The F word; how Women Against Feminism is ultimate weapon of gender inequality

Women Against FeminismWomen Against Feminism on Tumblr suggests feminism. is dead. It seems the feminist movement has divided women against women . The future doesn’t look good for the F word. It’s getting difficult to separate feminist fact from fantasy.

Last week Women’s hour gave airtime to some feminist issues. The 9 minute clip can be heard online.*  Ellie Mae O’Hagan argued a gender pay gap exists (see Guardian CIF) while Laura Perrin from The Conservative Woman blog claimed the only reason women get paid less is because they take time out from work to have children. Childcare has always been a a feminist issue. Women Against Feminism was cited as an example of anti-feminist feeling. 

Messages on the Tumblr site are mixed. In a world where the internet exposes all aspects of life around the planet, it’s hard to see what appears to be insulation against the greater global picture of gender inequality. Part of this could be Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism and how social media encourages a society of self, but the legacy of early feminism is also to blame. A niche occupation; the stereotype was butch man basher, but the reality more single, childfree, educated, white, western female. Feminism failed to support the role of mother, wife and home-maker. In the 80’s I thought I was feminist until the day I was denied access to a local Women’s Centre because I had my sons with me, while women with daughters could enter. This was the day I thought F**k Feminism, you’re not for me.

I think partly I was relieved. Having halted a career for my family, the unsympathetic portrayal of feminism in the media was unsettling. Early press coverage focussed on negative images and feminists were mocked unsympathetically. Outed as bra-burning, men-haters, female friendships became suspect as men were taught to hate these strident dykes with more hair on their bodies than heads. The labelling of women as feminist soon carried undertones of threat and violence. For evidence of structured inequality of the patriarchal kind, you didn’t need to look much further than this. Feminist calls for political and economic parity came with a price which disguised any genuine ambition for social change and the backlash continues. The female body remains subject to scrutiny. There has never been a more image saturated age and a young girl quickly learns her value is associated with her appearance. It needs sensitive parenting and educated curricula to change dominant cultural attitudes but you can’t call it a feminist agenda any more because feminism is being rewritten and gender discrimination reinvented as victim-hood as evidenced by Women Against Feminism

There are many signs lessons haven’t been learned and the F word is still a dirty one. As a political movement feminism continues to be divisive. Yet fighting gender discrimination is no different to fighting against marginalisation by age, religion, disability or any other cultural category. To make a difference to structural inequality based on  sex and gender, feminism this time around needs to be different – for a start it has to cater for all women and include men. But then it wouldn’t be feminism and that is the problem.


* In a perfect example of exclusive and inaccessible practice, The BBC offers no introductory text or transcript. You have to listen.

‘Behind Closed Doors’ student conference; Feminism fights domestic abuse

Behind Closed Doors Conference

Student led conference Behind Closed Doors revealed the reality of domestic abuse. A tough topic but someone has to do it. In this case it was Julie Burton, Programme Leader for the Health and Social Care degree, and a fantastic crowd of students who made it happen. It was a brilliant example, not only of student engagement but real world activism. Raising awareness is the first step towards making a difference. Talking is where it all begins.

Keynote Julie Bindel spoke about domestic violence from a feminist perspective. I grew up reading Betty Freidan, Adrienne Rich and Kate Millet. My first MA was Gender Studies; the limitations of gender binaries my research. Julie Bindel made it clear it was not men she was against but the sexism which underpins patriarchal customs and values. It was a blast from my past. All babies are born equal. Society empowers boys and constrains possibilities for girls. Gender specific expectations the most powerful social delineators, kicking in at birth following a cursory glance at the genitals.

Where is my feminism now? Reflecting on the keynote, I can’t remember the last time I labeled myself as feminist. I live it instead. Which is maybe a little too close to taking it for granted.  It was useful to be reminded how this is a position of privilege. I’ve worked hard but my independence as a woman of er… um…a certain age is only possible through the feminist campaigners who fought for equal rights and a life in the public domain.

