International Women’s Day and Feminism

Mind the gap: how women have to work until today to earn what men did last year

Today is International Women’s Day. Does there need to be a day specifically for women? Maybe, maybe not. It would seem churlish not to mark it in some way though.

I remember growing up with a sense that ‘feminism’ was of the aggressive variety and with the perception that it was about radical women who wanted to be men.  No one I knew identified themselves as ‘feminist’.

I realised over time how wrong I was and how wrong my perceptions had been. Feminism was being defined by those who  felt threatened by it. It was presented (when I was growing up in the time and area I lived)  as something to be embarrassed about. As a girl, I fed into the groupthink that feminism was about ‘man bashing’ or somehow undignified. I went to school and studied alongside boys, there was no reason for me to feel different. We had a female Prime Minister. The ‘battle’ had been won so there was no fighting left to be done. Women and girls were positioned to feel embarrassed about being ‘feminists’ as if striving for equality was some kind of struggle for equivalence.

I was wrong. I was very wrong.

In some ways, when we feel embarrassed by the labels, we are allowing feminism to be defined and marginalised. The word and the label is one to be proud of and not ashamed of. It isn’t about the ‘wanting to be men’ or ‘hating men’, it is about being proud, open and respected as women.

The world is not equal. There are discriminations and prejudices faced by women as there are for many who are marginalised for other reasons but we mustn’t be afraid or embarrassed of wanting to fight and project the need to be proud of who we are and respected as what we are.

I will never be embarrassed about calling myself a feminist. I don’t have to defend my position or pride in being a woman to anyone else. For those who feel that women have reached ‘equal status’ with men, we need only look through an average newspaper on an average day and understand the differences in reporting and tone to know that we still have a long way to go.

‘Women’s issues’ are marginalised and specialist. ‘Women’s jobs’ are lower paid and less respected. There will be exceptions but generally they will be exceptions which prove the rule.

My wish for International Womens’ Day is that we can promote feminism as a positive and inclusive which is about acceptance and understanding of different perspectives rather than using the word as a tool to oppress those who might feel differently.

We must embrace feminism and we must define it ourselves. Some feminists are feminine, some feminists aren’t, some feminists enjoy dressing up and some enjoy dressing down. We can’t  define who can and can’t be a feminist by what they do or say or are. We can all support and be feminists and should be allowed to feel proud of that.

Oppression is when people attempt to define or change  how we define ourselves.

Happy International Women’s Day.

photo: European Parliament/Flickr

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26 thoughts on “International Women’s Day and Feminism

  1. Hi Ermintrude,

    Of course you’re right that you don’t need to justify your feminist identity to me or to anyone ekse. But I would like to make a point from my own, male perspective.

    Whatever theorists and inrelkectuals may intend, the practical application of feminism (on the street) is very definitely a justification of the ‘men are all the same’/’all men are bastards’ dogma we both recall from our youth.

    I think we both oppose inequality but my own view is that discrimination is better fought as a whole without the special pleading of feminism and the implication about male and female qualities it carries. Having tried and failed to locate my imagined ‘feminine side’ amid much confusion as a teenager and young adult I now realise that people are just people. A movement for equality does us no favours as a society by allowing itself to be so easily hijacked by those whose concern is limited only to the needs of half the population.

    Feminism may be wider than that but its image is not. For this reason I pesonalky prefer to think about a less exckusive form of equality and diversity

  2. A good post ermintrude2. Like you, I have been ambivalent about posting and marking the day. So what? One day out of 366 days where women get a teeny acknowledgement – and then back to the norm for the other 365 where men get to call the shots. I think the issue for all feminists is that people lack understanding of the issues because they aren’t interested enough to learn. Simple really. Sadly. But, you have a good day too.

    • You know, disagreeing with the general perception attributed to feminism by the majority and disliking sectarian battle lines between the sexes doesn’t necessarily imply lack of understanding.

      it is possible to understand and still disagree with those who would try to make equality a purely gender based issue.

