Begone with the tiresome stereotypes of man-hating academics, grumpy spinsters and college students who just need a real man to show them the error of their ways. These simplistic and weak caricatures of feminists (who actually come in all shapes and sizes and genders) resemble more the last refuge for those who can’t think of any new troll tactics against the new intellectual vogue in London. Feminism is back with an egalitarian vengeance.
SlutWalk and Hollaback have been perhaps the most visible public faces of this resurgence. I was loosely involved with some initiatives by Hollaback London, because I felt its cause was straightforward and wholly worthwhile. But there are many more grassroots groups organizing events, blogging, and publishing than there have been in recent memory. UK Feminista, the Fawcett Society, and websites with extensive followings are at a watershed of women’s issues. Only a few years ago, the very term seemed to be confined to the margins of academia, professors, activists, or students in Western universities. Its concerns seemed outdated or irrelevant compared to new geopolitical concerns or other social questions. Perhaps this was a false impression all along, because in recent months feminists have shown London and much of the world that it’s even more relevant to the cultural, social, and yes, political conversation in Britain.
…we have had intense debate…
Feminism’s image has been dogged by stereotypes. One reason why it has left behind these is not only because the latter have proven false. Some aspects of contemporary living have shifted so dramatically to the point of changing the format and platform of feminist activism itself. Computers and phones are the new rallying spot. Social networks have famously been used to mobilize and publicize protests, rallies, and demonstrations. In an economic sense, feminism has been “privatized” into local charities or lobby groups, university societies or even private individuals with considerable interest and influence.
There has been enormous progress, in large part due to feminism’s uncompromising belief that women are human beings too. But women working full-time are often paid less than men who do the same job, and most low-paid workers are female. Many legal rights like equal pay have not been completely legislated into law. Of course, since London is one of the world’s epicenters of culture, it’s inevitable that it helps set global “thought trends” or jumps on board with others. Think of how debate exploded over Rush Limbaugh’s tirade against Sandra Fluke, or the culture of rape apologists that have dogged social headlines. New manifestations of sexism and misogyny (which harm men and boys too) are impeding understanding and authenticity, while hard-fought victories like abortion and equal opportunity are being undermined. Closer to home, we have had intense debate over Nadine Dorries’s proposed bill for compulsory education about abstinence for teenage girls. There is also a brewing anti-abortion mood that might bring feminist activism back into public attention. Or just look to Westminster: women are still outnumbered four to one in parliament.
It advantages those who have done nothing…
This resurgent feminism needs to be a movement directed on women’s terms, but we can expect feminism to address a whole range of issues. It’s not just about the women: it’s about homophobia, racism, the unacceptable abuse of men, intersectionality, dynamics of power and exploitation, and many more contentious issues in which real vested interests are challenged.
Those who recognize their own privilege and the privilege of others will realize that privilege is something that is unconscionable. It advantages those who have done nothing to deserve it, and it hurts people who deserve the same respect as the privileged and entitled. It’s in everyone’s interests to challenge privilege, but feminism is in many ways leagues ahead in what it has already done, and what it will continue to do.