Feminism has taken a bit of bashing here and there but I think most decent human beings can agree that men and women should be treated equally. Crazy, right.
The question is, where’s the rule book? Beyonce’s new Ivy Park sportswear line – designed to celebrate every woman – is made by Sri Lankan women on sweatshop salaries, and J.Lo’s latest so-called feminist anthem ‘Ain’t Your Mama’ has been critiqued as playing it ‘safe’ and not adding anything new to the table. Are we at risk of doing feminism, err, wrong?
Since I’d rather we actually did sleep at night and went out there with confidence rather than overthinking every little action with “what would a feminist do?” I’ve made it simple for you and asked a feminist what she would do.
Freelance journo Emma Murphy has been a feminist since before it was in vogue, thanks to some strong female role models in her family – and let’s just say she’s kind of an expert on the subject. She’s not stopping at just campaigning for women’s rights, either – she wants the same equal treatment for LGBTQ+ folk and every race, because if we’re not all free, none of us are.
If you want to be a better feminist, you’ve come to the right place my equality-embracing friend. Consider this a little 101 on the subject if you feel like you’ve entered the debate just after a proverbial ad break and don’t quite know what the hell is happening. This’ll clue you up on everything from the broader issues at play to everyday sexism, and Emma probably has the best tip for anyone who’s been slapped on the ass in public.
There is of course room for feminist faux pas. We’re not perfect and that’s cool too.
If you get to the bottom, you’ll find out how to be a better feminist today, right now (and everyday).
Hey Emma! Tell us a little bit about you, and how long you’ve considered yourself a feminist.
I’m a freelance writer and I’d describe myself as a queer feminist. I knew that women’s rights were always important to me from a young age. I credit that to my mum and nan.
My mum taught me to call out sexist shit before I knew what sexism was. She’d tell men to shove their opinions about what women could and could not do and she was unapologetic as fuck.
My nan and I have very different political ideologies. But she is strong; she raised 5 kids on her own in the 60s and 70s. And I don’t remember her ever hinting that her granddaughters couldn’t do something that her grandsons could.
There is only one time that I didn’t proudly wear the feminist badge. I was in sociology and my teacher asked; “who would describe themselves as a feminist?” and no one else raised their hand. I cringe when I look back on that moment.
Let’s start with the basics. What does it mean to be a feminist?
The simplest and most universal definition of feminism is believing in the equality of the sexes. However, feminism, like most things, is very nuanced and there is plenty of room for interpretation on what it mean to be a feminist. To me, being a feminist means that you believe in equality of all people; genders, races, sexuality.
What do you think about the word, and why do you think that it doesn’t resonate with some people?
To me, the word feminist is shorthand for independent woman who fights for her rights and the rights of others.
I think that there are three types of people who eschew the feminist label:
- Assholes: I think you can imagine this type of person.
- People who have listened to lies perpetrated by assholes – seriously, why do you care what assholes say?
- People who consider that feminism focuses on the issues of white, straight, cis, Western, women
Only the third group has valid concerns.
I’m sure you’ve seen the phrase ‘white feminism’ bandied about on the web; this refers to feminism that focuses on women’s issues without considering how they an be exacerbated by race, sexuality or gender expression i.e. white women only earn 2/3rd what a white man does but this goes down further for WOC and cis women suffer from street harassment but trans-women often receive worse abuse. While so-called ‘white feminists’ may be doing good work, it’s not the best.
Can you give some examples of everyday sexism?
The first things to my mind were street harassment that I’ve encountered.
1. I walked past a group of boys standing on the corner of my road. They couldn’t have been more than 18, As I walk past, one of them goes “Hey, baby.” I ignore him and continue. Then he mutters “Fuck you, Bitch.” (Dec, 2015)
2. I was in a store looking at some craft items. A store assistant started talking to me. I’ve worked in retail, I know what it’s like to be bored so I engaged. Then it got weirder; he went from general questions about what I was buying and the song playing on the radio to where did I work and where was that shop specifically. The manager (or some higher up) asked him to run an errand; go to the bank, go pick something up etc. I paid for my stuff and left. He followed me up the street. He asked if I wanted to go for lunch. I politely decline. He asks why not. I pause. I tell him I have to get home. He asks where I live. I give him a false street. I fake a phone call and leave. (Feb 2016)
However, this is only a small part of sexism.
