Thursday, 18 August 2016

"Feminism ain't cancer if you don't want it to be": The Importance of promoting Compassionate Intersectional Feminism

"Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a "bitch" or "dyke"; it means you believe in equality." Kate Nash.

It's fascinating to see how feminists are received on social media platform these days. Advocating for equal pay rights by guaranteeing a fair pay structure for all workers gets shouted down as "sexist against hard working men", recognising the existence of a rape culture that attacks men as well as women is shot down as "illogical thinking" and even acknowledging the need for state funded gender segregated  domestic abuse shelters for those women who have survived sexually, emotionally and physically abusive relationships is seen as a waste of money.

Yet how striking is it to see the results of a January 2016 survey conducted by The Fawcett Society, "the UK's largest membership society for women's rights" who actively encourage men and women to help enact societal change to benefit both sexes. The wide ranging survey was conducted to analyse British attitudes towards feminism as a whole movement. They concluded that Britain is a nation of "hidden feminists". Here's why:
  • 2/3 of Britons support gender equality but only 7% identify as feminists. (560/8000 people interviewed).
  • 9% of women identify as feminists whereas 4% of men label themselves as feminist.
  • However men more supportive of equality between the sexes - 86% want equality for their women but only 74% of women want equality with men.
  • Younger women more likely to identify as feminist- 19% of 18-24 year olds use the word but also 18-24 year old age group more likely to oppose it. 8% expressed this view compared with 2% of people aged 55 and over.  I believe this could be partly due to a promotion of awareness of feminist issues being studied on the National Curriculum through studying feminist approaches to Elizabeth Bennett's desire to break etiquette rules in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for GCSE English Literature (Conservatives say this is liberal indoctrination of innocent minds).
When people were asked to ascribe an adjective to the word "feminist" when it first pops into their head:
  • Just over 25% said "bitchy"
  • 22% said "strength"
  • 17% said "suffragette"
  • 17% used gender-related words such as "woman" and "female".
A related poll conducted by the Huffington Post found that 82% of respondents believe that "men and women should be social, political, and economic equals" (the definition of feminism), but only 20% self-identify as feminists.

So what's truly going on within the feminist sphere that is putting off those who support mainstream ideas that have been espoused by various aspects of feminism and what can some feminists do to try and reverse the negative stereotypes being perpetuated by arch opponents of the movement?

Faux Feminism = Opponents of Feminism? A Social Media Analysis:

A Twitter follower and amazingly sassy British podcaster (one half of the Melanin Millennials show which I now religiously listen to on a weekly basis) and co-founder of the UK's diverse podcast company ShoutOut Network, Satia came up with a list of 4 types of faux-feminists who populate social media platforms and contribute to the creation of negative feminist stereotypes:
  • #PickMePickMeFeministTwitter - these people are not a feminist except when it becomes a personal cause for them. They usually impose their ideas on other women about what is desirable to be taken up as part of the mainstream feminist cause without showing an awareness of different feminist viewpoints. Anyone who doesn't conform to their own personal ideals are seen as "defective" and should be "excluded" from feminist discourse.
  • #MeninistTwitter- horned up men using feminism to pick up girls without really trying to hide their true intentions. To them "feminist" is a word they use in a sentence but fail to understand what mainstream feminists aim to achieve. It's important to realise though that there may be lesbian/bi women who try and use the feminist label to rape other women by gaining their confidence online.
  • #SlutShamingFeministTwitter - Women and men who believe women who choose to dress "provocatively" (e.g. in a halter neck top and hotpants to go out clubbing) deserve to be shamed publically or online for their brazen choice. They also tend to argue that "skimpy"dressing or flirtatious actions usually leads to acts of rape being committed and it's the victims fault they got raped or assaulted or abused because they didn't take effective precautions. This sort of rhetoric is often one-sided in rape cases, as straight men who get raped are not criticised for their dress code or actions in the same way that straight women and trans women are criticised, hence why they are faux feminist.
  • #ProstitutesCannotBeFeministsTwitter - This often comes from middle class Judeo-Christian bias against sex workers who they believe have sold their body illegally because they are "hooked on drugs" or "owe money to pimps". There are sex workers who are trafficked into the country to raise illegal money for their pimps and they deserve our compassion and help, especially if they are being daily exploited and raped. However there are sex workers who freely choose to engage in sex acts with strangers for money and should feminists judge those women for wanting to control how they use their own bodies when feminists generally call for legalisation of abortion without foetal limitations? Trans activist (and former sex worker) Paris Lees is currently writing a thesis looking at how mainstream feminism has failed sex workers by oppressing them through their support of draconian legislation. So do those who support curbs to prostitution still be seen as feminists or faux feminists?
 Satia then identified the key ultra opponents of feminism on Twitter that I have now added to:
  • #FeminismIsCancerTwitter aka #FreeMilo/ Alt-Right Media Types who believe feminist ideology leads to the breakup of appropriate relationships, reduce the chances for acceptable men and women to "procreate" and  effectively lead to the destruction of men's confidence and natural dominant place in society. Mainly it's a bunch of bashful boys who bitch and moan about their own sexual inadequacies and blame strong, intelligent women for rejecting their sexual advances. It's quite ironic that the guy who came out with the leading statement is a conservative gay man who feels uncomfortable with his own sexuality and loves dressing himself up with gold jewellery despite hating the women that probably designed some of the jewellery he wears in the first place!
  • #FeminismDestroysChivalryTwitter - these are men who argue that feminism destroys the codes of etiquette and common courtesy that has been shown towards women in the past as a form of deference- e.g. there are men who question whether they need to give up a seat on a train for a heavily pregnant or physically disabled woman because they believe full "equality" means all seats are up for grabs regardless of physical differences. These men also seem to go all "size queen" when women criticise their bank balance, penis size or shoe size, even though they regularly rate the size of women's breasts or "fuckability" with their mates down the local bar of a Friday night and don't care whether they get overhead rating those women by the women themselves!
  • #YouCookOrGetFiredCavemanTwitter- These are men who argue that women still have to perform domestic "housewifely" duties even if they are the main breadwinner in the house. So there are young men who are able to cook or could learn how to do the ironing but they can't be bothered and expect their girlfriend/mother/sister to do it for them 100% of the time even if his primary occupation is baiting or masturbating fellow virgin male gamers online!
  • #FeminismIsIrrelevantInTheWesternWorldTwitter- These are men and women who argue that feminist principles can no longer be applied to Western countries because these countries already have as much equality of opportunity as can be reasonably achieved. They say that voting rights, abortion legalisation has liberated Western women to the point where they now have freedom to choose their path in life and are protected by discrimination laws should their rights be violated. Therefore feminism has no application and should only be advocated for in countries where there is no women's right to vote or have access over their bodies such as the "Muslim" countries of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Most believe that Islam is an anti-feminist and should be combatted at all costs but because  the Western World is mostly Christianised, there is "less of a threat".
So what kind of feminist model do we need to follow to fully address the concerns of opponents of feminism to get the "hidden feminists" identified earlier to engage with the mainstream feminist more openly and positively to enact the radical social changes needed to make the Establishment much more representative of our diverse modern society?