Who is standing up for young women today? I look at the handmaidens of the cult of celebrity; their false tans, nails, hair, breasts, whitened teeth and impossibly thin bodies – and I think this is the retaliation. Like the 1950’s dream of perfect homes and families was a backlash to the war years where women took the male work role – and did it well – before being pushed back in the kitchen, sedated with valium. The latest oppression is the current reshaping of a young girl’s dreams. It’s not enough to be famous through WAG-hood or reality TV, you have to  exhibit a post baby body after childbirth as well. No signs of pregnancy allowed. As if fecundity has become something to be ashamed of.

We can’t escape hormonal difference. Women have babies. Children need to be looked after. Toilets have to be cleaned. Someone has to wipe the shite. For too long these roles have been designated as female. Yet evidence suggests early civilizations were matriarchal. Women held positions of power and authority. Revered for the same reasons they are now being reviled. Bleeding but not dying. It’s clear from history how femininity was once privileged. Before Lilith was demonised. Before Eve was framed.

Sometimes I wonder if most women have some experience of domestic abuse. Vicariously if not in person. It isn’t limited to men abusing women although research proves this is the dominant model. There are no excuses for harm. All abuse is wrong. It’s perpetrated through an ideology which condones male dominance while trivialising feminist politics, labelling activists as man haters, when this simply isn’t true. It’s the violence we hate. Victims need to be shown how knowledge is power. There is help available. The force of feminism can be with you. This is why conferences like Behind Closed Doors are so valuable and speakers like Julie Bindel should be listened to. The doors need to be pushed open to reveal the horrors within. Alongside information about the help and support which is available to everyone.


Behind Closed Doors website list of organisations who can help victims of domestic abuse

University of Lincoln Behind Closed Doors conference Press Release


Who will clean the toilets after the revolution?

I learned about feminism the hard way. Through divorce. There’s nothing like custody to make you appreciate where discrimination lies. Today we face a mass of social and economic problems. Capitalism takes as much as it offers. The state of the NHS, the future of higher education, the media manipulation of welfare claimants are all cause for concern. Yet a life in the UK remains an aspiration for people across the world. We have space to campaign.  Call for greater equality and social justice. Higher education can challenge and change. Maybe not the world but enough small parts to make a difference. The danger is seeing class as the only discrimination. A Marxist framework was useful for rising awareness of gender divides, but gender continues to divide society, deeply and silently. Economics is only one strand of the ideological oppression of women.

My feminist education was less work based than home based. Women find it hard to separate historical materialism from biology. Divorced, I faced the dual predicament of childcare plus the one issue feminism has never answered – toilet cleaning. The reality of women and work rarely sit well together. Work is problematic for mothers – regardless of their status. Whether married, single, divorced or widowed, without a support structure, usually made up of other women, the greatest load of childcare, housework and toilet cleaning is in the female domain. It has always been like this.

I fell out with feminism in the late 20th century because it denigrated the role of motherhood. In prioritising career opportunities and equal pay for women, the status of stay at home mother was downgraded. When it came to domesticity as a career choice, there was no sisterhood. I was lucky. I worked because I wanted to as well as needed to. At the same time I returned to my own education. These were the days of Women’s Studies where feminism was often theoretical. Political activism is safer on paper. In terms of bringing issues of ideological oppression of women into the public domain, there is much to thank the academics and campaigners for, but feminism took away the woman’s right to choose. It privileged work over housewifery. If feminism had invented, patented and given away self-cleaning toilets – every home should have one – it would have been a significant step towards gender equality. For every man who claims to be a toilet cleaner there are a thousand who’ve never wielded a loo brush in their lives. Power politics are played out not only in government but in the rooms of the home; the bedroom, dining room, kitchen room, bathroom.

