Fifty Shades of Feminism

This has to be the best “Fifty Shades” marketing pun out there. That’s it, they don’t get better or more tongue in cheek than this. Now stop.

But I’m not posting this to rage about marketing puns, or Fifty Shades of Gray. I want to share with you a new book. A fantastic book. A book that makes me feel solidarity with not just women, but people. If you haven’t heard of Fifty Shades of Feminism edited by Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes & Susie Orbach, that’s not surprising. It’s a book about feminism, after all. Ech.

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What makes this book special is its informality. This isn’t a preaching book. This isn’t trying to tell you The Rules Of Feminism (because they don’t exist, by the way). Fifty Shades of The F-Word is a book filled with stories, personal struggles, hope and reasons to challenge the equality lie.

It contains three-to-four page entries from fifty women around the world of all ages, sexuality and shades of feminist ideas. I started reading it yesterday and I’m a third of the way through.

So, what I really wanted to do was share with you parts of one story that have resonated with me the most and, I suspect, will resonate with many young women from my generation and younger. It’s an entry by Sharon Haywood, called Owning the F-word. It succinctly puts across the difficulties many people face in a Western world that is entrenched with anti-feminist rhetoric. I hope it reaches women afraid of being ostracized for trying to reclaim a demonised movement.

“I was always a feminist . . . I just didn’t know it.

As a teen and a young woman, I would rattle off misinformed excuses for not owning feminism, and it doesn’t seem to have changed much with up-and-coming generations. Take twenty-two-year-old Taylor Swift, internationally acclaimed pop-country singer, who when asked whether she was a feminist responded, ‘I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.’

It wasn’t until my thirties, when I left my provenance in Canada to explore other cultures, that I came to learn that feminism is not a battle of the sexes, and sometimes working hard simply isn’t enough. It took moving to Argentina, where 15 per cent of cosmetic surgery patients are teenage girls seeking Botox injections, chin implants and lip fillers, for me to become a card-carrying feminist.

By the 1980s, just as I grew old enough to form my own opinion, the backlash aimed at the second wave of feminism was firmly entrenched in popular culture. The media and entertainment industry did (and still do) a fine job of depicting feminists as militant, hairy and angry, strengthening the stereotype that no one I knew wanted to be associated with. I bought into the propaganda that feminists were man-hating, undesirable and humourless, adjectives I most certainly did not want attached to my name.

Although I recognised that many of my basic rights – voting, getting a credit card, attending university and having full reproductive autonomy – came courtesy of earlier generations of feminists, I couldn’t relate to them. A combination of immaturity, widely accepted delegitimizing stereotypes and having never known a real-life feminist shaped my believe that the women’s movement had finished its job.

Even though my core values aligned with feminism, I fervently defended my beliefs in equality by tagging on the disclaimer, ‘Yes, but I’m not a feminist,’ lest I be ostracized from mainstream society. I rejected the F-word when I called out my friends on sexist jokes, when I maintained catcalling is sexual harassment and even when I defended my undergraduate thesis arguing the association between porn and violence against women. The relationship between less obvious forms of oppression in my midst and the work of earlier feminists eluded me.

[. . .]

Since I’ve owned feminism, my life has changed for the better. It has heightened my sensitivity to the different experiences of people as they intersect with various aspects of their identity. It’s improved the quality of my personal relationships with others and myself. And it’s affirmed that a small group of committed people can indeed effect positive change. That said, imagine what our world would look like if feminism wasn’t restricted to the fringe.

Study after study has shown that feminism self-identity lends to greater collective action, thus increasing the likelihood of social change. From Argentina to Australia, the more of who own feminism as part of who we are, the greater our odds of raising consciousness and dissolving the rhetoric that stands in the way of gender equality.

Perhaps with more life experience, celebrity and role models like Taylor Swift and other well-known self-proclaimed non-feminists – actress-director Drew Barrymore, singer-songwriter Björk and Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, to name a few – will recognize that they too are in fact feminists, and pave a less-obtrusive path for all women.

Taking ownership of the label doesn’t require abandoning the role of stay-at-home mother, earning a doctorate in gender studies or founding a non-profit organization (and it certainly doesn’t trigger overnight facial hair), but it does mean possessing and wielding out combined potential and power to achieve genuine equality.

Individually, it starts with the assertion. Yes, I am a feminist. Full stop.”

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To read Haywood’s full entry, you should really buy Fifty Shades of Feminism. It’s a great way to tease into a muggy subject; especially if you don’t know how to shape what it means, or if you aren’t sure whether to believe feminists are nuts or not (I advocate not, ta); with fascinating, uplifting, inspiring stories.

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