      Feminism is no more or less worthy than any other form of special pleading. Equality and fairness for all seems much more reasonable to me than overgeneralised claims about men calking the shots.

      • While I take your point, Stuart and accept it’s well argued, I will have to disagree. I think it reiterates the point of allowing people to self-define. Equality isn’t a purely gender based issue but it is not gender neutral either. There are many other aspects but I do find that it is important to allow a voice to women to express the inherent discrimination on the basis of gender which exists in our society.

      • Hi Ermintrude,

        Of course we disagree. That’s OK.

        For the record though I’d be more sympathetic to the divisiveness of feminism if I hadn’t spent my life surrounded by men who live on very low incomes and regularly work themselves to death scratching out a living for their families.

        Perhaps our experience in the North differs from that in the South (although I doubt it). In my neck of the woods plenty of men are exploited too. To imagine a gender divide and draw battle lines along it is a distraction that allows the real inequality to carry on unchallenged.

        I am not the enemy of the women I work and struggle to make ends meet beside. It’s unfortunate that so many of them seem to think that I (& all men) oppose their equality when really we should be standing together in dolidarity for everyone.

        Cheers,

        Stuart

  3. Happy Woman’s Day

  4. Thanks – and Stuart, I don’t think there needs to be a choice. We can be feminists and also support class and other oppressions. We can show solidarity but also appreciate and understand the different views we come from. I understand very well that struggling and supporting families are not exclusively ‘female’. I am not claiming anywhere that they are.
    Men are exploited, yes. So are older people, so are younger people, so are people of different races and religions. So are women. Accepting one or other doesn’t make anyone elses struggles less valid.

    • I think that’s exactly my point. The division along arbitrary lines like gender alienates people from each other. Personally I’d rather champion equality and diversity and equal rights for all.

      The perception of feminism (rightly or wrongly) as an aggressive form of female chauvinism makes it a barrier to inclusivity and a magnet for the ‘all men are bastards’ brigade.

      I could complain very vociferously about many equally damaging ‘mens’ issues’ but it would also be a red herring – just as feminism is. This may well differ from your perception of feminism but it is the populist view. And the popular interpretation is often what matters when the goal is widespread cultural change.

      I don’t doubt that you and I see equality issues very much in ghe same way but feminism seems to mean all yhings to all women (and men). Very few think of it as anything but divisive special pleading. At least that’s my experience as a compassionate man (who has human characteristics, not a mythical feminine side).

  5. Stuart, I don´t mean to turn this into an attack on you, and I don´t want to collaborate with the idea that feminism is a form of agression towards all men, which I grant, is a very common misconsception (in men and women). But I have to have a say here.

    I too agree that inequality, struggles, and hardship is not exclusive to women. It has never been so, nor it ever will be.
    It´s foolish to generalize “all men”, and even “all women”; for to say that women have achieved some place in society due only to other women is unfair and untrue, just as to say that only men have opressed women. Wether directly because of personal attitudes or beliefs, or indirectly by allowing inustice happen around them, because of lack of interest, selfishness, or sadly fear, many women throughout history have collaborated in putting other women down.

    But it cannot be argued that men and women´s roles in society were, and are, different; and that women, some more than others, as well as any struggle that any human being must deal with in life, has had a particular “burden” to understand, face and fight against.
    How else can it be explained that women weren´t considered citizens in Ancient Greece? Not allowed to vote until less than a hundered years ago? That many women weren´t payed the same amount of money for a job done, as a man would, until laws for equal pay, based on skill and dedication regardless of sex, started to be enforced during the last fifty years? Or even that last week, (whatever the personal/political views on the subject) when Sandra Fluke a law student in the U.S. who testified for the Affordable Health Care Act, radio comentator Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut”?

    Men and women different. Their place in history regarding their everyday lives, achievements and plights, their separation within religions, their roles and characterization in art, literature, films and music, as well as the ideas we place upon them today, are all testaments to this. Some of these notions, attitudes and situations are fair and others aren´t, and that´s our reality.
    We are different in many ways, both genders have aspects that are inherent to them, some wonderful and others less so, and it´s important to remember that neither is superior to the other.

