Feminism: the ‘F word’

I was having a conversation a friend the
other day, during which I made a passing
comment about the potential of study-
ing some gender studies modules after I
graduated. His response: “Oh God, please tell
me you aren’t going to become a feminist or
something!” Rather than reveal my sordid secret,
I smiled winningly and directed the conversation
to less dangerous territory.

I usually keep quiet about the fact that I
consider myself to be a feminist. Luckily most
people are pretty unsuspecting: I’m not fat or
hairy; I don’t spend my life ranting about men;
I don’t have cropped hair; I’m not one of those
‘liberal’ looking humanities students; And I’m
not a lesbian. Neither, may I point out, are the
majority of feminists.

Why the secrecy? Given the negative
reactions to feminism, unless I have a
particular desire to fight my corner, silence is
simply easier.

Men respond to a mention of feminism
with a patronising smirk, which eloquently
states ‘oh dear, a woman who’s been
brainwashed to believe that men are the root
of all evil, how sad’. This response is irritating
but understandable; as feminists are highly
critical of men’s advantageous position in
society, men have strong motivation to keep
the subject quiet. I am more concerned by
women’s reactions.

The majority of women will respond in one
of two ways. Some adopt a look of detached
pity at the tactics which ugly women who are
unable to get boyfriends have resorted to in
order to legitimate their slightly pathetic lives.
Others cautiously say that they support the
idea of feminism, but that they wouldn’t
call themselves a feminist.

This reaction is deeply troubling:
being a woman and not being a feminist is like
being gay and not supporting gay rights. No other
disadvantaged group in society is so openly hostile
to the members of the group fighting for their
rights as women are towards feminists.

I personally believe that the underlying negativity
towards feminism exists because the media is largely
controlled by men. Men have succeeded in tarring
women’s support system with a negative label,
discouraging women from identifying with feminists.
In addition, they have convinced many women
that the equality gap is small and that the need
for feminism doesn’t exist anymore. To quote
‘The Usual Suspects’, “The greatest trick the
Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he
didn’t exist”.

Until recently I shared this negativity/apathy
towards feminism. During my year abroad I took
a Women’s Studies module, motivated by sheer
incredulity that such a subject existed. It was
the most valuable thing I have ever studied.
I am now totally convinced that the work of
feminism is not done. Allow me to give you a
few examples as to why.

A large proportion of you will have children at
some point. Researchers at UW-Madison estimate
that the average female college graduate in the
US faces a penalty, above the actual cost of
supporting a child, of roughly $1million over
their lifetime for having a baby (the compounded
effects over time of lost earnings, missed
promotions, career breaks, a lower final pension
etc.). There is no significant effect on men who
have children Although these figures are for the
US, it is not unreasonable to assume that similar
effects exist in the UK.

Women are more likely to live in poverty than men,
and suffer more than men during times of crisis.
When companies go through hard times women’s
jobs are often the fi rst to get cut.

Insinuations that women are less able
than men in certain jobs persist. In 2005
the president of Harvard University, Larry
Summers, suggested that fewer women
succeeded in science and maths careers
because they had less “innate ability” than
men in those areas. In fact, female unde
representation in traditionally male areas is fa
more likely to be a result of socialisation and
discrimination than female inferiority.

Equal pay, glass ceilings, the right to
abortion, child support… just a few areas in
which the work of feminists is still desperately
needed. For those of you who are interested
in learning more, I wholeheartedly encourage
you to check out the events of Internationa
Women’s week in week nine.

As for me, I am now firmly out of the
feminism closet. I am proud to declare myself a
feminist, and I hope that once you have learned
more that you will soon be joining me.

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