Tag Archives: Sexism

Misconception Corrections: Feminism Is Not Hate or Terrorism

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.

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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.

 

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.

Taking back the female body

Truth be told, we live in a society that objectifies women. Women’s bodies are used to sell anything and everything in advertising, acting as objects of visual pleasure in television, cinema and magazines. Historically, this has been because advertising and mass media industries have been dominated by men, whose primary audiences for cars, real estate, technology and household products were men as the breadwinners in patriarchal society.

Many women now work in advertising and media, political correctness in advertising is legally mandated, and transgressions from it are quickly repealed and publicly roasted by media watchdogs. fairlife-pinup-ad-2But this does not preclude the use of barely clothed female bodies in advertisements for completely unrelated products, nor the brazen reinforcement of gender stereotypes in the construction of a selling point. It’s gotten to the point that women are even objectified in media and publications aimed at female audiences: sanitary products, clothing lines and toiletries provide fertile ground for examination of this problematic tendency.

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The way mass media portrays it, women relish their own objectification. Let’s take ads for hair removal products: women in these advertisements sensuously extend their smooth, slender, long legs, relieved to have avoided the disaster of baring any hairs at all on their limbs in public. This 2012 ad for beauty salon Uni K Waxing, which offered 50% discounts on waxing treatments for girls 15 years and younger, perpetuates the notion that hairlessness is a basic necessity – the norm – thereby including girls not even legal to have sex yet in the sexualisation of their bodies.

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“Are you summer-ready?” this protein supplement ad asks. Why, yes, I would say. I can’t wait to hit the beach. But this advertiser isn’t asking about my emotional or psychological eagerness for summer: it’s asking if my body is ready to be shown in public. Let’s see: am I completely hairless? Have I done a summer slim-down by one form or the other of starvation? Have I bought antiperspirant that will prevent my production of body odour, lest I be revealed as a real, hair-growing, food-eating, perspiring human being? The answer to these questions from all women in ads is “Yes, of COURSE I am, and I’m pleased to be so!”

Because of this treatment of women in mass media, the denial or concealment of our own biological truths has become normal. One aspect of the female biology is particularly taboo, and has been appropriated for advertising audiences in a far more palatable form. Menstruation is a fun, music and laughter filled time at which we gather for sleepovers to discuss sanitary products and embarrassing period-related experiences. We valiantly go about our daily business – yoga, shopping, wearing white skirts – comfortable in the knowledge that this pad will absorb any pastel blue, water-like liquid that comes its way, while maintaining maximum flexibility and minimum visibility. Clearly, up until now, girls have had to stop going on dates, wearing anything but granny undies, working out or being in the public eye while menstruating. That way, no one ever has to know. Because that would be the worst thing: for anyone to find out that you were menstruating, because that is GROSS.

In this recent ad by sanitary line Sofy, a beauty’s period arrives in the form of a plain-faced, overweight caricature of herself enacting period-related behaviours: eating junk food in front of the TV, erupting in anger over the non-delivery of pizza and bursting into tears in the same breath; leaving her after a few days as her usual, acceptable self. To be honest, I actually found this ad hilarious – my own experience of periods and PMS is typified by involuntary crying about anything from cute animals to everyday frustrations (opening a tricky latch; having to re-load the toilet paper in the right direction), and the immense bloating of my abdomen renders my self image to cavernous, pizza-ridden lows. But it is offensive in a number of ways, most obviously, its trivialisation of an aspect of female biology that has in the past been used to discredit and belittle women.

 

BMW Ultimate AttractionSome ads encourage the “boys will be boys” mentality – man creates secret cave to avoid his wife while she makes dinner for the family; bikini-clad women apparate to fulfil a beer’s promise of something good upon consumption; girlfriend vetoes the cordless drill purchased by her disobedient boyfriend and trades it for cash. Or this BMW ad, my objection to which I can’t imagine needs explaining.

 

 

Or this Old Spice ad in which bikini-clad women fawn over a man because he just smells so damn good – whether it is his irresistible fragrance, the sensual bubbles massaging their bodies in the hot tub or their implied lack of cognition, they don’t even realise that he is a robot rather than a real man.

There are so many things wrong with these representations of contemporary culture – in fact, they are insulting not only to women but also to men in a society moving away from gender stereotypes – that I hardly know where to begin.

I think what needs to be said is this: bikini-clad women may continue to appear in ads for television channels and phone plans, hairlessness may continue to be next-to-godliness, and menstruation may continue to be a misunderstood, unsavoury spectacle for us to conceal at all times (it is only the reason that all human life exists, and the source of approximately $25 million per year in taxes on sanitary products in Australia, after all). We may not be able to stop it – at least not without years of laborious legal action. What we can do is move away from passively enabling this objectification by taking back ownership of our bodies, as was the message of feminist art group COMBO’s Paris demonstration (featured image).

With so many factors appropriating our bodies for commercial use, it’s easy to be swayed by the notion of femininity that they perpetuate. But as owners of our own bodies, the only thing that matters is our own perception and our own prerogative: wax when we want, satirise periods how we want to, be naked when we want, be sexual when we want to be. This doesn’t mean that we have to stop enacting the gestures of femininity to which we are accustomed: being an empowered woman does not forbid grooming, waxing or relishing sex appeal. It just means liberating ourselves by considering only our own opinion, our own wishes and our own self image in matters of body and beauty.