What I Read: Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement

Reclaiming the F Word The New Feminist Movement

Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement by Catherine Redfern & Kristin Aune

Browsing around my local library a few weeks ago, I noticed that they have quite a small but rather concise feminist writings section, full of many of the books which I would recommend as introductory texts to any interested in feminism as well as the longer tracts from the well-known names. I had never read Reclaiming the F Word before so I added it to my check-out pile and threw it into my handbag for lunch-time reading.

Reclaiming the F Word draws on research done amongst 1000 people about their perspectives on feminism and what issues they think feminism should tackle. The writers take these insights from the research and use them to outline the direction that modern, Western feminism has been taking over the past year and neatly lays the issues out into the main topics of body rights, sexual rights, workplace equality, cultural equality, politics and religious, freedom from violence and equality in the home.

The interspersion of the comments made by those surveyed and interviewed added a layer of interest and insight to the chapters about why feminism is still relevant to many people in the 21st century. While some of the chapters maybe suffer for taking on too much in their analysis, there are other chapters which make me pause for thought and nod my head in agreement. In particular, the chapter on religion and whether it can be changed to include female perspectives in its structures and worship.

One of the biggest criticisms laid at feminist writings is its lack of inclusion of the male perspective, and this is where this book really works. When the authors discuss their main issues, they always acknowledge that men also suffer as well from rape, violence, stifling gender norms amongst many other issues, and that men can also be feminists.

So even if you’ve moved beyond Feminism 101, Reclaiming the F Word will probably be of interest, and this is a must-read for anyone interested in the state of the current feminist movement.

RIP Savita

I was going to write something longer, but then we got the most heartbreaking phone call this evening.

“This is a Catholic country,” was what Irish doctors told Savita Halappanavar after she learned she was miscarrying her pregnancy and asked for an abortion to avoid further complications. She spent three days in agonising pain, eventually shaking, vomiting and passing out. She again asked for an abortion and was refused, because the foetus still had a heartbeat.

Then she died.

She died of septicaemia and E Coli. She died after three and a half days of excruciating pain. She died after repeatedly begging for an end to the pregnancy that was poisoning her. Her death would have been avoided if she had been given an abortion when she asked for it – when it was clear she was miscarrying, and that non-intervention would put her at risk.

-from The Guardian

There are many people who can far more eloquently summarise the many problems with the Irish healthcare system and our lack of abortion rights in Ireland than I can. There is not much more than I can add to today’s numerous blog posts, Facebook posts and tweets about the news on every Irish newspaper’s front pages.

However what I want to say is Savita, I am sorry that our healthcare system failed you. I’m sorry you suffered for three days waiting for your baby’s heartbeat to stop and were refused medical care which you needed. I’m sorry we haven’t managed to step away from our Catholic ethos to view necessary medical care as exactly that. I’m sorry that succesive governments have cowardly ignored the genuine need of women to access abortion services in Ireland, and I’m sorry that we have failed women by not pushing hard enough for that legislation. RIP Savita.

I’m Not A Feminist But…

I think one of the most frequently heard things said about any social or political issues relating to women has to be “I’m not a feminist but…” and the person talking will generally come out with something that sounds pretty much like feminism to me. It seems to bug so many feminists that someone won’t throw their towel in with them and accept the feminist label. I think that getting annoyed with someone who expresses feminist opinions but doesn’t identify as a feminist is just going to lose more support for feminism than persuading people to declare their support.

I’m a big fan of Caitlin Moran’s philosophy that if you have a vagina and want to be in control of what happens to it and you, then you’re a feminist, but sometimes there is a reluctance there and there are many valid reasons why people, including me sometimes, don’t frame their political views as feminist.

Scary Ideas About Feminists

The first, simplest and most obvious reason is the portrayal of feminists by the media and, occasionally by themselves. Many of my friends see feminists as people looking for a reason to frown on having fun, against sex and anti-men. We’re not and as a whole, I would say feminists are pro-men and pro-sex. There’s nothing new about this line of thought which is why I’m quickly moving onto the other reasons why someone might be reluctant to call themselves a feminist.

Too Much Infighting

While feminism as a general idea seems to have a unified direction, i.e. the removal of patriarchal structures, social norms and patterns of behaviour, the hows and whys of getting there diverge massively. It’s difficult to sometimes figure out that not only do you have to choose between all the divergent strands, especially when feminism comes preloaded with a whole vocabulary and set of definitions which have to be read up on to even hope to understand the debate. While I welcome debate around, sometimes it just ends up being a distraction from the real issues.

Let’s look at the spat about intersectional feminism and whether Caitlin Moran should have called Lena Dunham on the lack of people of colour in Girls. Obviously feminists need to look beyond their own perspective and I abhor Moran’s response on Twitter, but there also is an element of ‘Am I Feminist Enough?’ about the whole argument. It’s an important debate to have but sometimes I feel that too often we get caught up in wars of words with other feminists, instead of doing anything for the campaigns we claim to support.

Am I Feminist Enough?

