Feminists: You’re Doing It Wrong

Are feminists helping or hindering the fight for equality?

I wouldn’t call myself a feminist.

To those of you who haven’t already scrolled to the bottom to leave an angry comment and are still reading, allow me to explain: I wouldn’t call myself a feminist for the same reason I wouldn’t call myself a racial equality advocate, or a pro-democracy supporter.

I also don’t go around telling people I’m anti-genocide and involved in 5 fruit-and-veg-a-day activism.

I don’t label myself as any of those things because modern society is set up in a way that deviating from these views would make me a radical. And I’m no radical. I’ve never even owned a skateboard.

The kind of radical behaviour Tom would never indulge in
Photo: Yuri Levchenko

A lot of feminists make quite a lot of noise. And I’m not entirely sure it’s helping the cause. It might even be hindering it.

Here’s an example of why: I was considering writing a paragraph, in place of this one, appealing to feminists not to dismiss my views outright because I am a man. And then I remembered how extremely misguided that would be.

Because feminism (as I understand it) is not just about women, it’s about gender equality (I have this on good authority from a friend of mine who reads the Guardian). And a true feminist would be equally attentive to my views whether I am a man or a woman, right?

But that’s not what comes to mind when I think of feminism. I instinctively associate the word ‘feminism’ with ‘angry lesbians holding signs with dubiously sourced statistics’.

In the context of ‘can any woman do a job as well as any man’ I am completely unprejudiced towards women. I nearly lost my own job arguing with my boss about this. He asserted computer programming is an exclusively male discipline, and I corrected him, pointing out in the early days of computers the programmers were almost exclusively female.

Fran Allen: A pioneer in “the field of optimizing compilers”
Photo: Wikipedia

So I don’t stereotype women, but I stereotype the movement which aims to remove the stereotypes from women. Does anyone else see the problem with this?

Let’s take another example closer to home. Earlier this month, Bristolian feminists took to the streets armed with whiteboards and markers in order to make their point: “Why I Need Feminism”.

The boards covered a range of issues, some serious (‘1 in 7 students will be sexually assaulted on campus’), some sensible (‘I’m bored at being jeered at while playing sport’) and some plain silly (‘I’m not entitled to an orgasm’).

But none of the boards answered the question “so what do you want us to do about it?”

Not the orgasm we need, but the orgasm we deserve

Sexual assault is illegal. Jeering at sporting events is harsh but unavoidable regardless of gender. And there isn’t a country in the world with legislation protecting a woman’s right to an orgasm. (How would that even work? State-issued vibrators?).

Here’s the point: the legislation is already there. Workplace discrimination is illegal and can get you sued. Women in this country have the right to an abortion. Being convicted of rape will land you with a prison sentence.

So I ask a feminist, what exactly are you trying to change? And she replies: ‘attitudes’. But that’s just silly.

Attitudes don’t change overnight, however much we need them to. Law comes first, and attitudes change not over a space of months or even years, but generations.

Look at how the civil rights movement in America changed the lives of black Americans: the Civil Rights bill was signed in 1964 but a black President wasn’t elected until 2008.

In 1964 Americans didn’t suddenly decide they were going to start electing black politicians. It took over 2 generations of voting age Americans before Barack Obama was sworn in.

Someday, it will be a female president who eats tacos
Photo: Jorge Hernandez

Personally, I’m optimistic about the future. New generations will be raised with a different understanding of gender roles and the old generations with old fashioned ideas will die out. The key to gender equality isn’t picket lines and slogans. It’s legislation and patience.