The Feminist Mystique.
She drank twelve cups of Goon punch, and then passed out on the lawn in her underwear. She was acting like such a slut, I’m surprised more people didn’t rape her.
Why bother being an accountant or doctor? I’d just marry one instead.
Why are you getting so worked up about the word ‘slut’? You’re being so sensitive, like you’ve got something to hide.
Guys get intimidated easily. They want you to be smart, but not too smart.
I don’t care about her personality, what would you rate her out of ten?
These kinds of opinions and incidents peppered the years of my adolescence, expressed by well meaning family and friends. I never knew how to respond to these, but a silent resentment built up within me, struggling to escape. I was a naturally timid person with strong opinions, a terrible combination, because these ideas made me angry, but I felt ill-equipped to retaliate.
These kinds of interactions, the media content that I consumed, the pervasive sexism and sexual confusion of the schoolyard, they made me feel helpless and confused. Another dimension of this confusion stemmed from my ethnic heritage, despite the fact that my parents are progressive and outspoken Indian migrants, I still found myself shackled by the myriad expectations of my identity as a woman and as an Indian/Australian. This tension is illustrated perfectly by an incident that happened at the end of my first year at university, I was at an Indian restaurant in South Yarra with a boyfriend, and I distinctly remember the owner of the restaurant commenting on the length of my skirt, and the fact that I was out late with a member of the opposite sex. Although he had no idea that I understood him, I could hear his entire conversation with the waitstaff in Hindi. He called me ‘Besharam‘, which translates to ‘Shameless.’ No good Indian girls would do that. They come here, and are corrupted by the West. Even though my parents would have absolutely no issues with any of the above, I feel like the morality of individuals(in this case the restaurant owner) is imposed upon me just because of his subjective idea of what Indian women should be like. Although I was tempted to get angry and leave, I realized that he was just being narrow minded, and it wasn’t going to change my decisions or freedom to live my life on my own terms, and not according to someone else’s morality code. My feminism and ideas about choice felt almost like a shield, they disarmed the sting of those words, and I finished my meal, paid at the counter, and was sure to tell him in laboriously over-enunciated Hindi that I thought he’d over-salted the chicken tikkas.
The sexual double standard, rape culture, expectations of women in the workforce, domestic violence, victim blaming- these were all issues that I’d unconsciously internalized over the years and my opinions had crystallized over that time. They had trickled into my thoughts and conversations in high school, albeit in an indirect way, But it wasn’t till I got to university that I became a passionate feminist, finding the resources and community that helped answer my questions and question my assumptions. I realized my naivety and my internalized sexism, and the complexity inherent within issues of gender and sex. I’m constantly learning, re-evaluating my stance, and I’m incredibly grateful to have found a safe forum to discuss these ideas. Even having friends like Caitlin and Vee who helped start up Bechdel Babes, it was a revelation to find like minded people who were in the same process of trying to make sense of this confusing landscape of sex and gender.
Feminism, as I choose to define it, is one that values freedom of choice, and fights for equality in all fields.
However, as a self identified feminist, I often find that the word ‘feminist’ itself is bizarrely contentious and polarizing. It’s such a fraught concept, with people taking their subjective idea of what they believe feminism is, and applying it to the entire movement. For instance, taking one radical feminist opinion and making sweeping generalizations. Feminism is not a monolithic movement, in fact it’s incredibly diverse and feminist thought and opinion exists on a spectrum.
‘I’m not a feminist but I believe in gender equality.’
‘I’m not a feminist, I don’t hate men, and I believe in marriage.’
‘Men can’t be feminists.’
‘We don’t need feminism in Western countries anymore.’
It baffles me that people behave as though feminism is this force of evil, and feminist recreation involves Lorena Bobbitt style penis mutilation. I recently had a conversation where someone literally stated ‘Feminism is the source of all evil’ and called it a ‘movement of hate.’
The most common mythology that surrounds feminism is that feminists ‘hate men’, ‘hate marriage’ and are ‘blaming men for their problems’, which is just ridiculous and misinformed and creates a destructive caricature about feminism and who’s ‘allowed’ to be a feminist.
This hilarious series of cartoons satirizes these stereotypes of ‘rabid man hating radical feminists’ perfectly.
As for feminism no longer being relevant in Western countries because ‘women have the vote, so what are they complaining about?’ is also completely misguided. The pay gap, issues of domestic violence, rape culture, abortion rights, differing expectations of men and women- these are just a few of the pervasive issues that feminism seeks to address. There’s still a glass ceiling of privilege in Australia, perfectly illustrated by our current political landscape, with one woman on the Cabinet, and in the corporate world, with the proportion of women CEO’s in ASX listed companies being less than 5% for the last decade. Being a Bachelor of Commerce in my final year, I’ve started to look for graduate recruitment, and I’ve been shocked by the gender ratios I encounter in interviews, with 70-80% of interviewees being male, and 85% being white. This ratios get worse the more ‘prestigious’ an organization is. We’re not living in a post-feminist post racial utopia by any means.
Now, I’m not trying to suggest feminism is perfect. I don’t agree with all the offshoots of feminism (FEMEN being a movement that particularly irks me, but that’s a different blog post) and I do think that Western feminism can be exclusionary to women of colour. However, that said, I still believe that feminism is an incredibly important movement, and one that needs to be understood without a cloud of misconceptions and preconceived notions.
No-one articulates the importance of feminism, particularly my interpretation of feminism, as beautifully as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian feminist and novelist, and just all round inspirational babe. On an unrelated note, if you fall in love with her eloquence as I much as I did, I would highly recommend her semi-autobiographical novel ‘Americanah’ which is an exploration of race in America and the immigrant identity. It’s highly entertaining and brilliantly written.
Till next time.