It seems like "feminist" is a dirty word these days.
"As feminists in the twenty-first century, we spend a lot of time trying to reassure people about how we’re not the scary kind of evil, militant, hairy-legged feminsts you read about in the Daily Mail." (Vagina Dentata, Galatea Gorgon)And I know it's important to let people self-define - they are best placed to know their own gender, race, or sexuality, after all. So if fewer and fewer people are comfortable calling themselves feminists..
Surely I should conclude that feminism is on its way out, as a term? Just as many Black women, sick of mainstream feminism's focus on Whiteness, embraced the term womanist, today girls and young women who believe in gender equality are rejecting "feminism" as too extreme to describe their concerns. They're turning to terms like "egalitarianist" or "equalist", or not even using terms - on a case-by-case basis they'll engage with an unequal world: "I'm not a feminist, but I find that sexist".
It feels as if it would be against my code of self-definitional ethics to tell these women that they are feminists, however they self-define - I wouldn't say it to a womanist, so how can I say it to these women? - but there's a difference, a core difference which means I think this is a special case: the cultural construction of feminism.
The popular media are taking feminism away from us. Media constructions like "Harriet Har-Woman" suggest that a conspiracy of second-wave radical-feminists are trying to privilege women over men. It's so easy, in a world which privileges maleness in almost every arena, to construe the redressing of the balance as unfair - to describe quotas or special funding, imperfect tools but the best we have yet found to address the problem, as "positive discrimination". As if, because we cannot create a gender-equal world overnight, it is not worth striving for; as if the tools we have to hand which occasionally give the appearance of disadvantaging men are somehow worse than the endemic oppression experienced by women.
The worst lie of all, the one the underlies all the above, is the idea that feminism's work is finished. That women and men are equal under law, therefore anyone still self-defining as a feminist or attempting further legislative change must be a female supremacist. This completely ignores the vital hearts-and-minds work yet to be done, not to mention facts like these:
- We've had equal pay legislation since 1970, but women in the UK earn 83p to men's £1
- 72% of the effect of the government's cuts is going to fall on women
- Do I even need to mention the cultural construction of girlhood?
I'm not that keen on the word feminism myself - it has, perhaps, been too much tainted by its intertwining with the aims of white, middle-class, cisgendered women - and it's certainly not up to me to define the terminology of the future. But, given the ease with which a lack of language can lead to oppression - think of the discourse surrounding women's lack of appropriate terminology for their own sexual organs and experiences - I'm nonetheless concerned that "feminism" is being taken away from us. Without a named movement to give us solidarity, we're just individuals fighting a seemingly impossible burden of oppression.
If only "anti-oppression kyriarchy theorist" were catchier.. I've always wanted a term that centred intersectionality before any particular oppression. Maybe I'm just a Lasher?