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July 26, 2014

the problem with feminism

I hung my handkerchiefs out to dry in the first certain sunshine we've had for weeks now. My grandmother would be displeased, she was a nurse and thought hankies terribly unhygenic, although she always had one folded and tucked into her sleeve. What strange creatures we are, so tumbled up with contradictions. I myself can often be found in an afternoon wearing as always a long dress, drinking tea from fine china, reading an antique novel or perhaps some blackly humorous science fiction while Pink Floyd or Steppenwolf music plays in the background.

We are, all of us, a hundred different things within ourselves. No woman can be captured by one code of womanhood. We are strong, we are fragile. We want freedom and we want the bonds of love and belonging. We use perfumed handkerchiefs and operate heavy machinery.

This is of course what feminism desires for women - the right to be whatever they want. It's a beautiful and noble idea. But it has come to mean something else for so many women that I wonder if the term, if not the spirit itself, has lost efficacy. Many see it as just another demand on their personhood, telling them how they should be.

Feminism is, at its heart, simply and very powerfully about equality. But over the years it has come to symbolise other things too - pro-choice, working women, man-blaming, strong assertive characters, daycare for children. Honestly, if you met a woman dressed in white lace, with long hair, whose soft skin smelled of talcum powder and floral perfume; a woman who kept home for her family and dreamed of living back in the Regency era; a woman who protested abortion and held other conservative values, would you automatically consider her a feminist?

If not, why not?

The problem with feminism is not feminism itself. The problem is how people on both sides of the divide perceive it.

As Sarah Miller wrote in an opinion piece for Time Magazine:
“Categorizing is necessary for humans, but it becomes pathological when the category is seen as definitive, preventing people from considering the fuzziness of boundaries, let alone revising their categories…”

The struggle for equal rights is just as important today as it ever was. Infact, my perception is that we have a greater problem in the struggle for respect. Women have gained much over the century, but still face inequalities, dangers, and stresses simply because they are women. Men have their issues too and these are just as important as women's issues. We must continue striving towards true egalitarianism. Perhaps though we've got to the point where the term "feminism," although unfairly, has become a splinter in the wounds which still remain - the struggle women have to be themselves in society, embracing all the complexity of their feminine, and human, being.