The other big issue for me anyway and one of the reasons why sometimes I’m reluctant to declare myself as a feminist is the reaction from someone else who decides that I’m not feminist enough. It sounds stupid and thankfully I haven’t seen much of it in real life, but there is an overwhelming trend of it on the Internet. I wrote about Deborah Schoeneman’s Jezebel article last month in which she alleged that the new trend of women not growing up into adults in an appropriate manner is undermining women as a whole, and then there was a rant last week about how Pinterest is undermining feminism by promoting traditional feminine activities, including dieting. Now I know those arguments are nonsense, but putting that message out there that if you’re a good feminist, you won’t like fashion, makeup, baking or decorating is completely counter-productive. We’re human and most of us derive pleasure from the simple things like good food, looking nice and living in a beautiful space, and that’s not limited to women alone. Some of the content on Pinterest is problematic, but getting into a good feminist/ bad feminist mindset about its users is not the way forward. One person’s actions is not going to undermine feminism, so stop making women feel bad about things which are a normal part of their lives.

Trying Not to be Labelled

Here’s the other thing. Most people aren’t really interested in a political label. Personally I tend to vote in a certain pattern but I would be reluctant to publicly identify as a supporter of a political party. Primarily because while I support their general ideas and some of their campaigns, invariably there will come a point when I disagree with a campaign or a leader. Similarly I sometimes will support one campaign from a political party but in general wouldn’t be a fan of their overall party policies. Similarly I eyeroll at feminist campaigns sometimes as well as being ridiculous, despite being a feminist.

Many people are like this, and the all or nothing of telling someone that they can’t say “I’m not a feminist but…” turns people off the overall idea of supporting a campaign or group. Maybe someone is pro-equal pay and stringent sentencing for rapists but can’t lend their support to other campaigns, and that’s okay. Not everyone has to agree with everything, and it’s better for people to be in support for women’s rights even if they don’t adopt a feminist label.

What are your thoughts on ‘I’m not a feminist but…’?

Rant: Deborah Schoeneman’s Woman-Child

I spent most of yesterday rolling my eyes and snorting in derision at a post which popped up on Jezebel about the woman-child and how this is becoming a worrying cultural phenomenon. It sounds more like a rant which throws together some of the cultural and fashion trends along with consumerism than an insightful analysis of the lives of women in their twenties and thirties.

The woman-child, the female equivalent of the man-child, is in Schoeneman’s mind, a new entity created by consumerism and pop-culture which allows women to continue with girlish behaviours and avoid growing up. She engages in behaviours which are at odds with the traditional things done by her peer-group, like watching and reading young adult films and books, liking glittery nail polish, and admiring the fashion sense of Katy Perry and Zooey Deschanel. She blogs, instagrams and tweets her way through life. She also says in an interview with Glamour magazine that these women are also about desexualisation and not appearing sensual. In essence, she is a girly girl, a figure our culture tends to ridicule anyway.

There are two big problems even with this definition. The first is the idea that you belong to a peer-group because of your age, location and economic status, not because of your interests and preferences, and because you are a member of a peer-group, you should act like them and mimic their fashions. The second is the disdain in which girly activities and traditionally feminine pastimes which have came back into fashion like crafting and baking are held. Are those things outlined above feminine or childish, or should we even  bother analysing half those things as even saying anything remotely insightful about another person?

Her main argument is that the woman-child is choosing not to grow up into an adulthood full of potential trauma, but I would argue that young women are choosing to grow up in a different way to their mothers and older sisters. What was for them may not be for the younger generation and for plenty of good reasons. The economic recession in Ireland at least has meant that plenty of people have had to put important “grown-up plans” on hold, like starting a career or buying a house and end up getting stuck in the post-college graduation void of having enough money to have some fun but not enough to settle down or make long-term plans. The other thing is really do we want it? We have grown up watching men getting to have all the fun while our mothers got the stress and heartache of taking care of a household, raising children and trying to work at the same time. Why would we settle for that?

Here’s the thing, we need to stop problematising other people’s decisions and choices. What other people do with their lives is mostly noone else’s problem. You can like all sorts of different things at the same thing, something I thought we all learned when we were children.

So here’s my giant list of contradictions: I have a degree and a masters in politics but I like chick flicks. I love steak and proper grown-up food but I frequently eat cupcakes for breakfast. I have read a wide range of the classics from English literature, Greek philosophy and the American greats but I also love the trend for easy to read young adult books. I like spending my weekends in the outdoors covered in dirt but during the week, I dress up in feminine clothes and wear makeup and perfume. My toenails are currently painted blue and I have glittery shampoo, shower-gel and eye-shadow. Am I a woman-child? Do I even care?

Some call it ‘abortion liberalisation’, I call it essential medical care.

I saw this news article linked in my Facebook feed this morning, and to be honest, it made my blood boil.

Regardless of a politician’s personal opinion, Ireland as a state is legally bound by the rulings of our own Supreme Court and should legislate their decisions. A ruling was made 20 years ago that Irish women are entitled to abortions in Ireland if their lives are in danger and the European Court of Human Right’s judgement reinforced that ruling, unless those politicians wish to tell me that a woman’s duty is to an incubator regardless of the danger to the continuation of her life, or that it is acceptable for those women to take a long, lonely and sorrowful trip to the UK for a life-saving procedure. There is no more to that whole issue than that. This isn’t about fornication, sex ed, moral standards, the Catholic Church or anything else, it is about how we take care of people whose pregnancy is endangering their lives.

This is not “abortion liberalisation”, this is providing women with essential medical care which could save their lives. End of story.