I am a feminist. There, I’ve said it. I was once told that real feminists didn’t have to announce it to the world. This, after I’d made my bold statement to a police officer who was happily winding me up about how he wouldn’t employ a woman of my age as I was liable to get pregnant. I felt my use of the word had been appropriate for that situation but there were people that didn’t agree. Other women, in fact. A softly, softly approach would have sufficed, one where I perhaps ignored his comment or laughed along. After all, we didn’t want to upset the policeman helping us with our work. I wasn’t to express that I worked for a feminist organisation either. Although our work was about helping women affected by male perpetrated crime, in an all-female environment, we could not align ourselves with the dirty feminist word. Because it might upset the big men.
A search on freedictionary.com suggests the meaning of the word is as I expect:
(Government, Politics & Diplomacy) a person who advocates equal rights for women
(Government, Politics & Diplomacy) of, relating to, or advocating feminism
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003
Feminist: one who believes that women should have equal rights. But by calling myself a feminist, I am often perceived as something entirely different. There certainly are men, and women, who genuinely believe that women should NOT have equal rights to men and for them, feminist means murdering promiscuous butch lesbian prostitute but there are also those for whom feminist has become a grotesque caricature, one that prevents people who do believe in equality of choice for men and women from acknowledging or using it.
A friend I had known for a couple of years once decided she was not a feminist as she was happy looking after her home, husband and children. She also thought that I would have a low opinion of her for not having the professional ambition to go out and work. It took a while to convince her that feminism was supportive of women choosing to be mothers. The key word for me was happy. It was not about conforming to gender specific roles, but whether she was being forced to be a stay at home mother. In her case, she was not. Many will choose to stay with their children and many will not. And that’s ok too. Children need a secure attachment; they have two parents. The decision comes down to those two people and how they will manage their lives. It is not ok for strangers to dictate to either men or women how they raise their families and whether they have children at all. Least of all to look down your nose at them (Liz Jones really has riled me today).
The inappropriate use of the word feminist, originally by men, has soiled it in a way that it has never recovered. It implies aggression, intolerance and bitterness. When I expressed my beliefs to that policeman, I had not used the word as a threat; I had used it in disbelief. A representative of a partner agency working towards eliminating repeat incidents of abuse in the borough was relishing using words that made him sound like a misogynist. When Liz Jones used the word feminist, she said it with a sneer. She used the word feminist as one who does not believe in equal rights for men and women; she used it with the implication that men are inferior. She does not really believe this, it is what she has to tell herself. Liz feels women who are stupid enough to get pregnant and let their looks go are mumsy types without a feminist bone. But this is because she ‘secretly’ regrets not having children.
And there are many ‘feminists’ out there using it for the same reason.