    I used to think, a bit like Erminetrude, that this day was more of an insult that a celebration, to women and men as well. After all, the celebration of freedom, equality, respect and happiness for every person is my belief. But the fact is, that this day raises awareness of women´s rights, their evolution, achievements, and current struggles based on gender distiction. As we see here, it becomes a topic of conversation. This in my mind, can only be a good thing, as it´s when something is brought to light that more people become aware of it, reflect about it, and conscecuently some may act on it.

    So today, I wish your mother, sister, wife and daughters if you have any, as well as every other woman out there, a Happy Woman´s Day. And during the rest of the year, not only will we continue to strive for gender equality, but we´ll also fight all other forms of injustice, be them small or big, which am afraid are still many all over the world.

    • Hi Victoria,

      I don’t perceive any attack in that and nor do I think an attack from either ‘side’ would be warranted. We’re only discussing stuff, after all.

      I think that if feminism had some universally accepted meaning then it would be simpler. But as we all acknowledge that isn’t the case.

      You seem to defend a model of feminism that involves equality for all. I could easily get behind that banner myself but, given the confusion over how fminism is interpreted I see no reason to.

      It seems that an inclusive model of universal fairness already exists under equality and diversity and human rights concerns without reinventing the wheel and risking further division.

      Feminism may mean all people are equal in your interpretation but many feminists very clearly prefr to add the notion that ‘some are more equal than others’.

      We won’t destroy oppression if we allow that struggle to be hijacked by another form of oppression.

      But, as I said I have nothing against that form of feminism that strives for the good of alk. I just think that it’s too easily (and too often) hijacked by those whose goal is far less reputable and a great deal more divisive.

      Cheers,

      Stuart

      • I remember reading an interesting comment by Laurie Penny (who I by no means always agree with) that in her view feminism wasn’t about men ruling the world to the detriment of women, but about an alpha male patriarchy ruling the world to the detriment of everyone. I forget where she said it, so if anyone knows the source, please let the rest of us know.

  6. If this debate is anything to go by then it justifies the need for a day dedicated to women. We really cannot ignore it of course for many of the reasons stated above and I too was unsure of what the celebration was all about. Maybe it was about none of the above but at least it got people talking about injustice in general and for one day only how women struggle to maintain a place in a dominant ideological society where the rich get richer and there is no room for emotion whatever gender orientation you are.

    • And of course, as everyone is apparently obliged to believe, justice, compassion and the ability to experience ‘nice’ emotions are exclusively female characteristics.

      • i don’t see where that point comes in and I don’t think anyone is saying that. Promoting feminism and equality of experience and the current disparities which are very obvious in our society is not a ‘zero-sum’ game. No one loses if we have a more equitable environment and trying to categorise ‘feminism’ as negative because some might act in a particular way, marginalises women even more. We should be able to embrace feminism as positive and not as a zero-sum ‘competition’ with men.

      • I’d argue that we should be able to recognise equality and diverity as laudable aims without dressing it up in gender specific terms.

        What if I claimed that ‘masculism’ should be used as a term to encapsulate principles of ‘studious hard work’?

        The moment we claim aims under a gender biased umbrella we alienate the rest.

        Feminism is, in my view an unbecessary subdivision of equality and diversity.

  7. I think it depends on what we call “feminism”. It is, after all, a collection of ideas rather than one single monolithic ideology. Within that collection are a variety of positions that aren’t always in agreement with each other. Take, just as an example, the very wide variation in stances on pornography or sex workers.

    Within that collection are ideas that I suspect very few of us would disagree on (“women should not be oppressed”) and some that very few of us (including those who consider themselves feminists) would agree on (“men are inherently evil”) but it is a collection, and one doesn’t have to agree with all the ideas within it to recognise its contribution to intellectual and political life.

