You’d think one wouldn’t have to justify a movement that promotes the welfare of 50% of the world’s population. But here I am.
Last week I mentioned that the wave we are currently going through is facing backlash and obstruction in a surprisingly similar fashion to its predecessors. Despite the relevancy of women’s suffrage (and even when you think people today would be enlightened to it), there is still a strong sense of anti-feminism out there. Just the other day I read a revolting article (written by a woman), discussing the dangers of modern feminists/’feminazis’ because they are “tyrannical and cliquey”.
Apparently we’re back in high school. I also didn’t realise that feminists were the cause of the biggest racial genocide in modern history… (bit of an unfair comparison, don’t you think?)
Meryl Streep (whom I ADORE) was brought into the conversation (was it a conversation? I felt it very biased). While promoting her role as Emmeline Pankhurst in Suffragette, Streep was asked by an interviewer, “Are you a feminist?”, she replied: “I am a humanist, I am for nice easy balance”. It’s confusing why she’d avoid using the term feminist, considering her actions are unfailingly feminist. This is a woman who sent letters to Congress demanding they pass the Equal Rights Amendment, and set up a fund for women screenwriters over 40. She also called out Hollywood for being too male-dominated. The writer of the article was affronted by the outrage generated by feminists over Streep’s statement. As a feminist (and I probably speak for many in our circles), I have nothing against a person who calls themselves a humanist – but you have to understand that in this context – by not identifying with the term, she was holding back a movement which is having to spend too much unnecessary time changing the negative context of the word instead of getting on with the things that really matter. As JK Rowling claims:
“Fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself”.
But I digress. The article. What was really uncomfortable was that the writer dragged on about the fears of the word into her reasoning, which initiated anti-feminist and anti-women rants in the comment thread. I saw a display of true hatred against a gender that I’ve never seen spoken from a feminist that I’ve met or followed. It’s like a modern day witch-hunt!
My reasoning for disliking the term ‘humanist’ in the context of woman’s rights, including distancing from term ‘feminist’, is basically because it takes away the special significance around women’s struggle. There is a history that needs to be acknowledged. Not unsimilar to the #AllLivesMatter controversy that shifts the focus from the #BlackLivesMatter issue. It also creates fear around the women’s rights movement. It’s like Fox News (ha!), oxymoronic. It’s depressing because the arguments are opinions thinly disguised as ‘facts’, but it’s also hilarious for the same reason. What I find funny is the relationship between the Anti-Suffragette propaganda and today’s Anti-Feminism propaganda. We’re talking 100 years’ difference, and the fear-mongering is still the same.
Take a look at these posters from the early 20th century:
Apparently if you’re a suffragette you’re an ugly old maid. HORROR! It promotes this idea that Women’s liberation was about female supremacy, about stealing man’s livelihood – forcing them into the home (which ironically, paints men as hopeless), and also presents this idea that “most” women didn’t want liberation. It’s scare tactics. Similarly, today, feminism is obstructed through fear. Presented as a tirade that pits women against men (and other women contrary to change), disregarding the worldly issues, and also making it a white issue. None of these posters would hold as arguments in a court of law. It doesn’t say anything about WHY the suffragettes wanted freedom. It’s simply a form of harassment and subjugation.
All modern women reap the rewards of the Suffragettes.
It seems to be those who don’t primarily benefit from a cause who fear it. That’s why it’s so bizarre to come across a woman who fears it.
As a man or a woman, by claiming you are not a feminist, you are insulting the women who were jailed, force-fed, restrained, beaten, victimised, thrown out of their homes and lost their jobs over the course of the last century in order to fight for the woman’s right to vote, around 100 years ago.
By claiming you are not a feminist, you are ignoring the efforts of those who battled to end gender stereotypes and lead the sexual revolution so that men and women can have the same freedom of choice without the social stigmas.
By claiming you are not a feminist, you throw a middle finger up at the women who established and accessed rape crisis centres, as well as those who fought for equal rights in marriage (wives used to be the property of their husbands, so they could never seek a divorce – even if her husband was abusive or an adulterer – without losing her children in the process), and who helped make domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace a crime.
By claiming you are not a feminist, you are degrading those who fought for women to own property, access birth control, the right to work, in addition, you degrade the many women around the world who still do not have these basic human rights.
Sometimes I try to remind myself – and every other feminist (man or woman) out there – that when someone refuses to call themselves a feminist (despite having values that align with it), or refuses to accept that feminism because they’re under the belief of propaganda, or don’t understand it’s relevance, is to remember this piece of wisdom from The Guardian:
“In a male-dominated society, women are often brought up to identify with men, to see men’s views and rights as paramount, and so it’s not surprising that many women oppose their own liberation. In the suffrage era the most prominent was Queen Victoria, who once wrote a letter stating she was “anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad wicked folly of ‘Woman’s Rights’, with all its attendant horrors, on which [my] poor sex is bent”.”
We are not amused!