I have, oh constant blog reader, designed a little test for you. It goes something like this.
1. Do you think that men and women deserve the same rights?
2. Do you think that men and women are the same?
3. Do you think that men and women are as good as each other at everything?
3. Do you think that women are better than men?
4. Do you think that men are all bastards?
5. Do you think that all penetration is rape?
If you answered yes to question number one - congratulations, you are a feminist. The rest, I hope you will have spotted, are trick questions.
So very many of my well-read, liberal, clever and independent female friends don't think that they are feminists, and this makes me so sad. It makes me sadder than if it turned out Madonna was actually drowning baby horses at night in order to preserve her talents, and anyone who knows me will realise that would be a pretty damn bad day for me right there.
(NB - I have said female there because I've only really had this conversation with women, but everything I'm saying here applies to men too. Men - do you believe women deserve the same respect as you? Then congratulations, you're a feminist - now go and get that tattooed across your forearm, cos godDAMN will it help you get laid!)
Feminism is the simple concept that men and women deserve equal amounts of respect in this world. It is not about thinking that women are better then men, it's not about hating men, it's not about trying to get by without them. I would be lying if I didn't say that men frustrate the hell out of me a lot of the time and confuse my poor pretty little brain with their strange lumpish ones. But that doesn't mean I want to live in a world without them! Hell no! That's a world that would get tiring very quickly. We'd have, true, probably a lot less wars and a lot more chocolate, but there would also be a lot more passive aggression and paranoia and flat tyres. If you'll allow me to just generalise wildly for a moment.
Why has feminism got such a bad rap that women who I KNOW believe we should all be respected equally are scared of the word and don't want to be associated with it? It seems like it's as scary a word as paedo or Tory or racist for some people. Hell yeah, none of us want to be those things, and for very good reasons. But feminism? Why are so many bright people so scared of it? This is 2011... aren't we past that yet??
The popular answer given to this question is that the extreme feminists came along and ruined it for us all... that Andrea Dworkin said that all penetration is rape, and that's what feminism became about. Of course, we all know that that's nonsense - some penetration can even be rather fun at times, or so I've heard - so it makes sense that people don't want to align themselves with that.
But there are several things wrong with this argument. The first is that the most minor of Google searches reveals that she didn't actually say that at all, any more than Humphrey Bogart actually said “Play it again, Sam" in Casablanca. I've not read enough to know exactly what she WAS on about, bless her, but, in a shock turn of events, the meeeja picked up on something that they knew would shock us, and twisted it so that it shocked us a little bit more, and scared people away from some liberal views which might actually start to even out the balance between the men who write the newspapers and the women who clean their offices.
Which leads me on to my next point. Yes, there probably are some feminists out there who are crazy. Is this really a big shock to you? If so, you might want to sit down to read this next sentence, because I'm afraid I've got some bad news for you... there are also dentists out there who are crazy. And socialists. And researchers. And sales assistants. And pop stars. And next door neighbours. And Christians. And Muslims. There are crazy people everywhere, readers! Wake up and smell the lithium! If we believed that the few crazy people who make it into the press represent everyone they claim to speak for, then we'd believe that all Muslims are suicide bombers who are just itching to start a Jihad, and I KNOW my beloved blog readers have more sense than that.
I would really like to hope that we, as a generation, have grown past being so obviously lead away from what we know is right by the Right and being able to see the glaringly obvious for ourselves... ie that men and women deserve the same amount of respect.
How you want to interpret that is, to a certain extent, up to you. I hear people say that Sex and the City is misogynistic. I hear people saying that wearing high heels makes you a tool of the patriarchy. I hear people saying that changing your surname if you get married means you're giving yourself away as a possession. I love Sex and the City. I love high heels. If any fool ever wants to marry me, I won't have an issue with taking his name. However, I am still a feminist.
Let me take these points one at a time. A friend of mine (I don't know if she considers herself a feminist or not) recently said to me that she thinks Sex and the City is misogynistic because (I think I'm quoting her correctly here) it's all about women as sex objects. I outright disagree with that, although of course she's allowed to think whatever she likes. To me, Sex and the City is a feminist show because it shows that we like sex too! That sex isn't only a man's domain... but that we don't have to become mini-men in pinstripe suits and with dulled down emotions when we do go out and sleep with people. We can continue to be complicated, emotional, pain-in-the-ass women when we sleep around, and it can still be fun. I approve of this! However, I do also think that Sir Mixalot's Baby Got Back is a feminist anthem because of the lines 'Cosmo thinks you're fat - well I ain't down with that,' so you don't necessarily want to listen to me about everything.
High heels - yeah, I can see the argument more there. They make your legs and your arse look nicer and they hurt. So I can see why feminists would take issue with them. I don't, because they bring me great joy, and to me, they are more about comparisons and, hell why not, a little healthy competition with other women than they are about hooking men. In fact, most of the men I know hate high heels. I don't understand why men want to play squash - men don't understand why I want to beat my friend's heels by that extra inch. This is one of the mysteries of the universe, but as far as I'm concerned (unless I've been so brainwashed I can't even see it myself) high heels don't make me respect myself less than I respect men, so I have no feminist issue with them.
The marriage/name change thing... oh of course, I can certainly see why some feminists take issue with them. And in the past, when women did, in a much stronger sense than today, become men's property, I would have railed against it a whole hell of a lot more. But I do think that if you're going to be in a family, it's nice to all have the same name. And I also think that it would take more than me taking a man's name to make me his property. If he was doing anything else that suggested he thought that, I wouldn't be marrying him in the first place, I hope to god, so I think as long as we're sharing the washing up and opening doors for each other and taking it in turns to kiss it and make it better, whose name we have is a little immaterial. Of course, if he were to want to take my name, that would also be just dandy.
My point here is that feminism is what you make it to be. There is no list of scary rules about wearing dungarees and sensible shoes, eschewing make-up and sex, becoming humourless about every tiny issue... of course, if you want to wear dungarees and stop laughing, then I salute you sister, because that's your goddamn choice and more power to you! But seriously... the only thing you need to believe in order to be a feminist is that men and women deserve equal amounts of respect - something that in itself has so many implications in this sad and fucked up world we live in - and so if you believe that, please do me a favour and stop being so scared of the F word. Thank you.