Monday, 11 November 2013

Feminism - Why The Likes of Kelly Clarkson and Little Mix are Wrong.

I am a feminist.  I have never burned my bra.

I consider myself to be a feminist.  I'm a woman (at least I was last time I checked) and I believe in equality between the sexes.  I believe that women should never be reduced to simply their looks or sex appeal (as though that is their only worth) and I don't feel we should force our children to conform to gender stereotypes if they do not wish to.  To me, feminism is about freedom and respect.  It's a desire for women to be free to dress as they choose, work in whatever job they choose, love whomever they choose and live their lives in the manner they so wish.  It's about wanting women to be treated as equals not only when compared to men, but when compared to each other, regardless of sexuality, ability, looks, race or religion.  It's about wanting women to be safe.  It's about seeing men and women as equally important, equally worthy and equally deserving of opportunities and respect.  In fact, you can boil it down to one word, really.  Equality.  That's what feminism means to me.

I'll tell you what it's not about, as far as I'm concerned.  It's not about hating all men.  It's not about wanting women to be seen as superior.  It's not about reading a misogynistic slight into every criticism of a woman (because sometimes, criticism is justified).  

I also don't conform to any of the outdated stereotypes that are generally thrown at feminists.  I shave my legs.  I wear make up.  I like pink.  And even more shockingly, I like men.

I like some men more than others, admittedly.

The idea that all feminists are man-hating, hairy-legged hippies is massively outdated and frankly offensive.  In this day and age, you wouldn't get away with tarring many groups with the same, distinctly negative brush; so why is it okay to do it to feminists?

Unfortunately, one of the reasons is that the media frequently likes to wheel out the "ALL FEMINISTS HATE MEN" argument and every now and then, they find a willing celebrity to sit upon that rickety old chariot and say something utterly stupid to give said argument an undeserved air of credibility.

And that's why we get the likes of Perrie from Little Mix, loudly declaring: "I wouldn't say we're feminists.  We don't hate our men."  Or Kelly Clarkson telling us: "When people hear 'feminist,' it's like 'get out of the way, I don't need anyone.'  I love that I'm being taken care of."  Oh Kelly.  You know what, sweetie?  You can have a man who takes care of you and STILL be a feminist.  But hey, thanks for perpetuating an unhelpful myth!  

And there are more examples - many, many more.  From Taylor Swift referring to feminism as "guys versus girls," to Lady Gaga informing the world that she's "not a feminist...I love men.  I celebrate American male culture and beers and bars and muscle cars."  

Because, in case you're wondering, being a feminist means you must never drink beer, or go to a bar, or like anything manly, such as cars.  In which case, feminism must be about to kick me out on my backside, seeing as I quite like beer.  Oh and bars.  Oh and I went to see Top Gear being filmed once and met all three presenters.  I SIMPLY CANNOT BE A FEMINIST, BECAUSE I DO NOT HATE MEN OR STEREOTYPICALLY "MANLY" THINGS.

I hope you ladies are proud.

In a way, I want to laugh when I read quotes like those previously mentioned.  I want to shake my head in amusement at how utterly wrong those women have got it.  Because I know that feminism isn't about hating men, or wanting to be alone, or distancing oneself from anything that might be considered un-girly.  The problem is, there is a really serious point made by feminism and it's one that gets completely overlooked every time a stupid statement about man-hating gets plastered across the tabloids.  Feminism is about wanting equal respect.  And in truth, I don't believe we have that yet.

Sure, women can be doctors, lawyers, headteachers...  But this month, it was revealed that there is still a national pay gap of 15% between men and women.  Men still earn more than women do, in spite of women doing the same jobs as them.  George Osborne suggested that by 2015, he'd like to see women making up 25% of all boardroom seats.  That's not something we've achieved yet.  And even if we reach that, it'll still mean that women are vastly outnumbered by men.  That doesn't sound very "equal" to me.  