Other crap that feminists contend with (mostly online):
“Hillary can’t be the President; women go crazy on their periods.”
“The pay-gap isn’t real.”
“Women should be punished for having abortions.”
“Most women lie about being raped.”
“It’s such a turn off when hot girls start talking about feminism.”
Do you have any tips for contending with such instances?
I don’t engage with street harassers, especially if I’m on my own and they aren’t. I don’t consider it safe. I do, however, have the best tip for anyone who gets their ass groped on public transport (or anywhere). Fart. That’ll teach them!
I stay away from the comment sections; it wears you down. The more time you spend arguing with MRWs who call you a feminazi for daring to suggest that rape is caused by rapists, the less time you have to educate people whose opinion you can actually change.
The most important thing that I do with sexism that I experience is talk about it; talking about it increases awareness and reduces stigma. Women should not be made to feel like sexist behaviour is ‘normal’. Sexists deserve to be called out as long as you aren’t putting yourself in danger.
What do you think are some of the broader issues in relation to feminism? Is there anything we can do to change them?
In various parts of the world governments are trying to restrict a woman’s reproductive rights, either through the criminalisation of abortion, not making contraception a healthcare priority or sterilising women.
Women need bodily autonomy and we should be the only people to decide our healthcare. We need to stand up for the rights of women in other countries because sexism isn’t a problem for China or Uganda or the Bible Belt in the USA. It’s a global problem.
Slut Shaming, Victim Blaming and Rape Culture
It doesn’t matter what clothes someone wears, where they were or what they’d done: they are not responsible for their sexual assault.
We have to stop blaming survivors for something a rapist did. If I was wearing a top saying ‘Kill Me’ and someone killed me, the police would prosecute the murderer. Why? Because it doesn’t matter what I wear, you aren’t allowed to murder me.
White Feminism needs to be addressed so that they can focus on race, class and LGBT issues as well.
Do you ever have feminist faux pas? If so, what?
I make mistakes all the time; sometimes I don’t even learn from them.
- I’m competitive with other women even though I know that there’s enough room for us all at the table.
- I have been known to minimalize the experiences of women that I know when I think that their topic is frivolous: “How are we ever going to solve the wage gap if you’re preoccupied with your thigh gap?!”
- I have hummed along to Blurred Lines and felt ashamed.
- I found this picture funny.
Which feminists do you look up to, and why?
Laci Green, Cristen Conger, Chescaleigh and Kat Blaque.
They promote intersectional feminism: I can’t be doing with feminists who try to bash the LGBT+ community or treat race and class issues like they’re secondary to women’s’ rights.
All oppression is interconnected and none of us are free, until all of us are free.
What’s your go-to feminist resources or media?
YouTube has been one of the best resources for me; feminist theory and news are broken down into bite-size chunks. As someone who’s very busy, it’s nice to have this resource.
Sites like Jezebel and Everyday Feminism. The former is a lifestyle site that has a healthy dose of politics and social justice and it takes you from micro-aggressions to laws and policies. The latter is exclusively dedicated to social justice. Those are two site that I’d recommend every feminist checks out.
How can we be a better feminist today (and everyday)?
Know the issues
- Identify those that are important in your local community: Perhaps your asshole council have cut funding for women’s refuges and these organisations need your support, through donations or contacting the council and asking them to reallocate funding. Super glad we have a massive TV in Guildhall Square; who needs a safe place to live when they have that?
- Find the ones that matter most to your globally and find out what you can do: i.e. Educating Girls- donate books for a girls’ school in a country that doesn’t value female education
- Retweet feminist news stories (or anti-feminist ones with corrections: Heidi Klum – Nipple slip Saves son and nanny from riptides on the beach in Honolulu)
- Write to your elected officials and ask them why we’re spending money to have a giant TV in the town centre but women’s refuges have to find funding elsewhere
Museum / Library/ School/ College Staff- Can we have an exhibition/ books/ lessons on (important female(s) in your area)
She’s pretty awesome, right? Make sure you check out Emma’s blog, Mainstream Queen.
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