What Is Feminism?

I interviewed three of my closest friends (women aged 21, 24 and 26) out of curiosity to see how they would respond to these questions that I had a pretty hard time with finding good answers to, and also just to see how alike/different our thoughts would be on feminism and feminists. First of all, I found some similarities in our answers, for example, all of us had the understanding that feminism is about equal rights for women and men, when it comes to jobs etc, or more specifically that women should have equal right to those of men. Furthermore, I found it interesting that three of us had the same stereotypes of feminists; nasty, man-hating women who don’t shave – but all agreed on that those were not true for every feminists, they are only negative stereotypes that lead to feminists not getting taken seriously and thus discrediting the feminist ideas. Our ideas of a “strong woman” were also pretty similar: an independent woman who can take care of herself – if she needs. Nonetheless, one interviewee pointed out that just because a housewife for example maybe doesn’t support herself, she can still take care of herself and be a strong woman, which I thought was a good point. Some other trends and patters I noticed was that three of us cited a close female family member as our major role model when it come to strong women, so family and close relations definitely plays a big part in teaching girls how be strong, independent and how to take care of themselves and to take no shit from no-one! One last (sad) trend was that none of us could think of any historical feminists… I mentioned Gertrude Stein – I wasn’t sure at all why I related her to feminism, and then again, she’s most famous for being an author anyway – and one other interviewee mentioned Gudrun Schyman (a living Swedish politician, leader of the feminist party), so I don’t think that counts. We all couldn’t really pin-point exactly why we didn’t know about any feminists, but one idea that came up was that in school when we learn about historical persons etc, the vast majority is men and women don’t get much visibility at all. However, the most interesting answers I got were the ones that I didn’t expect to hear, and the ones that diverged the most from my own. Most shockingly, while I and one of my interviewees thought that being a feminist was a no-brainer, one of my friends was very hesitant to calling herself one, even though she believed in the the ideas of feminism she just explained to me, and the other friend blatantly answered no. Her explanation for it was that she thought feminism would never really get anywhere; sexism would always be there (“boys will be boys” and men will always by pretty women drinks etc), even if we were to get equal pay etc, we would never be equal in that sense… We had a whole discussion about it afterwards, but she still wouldn’t consider herself a feminist, even though she did agree on that women and men should have equal rights. In her view, feminists are simply “too much”! Her stereotype of a feminist also included a “butch” woman, or someone who didn’t play on appearances (men don’t wear makeup so why should a woman?), and the notion that a feminist is a pissed of woman who’s been wronged/treated bad by a man. I thought this idea was very upsetting, yes she said it only as a stereotype, but still, she also said that the ideas representing the feminist perspective is equality, and so why should then only women who has experienced something bad believe in equality? Shouldn’t that be in every woman’s interest, or should those who haven’t yet experienced something like that just be content in being “inferior” to men? Either she is contradicting herself or she has to change her mind somehow to make sense of this, because I don’t get it! All in all, I really did find it interesting to start of with a survey like this, to see where I stand and also where the thoughts of those closest to me are. I’m a bit sad (and embarrassed) to say that we’d never discussed stuff like this before, and that it took a survey to find out and really think about feminism. Even though all of us agreed on that feminism is something that could be good for essentially everyone, but especially for women ofc, it has never been a big part of our lives, or at least not in a way that we’ve actively tried to support it. Maybe because of the negative stereotypes, maybe because of the slim knowledge and understanding of it, or maybe because of the reluctance to actually admit to being a feminist and having to answer to all of these negative stereotypes, misguided and misinformed people around you who just don’t understand? (Originally posted on 2014/09/08 for Melanie Klein’s class blog “Women and Popular Culture”)

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