It’s true, I’m pretty sick of explaining what feminism is to people. I’m not sick of talking about feminism, far from it, but giving a basic and impromptu justification for its very existence? Yeah, I’m pretty fed-up of doing that.
The conversation I’m particularly sick of starts: “Why call it ‘Feminism’, why not ‘Egalitarianism’?” Well, because feminism isn’t about equality for its own sake. Campaigning for our right to own property, vote, attend university, have our own bank accounts; these aren’t about making us ‘equal’ with men – no, it’s about affording us freedoms that a fair society would grant to all its citizens.
The best explanation I know to the question, “What is feminism anyway?” Is Marie Shear’s line from 1986, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” Note how she doesn’t say it’s about equality with men, though. It’s… broader than that. This is about more than the gender binary, it’s about everything – from traditional crafts to higher octave voices – trivialised by the patriarchal or masculine-centric society we live in. It’s about the oppression of ‘fem’.
Of course feminism as a term isn’t perfect. Very few terms can sum up an entire movement or philosophy. Yet, the word ‘feminism’ does suit the purpose of highlighting the ‘fem’ part of what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to reclaim the feminine, raise the status of females, show that being femme doesn’t make you lesser.
The scope that the term ‘feminism’, viewed in this way, allows is why many women’s rights activists still use it to describe the overarching century or so of theory related to the emancipation of women. It’s still in use because as a term it accomplishes, more or less, what it sets out to achieve. For instance, is 24-hour, affordable childcare an ‘equality’ issue or is it about how to tackle a ‘feminine’ issue? Yes, it’s kind of about equality of access to professional workspaces for parents with dependent children, but the problem – the inequality itself – exists because of the way in which the traditionally female occupation of childrearing and parenting has been valued compared to other forms of work. Looking at childcare provision merely as something to ‘equalise’ ignores the problems facing working women.
So, please take a moment to think about the situation of women historically and currently, and the gains that have been made so far in the name of feminism, before accusing it of being a misnomer. Equality with men is not the goal. It never has been. That’s why this movement is not called equalism or egalitarianism, but feminism. Fem. For the freedom of the feminine. And yes, that includes the feminine in men too. If you were wondering.
Words: Ana Hine
Image: Alison Boyland