    And on that note, I’d just like to give a shout-out for my favourite feminist website Manboobz which is dedicated to mocking online misogyny. By the way, it’s written by a man. 🙂

    • I think that’s much of my point. Feminism is such a broad church that it is at best meaningless and at worst discriminatory.

      Personally I’d be more inclined to believe that feminism wasn’t inherently sexist if, for example, feminists shouted as loudly about the non therapeutic circumcision of infant boys as they do about FGM.

      To my mind it’s a distraction with some very unpleasant implications about discrimination and bies that have no place in equality and diversity.

      But who cares what I think?

      • A lot of people. I just think you are reducing it to ‘with us or against us’ which in my view misses the point. As a feminist I can support many other causes but that doesn’t negate my wish to promote feminism.

        There are many things that are wrong in the world but there is no one ‘right’ definition of feminism. I find the opposition to the idea that it might be positive force for change and promoting female specific agendas baffling but so be it.
        Being a feminist doesn’t mean I oppose any other oppression, just that I think in the context of society that it is important that women are able to identify as being feminist without being labelled negatively.

        Wanting equitable treatment/access/voice is not sexist.

        As I said before, it is not a zero-sum game. Men don’t ‘lose’ by the promotion of feminism. Everyone wins.

      • Hi Ermintrude,

        I’m driving down country right now. I have been for most of the day, hence my rather brief, typo-laden responses.

        So I’ll articulate my position more fully in a few more hours when I get ‘down South’.

        Later…..

        Stuart

      • Broad churches aren’t valid? That would rule out quite a lot of intellectual movements.

  8. OK – I said I’d articulate my position a bit better – here it is…

    From my perspective any cause, movement or campaign needs, first and foremost to be effective. Otherwise it becomes a form of intellectual/ethical masturbation. We may feel good about our involvement in it but it doesn’t affect anyone or anything else.

    Consequently I think that it’s useful to apply something akin to a ‘cost:benefit’ analysis to such movements to see whether the positive outweighs the negative. This response then is an attempt to outline my analysis of feminism as a cause and to illustrate why it is something I most definitely do not wish to associate myself with.

    First the positive…

    So far as I can tell, those who have taken the time to try to understand feminism (diverse though it is) would see it as a movement that is concerned with human rights and equality. So far so good. I share those values.

    Some of those people (they seem almost always to be women, incidentally) include the whole of society in that (I agree) whilst others see the struggle as primarily in favour of women’s rights and whilst not exactly excluding men seem to see little reason to include mens’ rights in their machinations.

    These women tend to justify their discrimination by pointing to the undoubted oppression of women via politics, economics, religion and even the domestic practicalities of daily living. I sympathise with their view and indeed have been involved in campaigns that predominantly favour women myself (more on that later). But this section of my response is about the positive aspects of feminism so here we go….

    Those who ally themselves with an inclusive form of feminism have my full support. I agree that many people are oppressed in our society and I am just as happy to support womens’ causes as I am to support mens’ causes and childrens’ causes. I have no argument with, for example, campaigns and initiatives to equal out the respective wages paid to men and women or with campaigns and practical interventions to help women who have been the victims of domestic abuse. These campaigns and causes have my full support (both intellectually and practically).

    This ‘positive’ aspect of feminism is not something I would argue with. On the contrary I support it.

    Irrelevant feminism

    My view that feminism is irrelevant may ‘ruffle a few feathers’ but let me explain why I think it is irrelevant (at best). I’ll do so using an illustration from my own activities…

    For the last couple of years I have been vociferous in my opposition to a US eugenicist organisation called ‘Project Prevention’. I will go so far as to say that I believe my activities in opposition to this project were very instrumental in kicking them out of UK. I was supported in my activities by a number of colleagues, several of whom are present on this forum.

    Since the people I was campaigning to help were predominantly women it is possible to view this struggle as a ‘feminist’ issue. In fact I don’t doubt that several people did. However I did not – and indeed I most definitely do not consider it such today.

