEHK – I’ – OFF!

Some of the Australian yobs that happened to be co-mingling with the chavvy Bucks from Newcastle joined in on this detestable chant as we stood, frozen in horror. Not wishing to be sour and accepting the drunken sleaziness of Bali clubs in general, we laughed it off and continued to talk amongst ourselves and with the chanters and their friends who elected to occupy our immediate area of the poolside in great numbers. This was fine – meeting new people and socialising is part of going out. What tarnished and eventually ruined our experience was the incessant, obnoxious and inappropriate behaviour some of them showed.

Are you girls single? Are youse sisters? You look heaps alike, are youse twins? Can I buy you a drink? Where are you staying? What are you doing tonight? Who are you with? Got boyfriends? Are you gonna finally take that top off and get in the pool, love? I felt slightly discomforted by the eight sets of eyes hungrily looking my sister and me up and down, over and over, and was tiring from the energy exerted in avoiding further advances – no, I don’t feel like a swim, no, thankyou, I don’t need a drink, thanks but we are just doing our own thing tonight, no, I am leaving my shirt on. I felt uncomfortable and irritated when our polite but firm refusals began to be met with antagonistic and rude comments. Not havin’ a good day, luv? Come on and just get in the pool luv, I won’t bite! Aw, this lass don’t like me, too good for me ey? One of them had three strikes before he was out for fondling my feet in the water and tugging at my leg to lead me into the pool, and the final straw was his assertion that his plan for tonight was to fuck hot chicks and asked if I would like to be a part of that plan.

Ferk this. We got up, fished our scarves from our backpacks and draped them loosely over our torsos like makeshift Burqas and made for the beach. On our towels we took refuge from the Gaze and launched into astonished recounting of our time at the pool.

The behaviour of these men, though perhaps not ubiquitous, exemplifies perfectly the cause of negative experiences of the Male Gaze which taint public space for women of today. It occurs to me that while in the past I have looked at Muslim women wearing their Hijabs and Burqas and thought how uncomfortable, hot and restrictive they must be, they probably look at me in skirts and singlets and think how objectified and harassed by the male attention I must be.

I HATE this behaviour; it features in many of my top 10 worst experiences ever in one way or another. While we can not necessarily expect privacy in public spaces, we deserve respect of our ownership of our bodies, and what is owned is private property. There are boundaries which should never be crossed unsolicited, and this behaviour turns harmless visual admiration into obnoxious, invasive harassment. The feeling of being visually feasted on, persistently approached and propositioned is awful, worse still when you’re not prepared or in the mood for it. This behaviour objectifies women, treating us as objects of desire existing to be looked at and fantasised about while in public. It disrupts, however briefly, my confidence and sociability, and I am ready for a change.

When we go for an afternoon run, walk home from work at dusk or interact with flirtatious strangers ogling us in bars, gyms, shops or streets, we have this in the back of our minds: 17% of women in Australia have been sexually assaultedwomen make up 83% of sexual assault victims in Australia and 58% of kidnap or abduction victims, and 3.8% of all Australian women have been sexually assaulted by a stranger, more than double the 1.6% of men. These morbid truths, I believe, are often miscommunicated and misunderstood: our hesitance or refusal to engage with men in public can be read as an unnecessarily phobic distrust of all men as perpetrators of violent crime. Feminism suffers the same misunderstanding for its encouragement of assertiveness and empowerment for women, particularly victims of assault. But the truth is, we would be naïve or ignorant not to acknowledge our instincts for self-protection, and our experience of public spaces would comprise less angst, discomfort and irritation if the Gaze was executed with greater restraint and empathy.

Ogle subtly if you must, not obnoxiously. Flirt politely, not aggressively. Compliment kindly, not perversely. Proposition once, not persistently. Take no for an answer, not for an insult. Read body language and back off when it’s closed. Meet refusal with respect, not antagonism. Touch solicitously, not unsolicited. And never, EVER, initiate chants for clothing removal. With a little decorum, we might someday enjoy an unperturbed sense of safety and privacy in public.