Satia made an interesting point regarding male engagement and education them about women's issues during the Melanin Millennials podcast on feminism. She believes that enlightened men should take the time to educate men about "key" feminist issues such as the need to fight for equal pay or to encourage more women to stand for political appointment as a councillor or MP. Men who actively choose to own the label of "feminist" are much more likely to preach the message positively to others. Those who have a skewered view of feminism through social media engagement with ultra radical feminists or faux feminists are more likely to call for their "eradication", hence the "Feminism is Cancer" argument favoured by those #FreeMilo Alt-Right activists who see any form of feminism as a danger to the existing patriarchal world order. However, Satia believes that women should only teach their male family members about respecting women's rights and that it is then up to those men to educate their mates in the nightclubs, down the pubs and youth centres and in their workplaces about these values. I believe that what men are taught with regards to women's issues by their female family members may differ according to cultural, geographical and ideological differences. Some women are clearly transphobic and may therefore teach their sons and brothers to hate trans women even if they may never have met a trans woman in their lifetime. As my previous blogpost on the "uneasiness" between transfeminists and radical feminists demonstrated, there are women who turn their own cisgender misogyny against other women who are gender-fluid/queer and yet still describe themselves as mainstream feminists. This not only damages the reputation of feminism within the LGBTQIA community but also gives fuel to the fire of those who want to dismiss feminism as an attempt to create a new Establishment order dominated by cisgender women only.

I believe the answer may lie in adopting an intersectional approach to feminism but one which is based on compassion for all, respect for opponent's views and humility to be shown when it may appear we get our approach wrong. It is important for intersectional feminists to understand their own levels of cognitive dissonance that exist and try to change or reduce that dissonance through research, debate and compassion as much as they can. For example, I believe that intersectional feminists need to address the fact that rape culture can affect men as well as women and lead to male victims being emotionally scarred for life. Feminists need to understand the uncomfortable truth that there are women and girls out there who are prepared to rape men because they want to gain sexual/emotional power over them, to get them to bend to their will. Some women may have internalised methods through seeing how their male counterparts have used sexual abuse as a power tool. Yet much of the emphasis is placed on girls and women who are raped by strangers or older men who "should know better". Boys who rape girls are even excused as being "mentally immature" and often get away with a rap on the knuckles and left free to try and attempt rape again in the near future. Education about what constitutes rape under the law and what sentences perpetrators may receive (including being put on the Sex Offenders Register in the UK) in schools, youth centres and religious groups across the Western world is key to trying to rates of behaviour but let's not pretend it is a purely male issue!

Another key point regarding intersectional feminism is that we have to be prepared to engage with issues and movements that link and blend within the movement. There are feminists who are Muslim who are trying to change radical fundamentalist views of Islam that seek to subjugate and humiliate women and keep them within the domestic sphere. The recent "Men Wearing Hijab" movement in Iran was an attempt by Muslim feminist men to show their support against the law in Saudi Arabia that forces women to wear the burqa when in the company of non-family men outside the home. They wanted to demonstrate the fact there are Muslim women in these countries who have support to try and gain control over their own bodies. Yet in France, the burqa is banned for all women which is ironic given the supposed level of freedom of clothing choice we are meant to have within a secular democracy. There are Muslim women in the UK who freely choose to wear the burqa because they want to maintain a connection to their tradition or maintain their modesty. Yet feminists have argued Muslim women's choice to wear the burqa is because they remain indoctrinated in Middle Eastern values of subjugation.  So there are clearly conflicts between feminists who have different cultural and religious backgrounds. But it's alright to recognise that within a movement. Discussions should take place and to some extent we should allow this freedom to debate issues but only within the confines of the law. Feminists cannot excuse using phobic taboo language to defeat their enemies regardless of how strongly they feel about their point of view. Provided we try and show a level of compassion towards our ideological opponents and work together with those who are prepared to do so, we can reduce the number of "hidden feminists" and drive the social changes that are needed to make our Establishment systems diversity and feminist friendly.