And that's just the UK.  There are still countries in the world where women are very much second class citizens, when compared to men.  In Saudi Arabia, females make up just 17% of the national workforce.  Under the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were prohibited from leaving the house without a male chaperone and any woman found committing adultery could be stoned to death.  Although the Taliban have long since been ousted, Afghanistan was still named in 2011 as "the most dangerous country to be a woman."

Whilst we're much more fortunate in Britain, there is still a sense of inequality that creeps into everyday life.  You only have to take a look at the @EverydaySexism account on Twitter, to see how much women put up with on a day-to-day basis - things that men just don't experience.  We're talking about cat-calling, the sexualisation of young girls walking home from school, inappropriate and unwelcome physical contact...  The list goes on and it is not okay.

It's not okay for a girl in her early teens, wearing her school uniform, to have adult men ask her for sex, then yell "SLUT" at her when she says no.  It's not okay that I was once pushed against the wall of a nightclub by a man much bigger than me, who proceeded to shove his hand up my dress and tell me I was "asking for it," whilst a male bouncer stood by and laughed.  

When I say that women deserve equal respect, I mean it.  And incidents like those described above show a distinct lack of respect for women and girls.

I'm not saying for a second that all men commit vile acts like those discussed.  All the men I know would be appalled to hear stories such as those mentioned here.  The men who behave so horribly shame their sex.  It's also worth mentioning that women are just as capable of behaving in a sexist manner towards men.  But the prevalence of male harassment of women is of deep concern to me.  If it wasn't so common, we wouldn't need campaigns such as Everyday Sexism and if women had achieved genuine equality, it surely wouldn't be happening at all.

I've blogged about No More Page 3's campaign to take the topless girls out of The Sun before, so I won't go too far into it again; suffice to say I agree with Lucy Anne Holmes' affirmation that boobs are not news.  There's an argument to be had for women making the choice to model with or without clothes and of course, what a woman does is entirely up to her.  But by featuring a topless girl on page 3 of the UK's biggest selling newspaper every day, are we not simply reducing a woman to something to be ogled over?  What other reason is there for it?  Although the "news in briefs" piece was scrapped earlier this year (the quote on the news story of the day, placed beside the model's topless photo -using words that obviously didn't come from the model herself- as a sneering, mocking assumption by editorial staff that women couldn't be sexy and clever), we still have women being presented for the enjoyment of men, plonked incongruously amongst the headlines.  Where is the male alternative?  Where is the daily photograph of a man without his pants on?  There isn't one.  There never has been and there never will be.  it's okay to reduce women to a comically large pair of tits every day, but best not offend the blokes by suggesting they're just walking willies, eh.

My point - and I realise I've deviated a little - is that feminism will continue to be necessary as long as there is the slightest little bit of inequality between the sexes, be that here in the UK or anywhere in the world.  If women are seen as sex objects and little else, we need feminism to counter that.  If there are countries were women are genuinely seen and treated as second class citizens, then we need feminism to point out how utterly wrong that is.  And every time a celebrity opens his or her mouth and loudly declares feminism to be about man-hating, it makes it harder for us to get our very important message across.

Feminism isn't about hating men.  It isn't about wanting to be better than men, either.  It's about wanting to be equal.  And equality in turn, is about humanity.  All people deserve to have the same rights, the same respect and the same opportunities, regardless of their background, race or sexuality.  And regardless of their gender.

So, Perrie from Little Mix (and your similarly-minded celebrity friends), when you say you're not a feminist because you don't hate men, I have only this to say in response:  

I am a feminist because I don't hate men.  I don't judge people based on their gender and I don't actually know anyone who does, because I simply wouldn't associate with someone like that.  So next time you're asked about whether or not you're a feminist, ask yourself what that question even means before you answer it.  Because if you believe that everyone, regardless of whether they're male or female, should be treated equally, then I hate to break this to you, but you are a feminist.  Stop setting us back decades with silly, untrue statements and wear that badge with pride.

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