    But whether or not campaigners consider it a feminist issue is irrelevant. Positive ‘feminist’ issues (like this one) are subsumed under the wider umbrella of human rights and that is where I choose to lay my hat. I’m a human rights campaigner.

    Sometimes that coincides with ‘feminist’ agendas but when it does the feminism is irrelevant and unnecessary. Human rights is sufficient description and cause. Ergo feminism is irrelevant, however positive certain aspects of it may be.

    Discriminatory feminism

    Many people have acknowledged on this forum that feminism means different things to different people. Some (I would argue the majority of people who call themselves feminists) are guilty of a paradox. They claim to oppose discrimination and yet they perpetrate their own form of sexual discrimination that is just as destructive as the paternalism they oppose. In societal terms it doesn’t matter who does the oppression (patriarchy or matriarchy) the oppression is still unjustifiable.

    To those feminists I say this…

    When you demean a group to which I belong (men) you demean me also. I will not support you in that.

    To other feminists I say this…

    I cannot ally myself with feminism without appearing to condone the wholesale condemnation of my half of the population. I will not do this.

    As a man I have many male friends. In my circle we are all interested in human rights and yet I do not know a single male feminist (outside of the occasional internet contact whom I have never actually met) because we are all so sick to the back teeth of irritating women who think the use of the term ‘feminism’ justifies the most ridiculous dismissal of our ability to think, to feel, to be honest in relationships and to care about anyone other than ourselves. I know this because we’re the sort of group who discusses stuff like this. Not every conversation between blokes in the pub revolves around sex and football.

    I asked a question earlier about the practice of mutilating infant genitalia for non therapeutic reasons. This is something of a ‘test question’ I have used on several occasions to get a sense of where feminists stand on the issue.

    There seem to be only three potential responses from feminists..

    1 They simply don’t answer the question.
    2 They state that it’s not a feminist issue
    3 They state that feminism opposes all non-consensual genital mutilation regardless of the sex of the child.

    I’ll ignore number 1 because it’s just ignorant and not worthy of any further discussion.

    Number 2 is the most common. This demonstrates two things to my mind…

    1It demonstrates that feminism really is discriminatory

    2 It demonstrates a peculiar way of seeing the world (what Dawkins in another context called ‘the discontinuous mind’).

    To my way of thinking the problem is that we need to try to protect infants from being mutilated. To the feminist mind it seems we need to protect half of the world’s infants from being mutilated. There is an arbitrary construct here that places the needs of girl children to be valued ‘intact’ over the needs of boy children to remain ‘intact’.

    Number 3 states that feminists really are concerned about the abuse of both infant girls and infant boys. Then why don’t we hear feminists shouting about the circumcision of infant boys born into Jewish and Muslim families? To complain about the treatment of infant girls and yet ignore the plight of infant boys is discrimination by omission.

    What’s wrong with just complaining about the mutilation of infants?
    I’ve heard secularists do this. I’ve heard atheists, humanists and sceptics do this. I’ve never yet heard a feminist concern herself with the abuse perpetrated upon boys. Clearly, in the eyes of most feminists boys don’t count.

    Social/domestic feminism

    This is the form of feminism that enjoys popular exposure even though (I freely acknowledge) it’s not in the least borne out by the literature on feminism or the perceptions of those feminists who can be bothered to learn about the topic. This is the form of feminism that says ‘Men are all the same’. It’s the stupidity that brought us the ‘man flu’ myth and that prompted one poster here to claim that ‘men call the shots’ without stopping to think of the many men who suffer daily the world over trying to provide for (would you believe it) their wives and children. This is the mindset that is encouraged by ‘popular’ feminism because feminism in its ‘positive’ form is not widely understood and has essentially been hijacked by female chauvinist bigots.

    The human rights ‘umbrella’ does not have this problem.

    If feminism did not have this problem I would have no issue with it. I am not opposed to the LGBT rights movement because nobody says that only LGBT people are compassionate. I am not opposed to campaigns for the rights of ethnic groups because nobody says that only black people know how to work hard or only Asians are capable of ‘emotional intelligence’. I could go on but you get the point.

