Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Should we be 'over' feminism?

A couple of days ago an editor friend of mine wrote a blog post discussing a business networking event she had attended.

By her write up, the event was very interesting and she met some great people. A brief bizarreness with blaring music and a command to dance (at 7am? in a suit?) was brushed over because all in all she felt it was a good experience. While her post focuses on the relevance of the event and the propriety of women collectivising without men, my main annoyance came on hearing the name of the networking group; Business Chicks.

Urgh, shudder. I commented on the post:

"I don’t mind these women gathering together, and if they get something out of it then more power to them. I do mind the fact that their name reflects on me even as a non-member. It teaches men and women that I work with and around that it might be acceptable to call me a chick because I too am a woman in business. It is not acceptable. Ever."

(is it weird to quote yourself on your own blog? Oh well...)

I flagged the post to a few people at work because I was interested in hearing what my (mainly female) colleagues would think. Polly of course agreed with me - we tend to choose to rant about similar topics so this didn't surprise me.

What did surprise me was the reaction of my 22 year old colleague. What follows is a direct cut and paste from MSN...

Emily says:

Colleague says: oh god i have to stop reading

Colleague says: i hate anything to do with feminism

Colleague says: not that i'm anti-feminism. I just am over it

Emily says: yeah the comments bug me. I just hate the event name. You have got me thinking though. What a luxury for someone aged 22 to be "over" feminism. Is that a sign we have finally achieved what we need or just that our standards are still not high enough

Colleague says: Very true - i think it is the former (a sign of what we are achieved).

Colleague says: I am 'over' feminism because I think it has lost its relevance in a sense. I know this might sound weird but I think discrimination against women is about as 'real' in today's society as discrimination against other races etc.

Colleague says: of course it exists but it stems more from people's personal beliefs rather than a reflection on society and how things 'should be'

Colleague says: that didn't really make sense but you might know what i mean. But i can't speak for all 22yr olds

Colleague says: I just know I would be a hypocrite to preach about feminism but still be insulted if a man doesn't hold a door open for me or offer up his cab in the rain

Emily says: That's not hypocritical. A man can be gentlemanly without being a mysogenist

Emily says: Feminism isn't about someone giving up their seat for someone else. Its about expecting equality in fundamental areas of our lives. A society that acknowledges that women are different to men and that caters to their differing requirements

Emily says: The maternity leave discussion we were just having in the kitchen is about feminism

Colleague says: that is true - which is why some of the comments in jen's blog pissed me off

Colleague says: what stereotype would they be catering too in this society that acknowledges women are different to men etc

Colleague says: gender stereotype that is

Emily says: but we ARE different. Not better, not worse. Just different

Colleague says: let's just say the reason i'm over feminism is because i think human differences run deeper than gender and it annoys me that people place so much focus on it

Colleague says: i'm not fundamentally disagreeing with you or anything - even the most extreeme feminist argument has its merits, but i am probably biased given being a female has never once negatively impacted my life

Colleague says: if anything it has been a plus

There is a pause, then...

Colleague says: you know what i just realised? I genuinely don't have an opinion on feminism. That is how detached I am from it

I am still mulling over my conclusions. But I guess the things I am left wondering are:

- Does feminism have a bad rep among Gen Y?
- Is it at all relevant to younger women in the western world?
- And if it is, how on earth can we make them see that?


Kitty said...

I definitely think feminism is still relevant - until women earn the same as men, we've still got a way to go. I just attended a briefing on global trends and learned that the starting salary for a woman today is 95% of that of a man. This was presented to us as a mark of how far we come - meanwhile, I'm sitting there thinking 'Does the penis earn that other 5% or what?!'

I think the reason Gen Y-ers may not think it's relevant is because they've been raised in an 'I want it all, I deserve it all and I'll have it all NOW' society. They genuinely believe nothing is beyond their reach (and they're probably right), whereas us oldies (Gen X is old now!) realise there's still a way to go.

Interestingly, I think the backlash against feminism is coming mainly from women themselves. Many of us are realising we don't actually want to have it all. More and more women are choosing to be stay-at-home mums - the irony is, it's the work of hairy-legged feminists that's allowed them to make that choice!

Sharmin said...

I think feminisim is alive and kicking. And it's a shame that the 22 year old is "over it". Maybe she doesn't realise when she's being descriminated upon? Maybe she isn't aware of the fact that it's NOT ok to be called "you pretty little thing".

Men are afraid of strong independent women. I've been called lippy just coz I had a good come back. Being in my 30s, I can say that I was being descriminated on. Coz if a man said what I said, he'd be applauded for his quick thinking wit. Maybe if I was 22, I would have giggled along with the joke. Who knows?

Elana Sztokman said...

