Are You A Feminist?

In her book “How To Be A Woman”, Caitlin Moran poses a test to see if you are a feminist in the form of two easy questions:

“1. Do you have a vagina? and
2. Do you want to be in charge of it?”

Let’s set aside for the moment the, hopefully obvious, problems with this formulation.  Moran isn’t really suggesting that this is the definition of feminism. What she wants is for every sane woman to look at these questions and go: “Yes! I am a feminist! How have I only just realised?” For once this epiphany hits and you start wearing the label “feminist” with pride, you cannot understand the 58% of British Women who say they are not feminists. You want to tell them to relinquish their property and voting rights, climb back into their petticoats and corsets and start popping out kids once a year. Those are the chains that feminism has freed you from, ladies. Do not be so ungrateful.

Women have come such a long way. And that’s part of the problem. The battles we still have to win seem tiny compared to the battles we have already won, especially from the outside, from positions of privilege. The unoppressed are beginning to think that feminism is done with, it has won its battles, that if some women can reach the top, surely all of them can.

Women in the UK earn on average 15% less than men, and worldwide women own just 1% of the world’s wealth (despite representing 40% of the world’s labour).  Half of girls age 14-16, compared to a third of boys, are trying to lose weight. 17% of people said that a woman was partly, mostly or totally to blame for being raped if she was wearing revealing clothing, and 64% said the same if she were drinking to excess; only 3% of rapes lead to a conviction. Only 2 out of 9 Oscar Best Picture nominations passed the Bechdel test (contain 2 named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man). I could list all the other reasons we still need feminism really badly… actually, no, I can’t, there are just too many.

So we need to bring feminism back, however we can. Therefore I propose an amendment to Moran’s original test. In fact, I want to make it simpler. Just answer this question:
“Do you believe that women should be equal to men?”

Yes? Of course! You’re a feminist. Well done. No matter your gender, race or sexuality, if you have answered yes to this question, you are welcome to join the movement as I see it.

One of the problems I have with the feminist movement is how exclusive it is, and that this scares so many could-be feminists off. Across the internet, people are telling each other they can’t be feminist if they’re a housewife, if they’re Catholic, if they voted Conservative, if they’re male, if they’re straight… it’s no wonder that so many women would picture a feminist to be short-haired, bra-less, dungaree-clad. But my feminism is for all women, for all people. Come and join me. It’s not always fun, but it’s friendly and it’s right.

Actually, I have one little addendum to my test. Believe in gender equality… and think. I cannot undersell the importance of thinking to the feminist brain. Question everything, your choices, your likes, your dislikes, what your lecturer tells you, what’s on tv, what your friends talk about and what I’m writing in this blog. The patriarchy means that your brain is not your own, it’s been built by a thousand oppressive systems, and it’s only by thinking that you can claim your mind back. So if someone tells you that, for whatever reason, you can’t be a feminist, don’t just accept that. Argue your case and, if you lose the battle, accept that sometimes you have to change your mind. You can always change it back later if you get better information.

And when someone tells you, as I promise you they will, that feminism is dead, that what we need now is “gender equality” or “equalism” or whatever else, ask why society is trying to destroy a term that has taken women so far. Feminism is not over; not while there are still people climbing on chairs and shouting “I am a feminist”, as Caitlin Moran has demanded there be.

Hattie Grunewald, UEAFS President 2012-13

If you are interested in learning more about feminism, please come along to the UEA Feminist Society discussion group. Our first meeting of the year will be Thursday 27th September, 5-7pm, in Arts 2.03.

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