Advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex; the movement associated with this (OED)
1913 ‘R. West’ in Clarion 14 Nov. 5/2 I myself have never been able to find out precisely what Feminism is: I only know that people call me a Feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute. (OED)
What kind of feminism do you subscribe to? Twitter activism? The type that once upon a time broke the mould, but who has now been reduced to click-baiting headlines whenever she needs to sell a book? Do you prefer to reduce men to a bunch of awkward pre-teens by randomly adding the word period into conversations, especially when rare steaks are being served? There are as many definitions of feminism as there are feminists, and feminism’s real purpose often gets lost amongst all the noise. Its key issues become pushed aside and blurred by the constant debate about definitions. So, maybe we should not be so shocked about many women distancing themselves from the concept. We get bogged down in identity politics so much that we have allowed a bunch of white privileged men who have no respect for women’s agency and their freedom to decide what happens to their bodies introduce an abhorrent abortion ban.
By searching for a perfect singular definition of feminism, we have left a few cracks open, unanswered, and therefore left the movement vulnerable to endless Twittercism (Twitter criticism – you’re welcome) without achieving its real goals for ending oppression. But then again, maybe it’s worth paying attention to some criticism, because it may tell us something important about what feminism should focus on.
Should feminists fight for the rights of women in their own country or women oppressed everywhere? Should they focus on white women, BAME women, working-class women, women with children or no children, trans women, gay women, women who have survived domestic violence, poor women, rich women, unhappy women, disabled women…? Trying to justify one’s choices could take a lifetime of deliberation without ever reaching a meaningful endpoint.
So, consider approaching feminism from a different perspective, starting with a ‘veil of ignorance’. Imagine that you have no idea what your class, gender, race, religion, level of education and health, attractiveness or your sandwich preference is. You don’t know if you have children or a spouse, or if you or your children are healthy and whether you have a career that pays enough. Not seeing what lies ahead, may help us recognise that oppression is rarely about just one thing: maybe you are a woman of colour who has a disabled child or society stereotypes your religion or you fight the age discrimination. Our lives contain ever-shifting multitudes which those in power should respect and value.
Increasingly, there is an urgent need to extend equality beyond singular terms to encompass the diversity of life circumstances. By virtue of our place of birth, through no doing of our own, we all have very different life prospects, very different mountains to climb. Some are rolling hills with signposted paths; you barely break out into a sweat on the way up, before unrolling your picnic blanket and commenting on the glorious sunshine and landscape around you. For others, there are rugged edges and mountaintops obscured by the clouds. The safety equipment is out of reach because you had to choose food over a harness, and even if you get to the top, the risky climb will leave you shaken and your body bruised.
Feminism 2.0: Sounds like fun!
Next, think about the kind of society you aspire to live in. What principles would you choose to govern it? Of course, some people may always be happy to take risks, and choose values that only reward monetary success and abandon anyone in low-skilled and low-paid jobs, leaving it up to food banks to make sure they don’t starve.
To most of us, it may become clear that values such as compassion, cooperation, respect and dignity for all would be more desirable than wealth. Offering everyone access to good quality education, regardless of whether their parents can afford either a very expensive mortgage in a good middle-class state school area or private school fees, might become a priority, alongside removing other barriers.
If your starting position lacks the superiority of class, gender, race, health or education, you will be concerned (hopefully) with the well-being of all human beings while recognising that the wheel of oppression is a complex machine that keeps on turning because it is powered by so many intricately connected cogs. Only by working across all sections of society we can hope to dismantle it. It is not unfeminist to worry about the fate of white working-class boys while fighting for women’s rights. Because these boys will then grow up to respect women’s and everyone else‘s rights, instead of ignoring their humanity. We may then feel more compassion towards those who have fallen through the cracks, whether through their own or nobody’s fault. We may feel more compelled to redefine success and make our citizens’ wellbeing a priority.
Stand up for everyone’s rights. A revised manifesto.
Choose your battles wisely to have a maximum impact because today you may be a City trailblazer, but tomorrow you could wake up as an unemployed factory worker who after decades of low-skilled and backbreaking labour feels suicidal. Therefore, I propose that the next wave of feminism should be about advocacy of equality of all, and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of all citizens; the movement associated with this. So, let’s revise the feminist manifesto and direct our energy towards shaping a more compassionate and just society. Because only when we aspire to and fight for making everyone’s lives better, we have a chance to transform society into a place for all. How about that?
From the Language Hole HQ
I love listening to A Good Read
I love reading to The Abbess of Crew by Muriel Spark
I love watching Happy Birthday OU: 50 Years of the Open University