The Dirty F Word
I’m not a feminist, but…
Boy. Do the hairs on my neck go rigid at that statement. Spoken too often and with wary caution by young women lest they be branded with that dirty F word. And yet, as Siegel (2007) elaborates “when young women [say] “I’m not a feminist, but” they often [go] on to add something suspiciously feminist sounding in the rest of their sentence.” (p116). It angers me to hear that such largely accepted statements like “women deserve equal pay,” must be first qualified with the INAFB disclaimer. Hell, at a social dinner some weeks ago a guy was retelling an old colleague’s bragging regarding his wrongdoings to a woman he had conned (my interpretation) into sleeping with him (the story was particularly abhorrent and the act essentially amounted to rape). His girlfriend responded with, “I’m not a feminist, but that’s wrong.” That the act in discussion was in fact utterly morally bankrupt was in no question; males and females were equally in agreement. Yet why did she feel the need to qualify this clearly accepted statement? It wasn’t even a ‘feminist’ statement; it was simply in defence of a woman.
It does not take much examination to see why young women hide behind INAFB. I draw on a personal example that highlights the travesty surrounding the use of the dirty F word. It was when Gillard was elected in 2010 and the vast majority of Facebook statuses were something along the lines of “oh great, we have a ranga for a prime minister” (for those unfamiliar with the term, a ‘ranga’ [rang-ah, as in oRANGutan] is a person with red hair. Yes, my countryfolk are inspiring…). It irked me that during such a politically volatile period the best my peers could come up with was commenting on the new Prime Minister’s hair colour, not policy, nor the precariousness of the Labour party’s position (it was a hung parliament) nor even the fact that we had elected(ish) our first female leader. I expressed this with a Facebook status, and was dismayed to find that the responses I received from both males and females all included the same theme: shut up, you’re just a stupid feminist.
Once again, as in the example prior to this one, I would not have thought that the statement was feminist. I truly would have said the same thing were the new Prime Minister a ‘ranga’ male. But as soon as I stood in defence of a woman, I was labelled a feminist and consequently my opinion no longer mattered. This has happened countless times since. As soon as I mention something even with the vaguest scent of feminism, people roll their eyes with the same amused disdain reserved for precocious children. The word feminist is used to discredit the speaker, as though it is synonymous with ‘lunatic’ or ‘fanatic’. Hell, I feel like the crazy cat lady from The Simpsons when people use that look with me. Yet, after much self-questioning, I am fairly certain I am expressing quite moderate views and always with a good, sound argument behind them. Yet no matter how well-constructed or rational or comparatively moderate my arguments are, as soon as someone cries “feminist!” well, there goes any chance of being taken seriously. No wonder INAFB holds such great temptation, it at least gives some assurance that one will be listened to!
So, what’s wrong with being a feminist? How has it attained this crazy cat-lady status? I have two theories. The first is likely to instigate the good ol’ anti-feminist eye-roll, but nevertheless, I continue (*throws cat*). Arguably, the most effective way to win any public argument is to discredit your opponent, so that no matter what they say, their arguments are ignored (A short study of politics in the U.S. provides a wonderful example of this). I see this happening on a large scale with women’s fight for equality (It would take many articles to go into why I think women haven’t yet achieved true equality, so for the sake of argument, they haven’t). If you can discredit an entire social movement, you remove its power to effect any change. This means that your own power remains unquestioned, so in this case, men can maintain the upper hand in terms of gender relations, and women remain secondary. With such strong negative connotations now behind the word ‘feminist’, even women don’t want to be associated with the term, and thus think twice about voicing any opinion that could be construed as such. Indeed, in my experience other women are the loudest slanderers of feminism. By doing this, they are distancing themselves as much as possible from the negative image of feminism and giving themselves the best chance to be heard in a world biased towards hearing a man’s voice. And when a ‘feminist’ voice does speak, it is now ignored.
My second theory focuses on feminists. It seems to me that some feminist groups and women tend to support women only for the reason of their sex. As an example, I refer to Helen Garner and the reception of her book The First Stone. The book journals the 1992 sexual harassment case where two girls accused their college Dean of sexual harassment . In her attempt to interview the two girls she was constantly rebutted by the women who had rallied around them. Her criticism of this behaviour and less than sympathetic attitude toward the complainants won her much anger from feminist groups, and despite her lifelong feminist activism, she was branded ‘unfeminist’. Garner sought to gather evidence from each side and come to a reasoned conclusion and was vilified for not automatically taking the female side. Why should she automatically take their side? She was given no reason other than ‘you’re a woman/feminist so you should.” We shouldn’t ally with anyone for reason of shared identity only. Who can blame people for perceiving feminists as screaming banshees when they get their ire up so loudly when people disagree with them?
I am aware I have now isolated pretty much everyone who might be reading this article but hopefully it can be understood that what I’m saying are generalisations. Not all feminist groups or individuals have the single-minded group mentality I described, and those that do are no worse than equally single-minded other groups. And I don’t think men gather in secret societies across the world to plot against feminists, but rather that a subtle patriarchal mindset is inherited by all who are born into the world.
I just think it is time that people spend a little more mental energy on attending to what people are actually saying, not the group they are from. Likewise, perhaps some groups would be able to garner more respect if they didn’t just side with each other automatically without really considering the issue at hand. And for those that hide behind “I’m not a feminist, but…” well, have a bit of backbone and have confidence in your opinions! If sensible, considered people stop hiding behind INAFB maybe we can scrub the dirty F word up so it’s not so dirty anymore.