One Night

Why is it that I find myself constantly explaining and justifying my desire to delay going all the way to home base? I’m not necessarily talking about a three week delay – or even 3 dates. Sometimes, all I want is one: one temporal step between making out and sex, one night to sleep on it, one night of suspense.

To me, this is just what feels right. I’m not doing it because I’ll feel ‘slutty’ if I don’t, nor to torment the guy, and not because I don’t want to have sex with this person at all. I’m waiting until I feel 100% comfortable with him, 100% sure of where I stand with this person and 100% certain I want to do it with that in mind. Mostly, I want to know that this guy is interested in me as a person as well as a sexual partner, because I am a person as well as a sexual partner, and allowing myself to be treated as any less is a breach of my integrity. And if they aren’t willing to wait one night, I feel it’s safe to assume they aren’t interested enough. In any case, it’s a personal choice based on my own emotional, psychological and physical desire to have sex with this person at this time, and it should be respected.

I usually tell guys this when things get close – before nudity but after heavy petting. I feel that I’m being straight-forward and fair. “I don’t want to have sex yet – at least tonight.” Some take it well, but most are some variation of frustrated, sour, (vocally) disappointed or disbelieving. These are the guys I’m talking about: not all guys, many of whom are respectful and considerate in sexual matters. Just these ones to whom I’m sick of explaining myself. The status quo in sex and dating has its roots in a time preceding the level of socio-cultural equality women now enjoy, and established norms for instigating, managing and ending relationships often serve to gratify and empower men. I’m not accepting sex and dating on these terms anymore. If what we are missing is a powerful retort to the ideas about sex, dating and everything in between which are currently accepted as the norm, then allow me to be the mouthpiece for women who are taking control and writing their own rule book.

  1. If I don’t want to have sex tonight, don’t try to convince me otherwise.

Like men, women of course have strong sexual desires which can overcome our willpower to wait, especially when persistently goaded in the heat of the moment. But for women, or at least for me, sex is not only physical, but also – perhaps moreso – it is emotional and psychological. If I was overcome by desire in the moment, I can still feel strange about it the next day – over-exposed, somehow violated, because the trifecta of considerations was not fulfilled before sex happened. This is tolerable, but do you really want to make someone feel like that?

  1. I am not doing this to tease you, make you think about me in a particular way or for any reason to do with you at all.

I’m doing what I want, how I want to do it. It’s also not because it saves me from thinking I’m ‘slutty’: I don’t need to save myself from prejudice that I don’t play into in the first place. Those ideas exist within an outdated culture of inequality in sex and romance which perpetuates different expectations for men and women that society as a whole is still struggling to break away from. My reason is completely removed from this: I do it because that’s what’s best for me. Period.

  1. Making out does not equal sex. They are different things.

Kissing and other intimate activities are enjoyable without sex. Perhaps it’s more common to be in some way ‘finished’ in adult sexual encounters, but that does not create an obligation for any girl to bring you to climax unless she wishes to do so (and if she does, she will – don’t ask, do NOT ask twice). Making out without going all the way is the choice and occasional preference of some people, it is not a deviation from the default order of business which can warrant labels such as ‘tease’ or ‘prude’. I, for example, would not call a person who doesn’t want to have sex with me a prude – it is perfectly conceivable to me that some may lack the inclination towards me but be wildly aroused by and intimate with someone else. I also understand that their reciprocal attraction to me is not mandated by my own desire for them. Their behaviour in and expectations of any intimate encounters with me are based on their own self-determined level of desire for me; not a divergence from my own expectations enacted to tease me.

Furthermore, sex once does not equal sex again. The likelihood of second times and any thereafter is not increased; there is a choice every time.

If this doesn’t help you to understand, think about it this way: sex is always a personal choice made by each involved. This often has nothing to do with ideas, rules and expectations: it’s often as simple as DO I, OR DO I NOT, WANT TO BANG THIS PERSON, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW? Each answer is as good as the other, and neither should be questioned or contested. The established book of rules and expectations is open for re-writing in contemporary society, and by acting in our own best interests we assert ourselves as co-authors.