    Anyway back to the cost benefit analysis…

    Feminism has one benefit – in its ‘positive’ form it is interested in human rights – but so is the wider human rights movement. Therefore the benefit is not exclusive to feminism and would continue to exist without feminism ‘splitting the vote’, as it were.

    It has two main costs – It is discriminatory in many of its forms and it breeds bigotry that demeans half of the population.

    Therefore my analysis is that I will not support feminism because the negatives outweigh the positives. It is unnecessary, irrelevant, destructive and counter-productive. Also the one positive is better catered for under the wider human rights umbrella.

    What’s wrong with just campaigning for human rights overall?

    When feminists start to acknowledge problems such as those faced by non-abusive divorced fathers (even though it’s not a ‘womens’ issue’) I may reconsider. Until then I think it’s divisive and I want no part of such partisan bigotry.

    I’ll stick to campaigning on human rights issues instead.

  9. Indeed Zarathuatra, it would (and it does) rule out many movements where the protagonists cannot agree on what it is they’re actually campaigning for.

    That’s why such movements often split and divide into their own peculiar forms of bigotry. for example many BNP supporters joined the EDL (to oppose muslims) instead of the traditional (anti semitic) bigotry of the BNP. Not that either has the upper hand – they’re both equally offensive and ridiculous but it does illustrate the point about what happens to organisations who don’t know what they’re about.

    When organisartions can’t agree about what they’re fighting for (or who they oppose) they become impotent at best and generally offensive at worst. I believe that feminism falls into the latter category. Fair minded feminists (yes – even I acknowledge that they do exist) have been subsumed by the populist ‘anti man’ bigotry of those who don’t care to understand the cause they claim to support.

    Sorry – that’s my view.

    Cheers,

    Stuart

    • I suspect we may be at the stage where we’re starting to violently agree, but personally I don’t see that a movement being a broad church actually invalidates the movement as a whole – more that I would agree with some branches of that broad church but not with others.

      Would I agree with the radical feminism of Andrew Dworkin? No. Do I see a lot within sex-positive feminism that aligns with my own views? Yes.

  10. Stuart it is a bit unfair of you to calls all feminists man haters. Most of us are married to men actually so we really do not hate them.You are probably arguing the case for feminism in a paradoxical way, who object to being classed as the same as men – that is all. Tarring everyone with the same brush is exactly what feminism opposes and equality does not mean we all want to be the same. Until we as a society really recognise diversity we will never be able to demonstrate compassionate understanding of what it means to be an ‘other’. Understanding the ‘other’ person means accepting and understanding their viewpoint – you do not have to agree with it 😉

    • Oh dear,

      I’ve pointed out several times that there are reasonable feminists. They are not ‘men haters’ – just unnecessary and irrelevant in tge greater dcheme of things.

      Alas, they’re also in the minority. Most ‘feminists’ are, in my experience, female chauvinist bigots

      Personalky I’m sick and tired of the PC narrative that paints women as wonderful and men as unworthy of cOnsideraion.

      • Hm. Well, I don’t see the ‘PC narrative that paints women as wonderful and men as unworthy of consideration’.
        As for your experiences, Stuart, I’m sorry for you but it kind of proves my point about needing to prevent feminism being defined as negative by men.
        It isn’t about men v women. It isn’t about men ‘losing out’ to women. It’s about women being proud, accepted and treated in an equitable fashion.
        That’s all.
        Having to concede into what you consider to be ‘reasonable feminists’ does more to damage the perception of the word and makes it more difficult for women to embrace the word as a positive force for change and challenging a society where there is still discriminating positions of power.
        I don’t see feminists as needing to say only women are compassionate and am not sure if quoting the most extreme examples really helps.

        Anyway, I kind of think this argument and discussion proves my point in the original post about not being villified and needing to be proud of identifying as feminist.

        Thanks

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