Cultural attitudes have deep roots. Men still patronize. Women still get paid less for doing more. The ideology hasn’t changed. Gender discrimination is a powerful social tool and I don’t see how Marxism will change this. Who will clean the toilets after the revolution?

that ‘F’ word again…

On 8 January I asked what the F word did for us. I may have been unfair because it’s thanks to feminist politics that I’ve had choices which would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. However, being of an age where my children’s generation are now having children of their own, I see increasing pressure to conform to a stereotyped body image, male as well as female. Activism against body politics can’t be far away.  A new book by Natasha Walter,  Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism  looks  at contemporary expectations on young women and the return of a sexism that privileges appearance. Two more books are due out this year; Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion, and Reclaiming the F Word: The New ­Feminist Movement by Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune’s. A resurgence of feminist politics may well be on the horizon.

Some backlash against feminism was inevitable; such as the reinterpretation of the label to support the cult of female celebrity and all its physical fakery; fake nails, fake tan and fake breasts. Maybe that in itself is a form of political feminism. In the same way that happy housewives defended their right to prioritise the home and childcare, taking control of the body may be seen as the right to find identity and meaning. However, rather than unrealistic cultural expectations my greater concern is the absence of status for the pregnant body and the role of childcare.  At the risk of sounding essentialist, you can’t alter biological design. A key error in feminist politics was to assume that all women wanted freedom from subordination via autonomy when to be sustainable the real issues were about achieving a balance of power. Childcare is key to feminism. Jenni Murray calls for altering public policy to change its perception into as something all parents do, not just women’s work. Therein lies the answer that was missed last time round; feminism is not about existing independently, it’s about collaboration between the sexes and recognition that childcare is a joint responsibility.  As the media reports widely on toxic families and the break down in social structures there’s never been a better time for the policy to catch up with a contemporary need for gendered social equality.

Sing Jerusalem naked!

What difference would having the Internet have made to Feminist politics in the 1970s? In 2010, online feminist activity is encouraging libratory action; designed to creative a positive self image and sisterly solidarity. Make Your Own Herstory  is a website set up by self-confessed activist Nic Green, creator of Trilogy, feminist theatre involving naked female bodies that is allegedly so inspiring audiences have stripped naked for the final rendering of Jerusalem. I think that’s carrying audience participation a bit far but an alternative is proposed on the MYOH website were you are invited to take a camera outside, remove your clothes, sing Jerusalem and then upload the video.

Sounds like virtual feminism has arrived.

What did the ‘F’ Word ever do for us?

Its 40 years since the first National Women’s Liberation conference was held in the UK; since the language of the Female Eunuch and Sexual Politics and the media reveled in castigating  women as bra-burning, man-bashing dykes.

During WW2 women were given opportunities to support the war effort and take on traditional male roles,. Then they were relegated to the domestic sphere. Gender expectations swung from one extreme to the other. It’s no coincidence that female fashion in the 1950s promoted the forerunner of Barbie; nipped in waistlines and pushed out breasts. Feminism was a reaction to cultural repression, to the curtailing of women’s freedom to participate on an equal social and economic level with men. It tackled gender discriminations such as equal pay and employment opportunities. But the free love, free spirit ethos of the 1960’s overlooked one crucial issue; responsibility for childcare. At the end of the day, someone has to position themselves in the private sphere and tend the domestic hearth. To achieve equality took more than raising consciousness, it required a fundamental shift of the status of mother and housewife; accepting them as valued occupations in their own right. Instead, equal employment opportunities today often involve paying other women to take on the childcare and domestic commitments instead.

The legacy of feminism is increased gender controls. There is a clear cultural backlash through media induced social pressure to conform to an idealised female identity; one that defies nature and is impossible to achieve. Predominant images of women are airbrushed into thin perfection. It’s laudable to display a pre-pregnancy body within weeks of giving birth. The mantra ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ is supported by anorexia focused websites and the promotion of the size zero ‘celebrity’ as a role model. Pressure on young women to conform to a stereotyped image of femininity has never been greater nor the female body so diminished. Parallels with the onset of the feminist movement 40 years ago are striking suggesting that activism against body politics cannot be very far away.