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Worried that ghosts of our feminist foremothers will be disappointed

Two teenagers take a photograph with an Abercrombie & Fitch employee inside Westfield San Francisco Centre during Black Friday in San Francisco, California November 29, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

 

 

As a mom to a teenage boy, I’ve yet to step inside any Abercrombie & Fitch. (Let’s leave aside whether I meet the standards for the type of customers the jackassy CEO envisioned wearing his company’s clothes) I find the idea disconcerting to shop at a store that showcases relentlessly half-nekkid virile young men. “Hey, look at me! Do I make you randy? Now come in and bathe in the glory of my bare chest. And while you are at it, remember to pick up some clothes from here so your son can look like me.”

Eh. NO.

The same way I found it disturbing when I overheard a mom say to her preteen/teenage daughter, “Ooo. You look sexy. Do you want to get it?” Really? I understand the concept of treating sex and sex talk as a natural/neutral subject. But we’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Somehow in our eagerness to promote girl empowerment, we’ve found girl empowerment in places where there was none. [Advertisers surely have taken great advantage of our wishful thinking. The branding efforts by many products surrounding Hunger Games – Catching Fire are some of the most brilliant yet infuriating, ok, at least annoying, marketing campaigns. Nerf guns for girls – sized for smaller hands. About time! And they’re pink! Of course…] We’ve pushed the line way way way back. It is so easy to equate sexy = empowered, and call it a day.

Sex does not equal power. Sex became a means to power for women because we were left with few options and recourse.

 

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Yesterday I stepped on the soapbox and pontificated on why we need more feminism, now, even while some famous and influential female celebrities refuse to be identified as a feminist when asked point blank “Are you a feminist?” My cerebral writer and thinker friend Christine left a much more eloquent comment highlighting the significance of the confluence between “feminist” and the word “bitch” in popular imagination.

Being identified as a bitch opens a woman up to disrespect, disdain, renunciation, and violence.

“The bitch deserves it.”

 

Someone on my Twitter stream was exasperated that something called “rapeseed” even exists. I laughed because I’ve always felt the same way about this and would never want to be caught dead with a bottle of “rapeseed oil” in my kitchen. Just because. I decided to find out WHY it has such an unfortunate name. So I searched for “Why is rapeseed named” only that I did not get far before I caught sight of this and had to pause and hyperventilate…

 

This is why we need more feminism and not less

 

Really? Really?!

 

By now you must have come across images from the ad campaign for UN Women (dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women) created by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai. It’s infuriating, to say the least.

In the face of “prevalent opinions” as revealed by Google searches, we remember what Arundhati Roy said about the Voiceless:

[T]here’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.

Arundhati Roy (2004)

 

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Jezebel collected statements from several famous (and influential and therefore powerful, and yes, many are influential simply because they’re famous. We could sit down and ponder on the curious progression from fame -> influence -> power in this Social Media age. Think Kim Whatshername. The fact you know who I am referring to without her last name is proof itself…) women declaring that they are in fact NOT a feminist, and why not, in this post “The Many Misguided Reasons Famous Ladies Say ‘I’m Not a Feminist'”

It’s enough to make Gloria Steinem turn in her … Oh, never mind. I am glad that she’s still around and actually active on Social Media, even providing the last word to end meaningless controversies surrounding Miley Cyrus.  

My gut reactions aside, I am torn. I can see why these women are wary of being associated with the label “feminist” for which there is a profusion of entrenched negative connotations: man-hating, belligerent, combative, complain-y, chip on the shoulder, even militant. Marissa Mayer’s statement said it all:

I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions, but I don’t, I think have, sort of, the militant drive and the sort of, the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad, but I do think that feminism has become in many ways a more negative word.

 

What we need is not less feminism, but more. Instead of disavowing feminism because a long-standing smear campaign has been waged against it, more of us should claim it, changing the negative connotations so prevalent in pop culture and mainstream consciousness.

I fell head over heels in love with Caitlin Moran when I read this passage in her How to be a Woman and laughed out loud with my fist pumping [only one fist because the other one was holding my Kindle. In case you wonder…]:

We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY? ― Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

We need more Caitlin Morans amongst us.

We need more feminism even though right now we need to claim the label for ourselves with a caveat,

I am a feminist if by being a feminist you mean someone who believes in equal rights for women.

 

Quite often feminism is explained by what it is not, and the litany often begins with this disclaimer:

Yes, I am a feminist. No, I don’t hate men.

So here we are, having to first appease men, to prove that nothing reverse-sexist is going on here, while speaking out against inequality. Although it is factually correct – feminist <> men hating, am I the only one who finds this ironic?

We need more feminism exactly because most of us need the caveat in order to feel comfortable identifying ourselves as feminists. We need to somehow “temper” feminism so we could function and interact with the others peacefully in the society by providing a more socially acceptable, less threatening definition for the label.

We need more feminism because, well, we are still renouncing it for fear that we may appear aggressive, demanding and complain-y. In short, a bitch.

Just ask ourselves, “What do we call a man who asks for his fair share, who asks to be treated with courtesy, who asks to be dealt as he deserves, who stands up for himself?”

A real man.

Exactly.

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WTF Wednesday: Must We Show So Much Boobage as We Empower Ourselves?

March 6, 2013 imho is just a polite way to say I know you don't give a hoot what I think but I'm going to say it anyway

Behold, m’ladies. The latest ironic, gender-stereotype-busting, geek-affirming musical video designed to empower us, by showing the world: Fuck Yeah, We Are Women, We Are Bad Ass, We Like the Same Things that Men Like and We Are Good At Them, Too. Plus, We Have Boobs.     This video and this tweet from Nathan Fillon […]

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Keep on Fighting

July 7, 2012 therapy in session

Motherhood in the beginning is sickeningly isolating, especially if La Leche League gets their hold on your conscience. Your partner may be super duper awesome and really do the concept of 50/50 co-parenting justice. BUT. When you are up at night alone (because someone has to get up to go to work so you can […]

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Hostage

May 1, 2012 random

As soon as I stepped into the house from a business trip, I heard a moan from a heap at the corner of our sink-and-swim sofa. Shit. I thought to myself. “Dad was not like this a second ago. He was ok before you came home.” Mr. Monk, my 9-year-old, informed me with mischievous glee. […]

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