Great post, and a huge issue.
Still, despite the anecdotal evidence, I have to say that I'm not sure the problem is generational. There are plenty of forty-somethings who don't want to hear about feminism either. At the same time, there are some great young women -- even some of my daughter's teenage friends -- who are fully in line with feminism. I think that feminism does have a bad rep, and some women completely internalize it without bothering to know any better. Having a superficial view of feminism -- to the extent that you don't question the use of "chicks" -- is just another form of ignorance. They don't really know what feminism is and they don't care because they are happy in their own little bubble. It's all about getting informed.

cardinalsin said...

I agree with what Elena says. Women (and men) of all generations have been sticking their heads in the sand for decades. However, furthermore, I would like to hereby blame to Evil Tory Press(TM) for creating a stereotype of feminists as screeching harpies whose shoulders have integral chips, and demeaning feminist issues as either biased against men(!) or trivial(!) or whatever other crap the ETP say. If I'm honest, I don't read them unless forced at gun-point, so to a certain extent I'm just maligning them for the fun of it.

Anyway, my point is that whoever's fault it is, feminism has acquired some bad associations that are off-putting to many people, of all generations. Which is why it is important for those of us who are feminists to go out and sing feminism's praises and fight feminism's corner, and make it clear that nice people do feminism.

I think it's pretty clear that there's a lot more for feminism to do. The proportion of women in top jobs, the pay gap, continuing discrimination on the basis of maternity issues, horrendously sexist media portrayal of women, the rise of lad's mags... need I go on?

As an aside - were you not equally disturbed by the apparent presumption that race discrimination is now apparently solved?

Emily Wearmouth said...

I was rather taken aback by the comment about racial discrimination too. Especially as it came from an Australian.

I have been shocked by how much worse both racial and sexual prejudice I have found in this otherwise highly civilised nation, compared to the UK.

liz said...

i have to say i did experience truee sexism when living in 'another country'....which i am not going to name, whereby women were not allowed to do certain jobs in the workplace and socially women did not seem to join men on their nights out, prefering to stay at home and iron. these women did not seem unhappy with the situation, rather, they seemed happy with their lives as they are. i was not happy, but also i am used to being equal with my partner. (and i enjoy a good night out!!) i found it frustrating to have to wait for a man to do a job at work that i was capable of , simply because he was a man. i have never experienced sexism in this country, only people being kind or flexible about family arrangements. by husband however has experienced sexism... why should i get a years maternity leave and he only have the right to 2 weeks unpaid paternity leave? why should he feel as a father that he would be frowned on if he took the day off to look after a sick child whereas it is more acceptable for me to do so? why should he feel excluded at toddler groups by the women there? why is there never baby change facilities in the mens loo, only the womens.. where is he supposed to change his daughters nappy if he is out with the children without me??
average starting salaries are still lower for women because more women choose to follow careers that simply are lower paid jobs (even if a man were to do it) because that is the career they want to follow (i was a teacher until recently, a traditionally low paid career,which i wanted to do all my life) and of course it also takes into account those women who do low salary jobs in order to fit around childcare. you wouldnt pay a cleaner or dinner lady more simply to even up the gender earning gap, they are less skilled and therefore lower earning jobs (although i have to say that anyone who can cook dinner for over a thousand children is pretty skilled in my book!)

@EmVicW said...

So Liz you raise some good points pointing to arguments associated to feminism being pertinent to men too (baby changing etc) and reckon that jobs that appeal to women being traditionally low paid.... but where do you stand?

Do you think that these careers should be better paid (as they are high value to society?), do you feel you had any advantages or disadvantages being a woman? Do you think there is still a 'fight' to be 'fought' for women?

Natalie said...

This is a very interesting issue. I am 22 years old and would consider myself a 'feminist' - whatever that term means in this day and age.
I have seen among girlfriends of mine the apathy to feminism or the less-than-willingness to label themselves as feminists due the to the stigma attacted - i.e. every feminist is a man-hating lesbian who is never happy no matter what happens. I am happy to take the label no matter what. I can honestly say that I do not believe that I have been discriminated against due to my sex, and I am so thankful to generations past that I have the right to choose to go to university, to do science, to get a job in what used to be a very male dominated workforce. None of this would have been possible without our mothers and mother's mothers fight for the right to choose.

On a related topic, I also found it hard to believe the stink that was kicked up with Michelle Obama's decision to quit her $400,000+ job to look after her two little girls as they adjust to life with daddy as the President. Many women - feminists - were saying that she shouldn't have to give up her job because of her husbands work, but in my opinion isn't the right and ability to CHOOSE whether you stay at home or go to work what feminism is really all about? She made the CHOICE which she thought would be best for her family and we should all support her for that.

Anonymous said...

Why does Feminisim have a bad reputation? Because of all those bastard men controlling the media. Fuckers

On a more serious note, I disagree with Kitty's comments about it being ironic that hairy legged feminists have helped women to be able to choose that they can be a stay at home mum. I might agree with the hairy legged bit but ultimately wasn't the feminist movement's goal to allow women to make a choice? I don't call it ironic. I call it Feminist success!

p.s. I have a penis (and it's very big thank you very much)

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