CURRENT AFFAIRS

WTF is feminism?

By Jen Thorpe

I know that I’m a feminist, and some of my friends know that they are feminist, but do we know that we’re the same thing? What does feminism mean in 2011? And who is it for?


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2 thoughts on “WTF is feminism?”

  1. Good question Jen. Many times it would seem that feminism is anything and everything to do with women. I was recently shocked when a friend of mine told me that the singer Beyonce said she is a feminist because “she has girlfriends.” I thought well I know a lot of women who have plenty friends who are female but they do not identify themselves as feminists. All women in pop culture including the Kardashians are forever taking their clothes off for s stiff fee under the banner that their well-paid nudity is for the empowerment of women in the world. So one could call them feminists?

    Of course it was even said many times during “The Royal Wedding” that Kate the “commoner” was living “every girl’s dream” (certainly not mine), so even with the Duchess of Cambridge we could refer to her as a hardcore feminist. What troubles me the most is that it’s so easy to be a feminist these days that one does not even need to read a single book about feminism to call themselves a feminist. Everyone seems to know “those radical” feminists who hate men and want to take over the world. Somehow I am always surprised at the fact that “these” feminists never actually have names. I was trying to explain to a student of mine who professed that he disliked those “militant” and “sometimes overly-sensitive” feminists who don’t understand that men also suffer that unless you give me the names of these feminists and their dangerous feminism it is almost impossible for me and you to have a constructive conversation. I went ahead and gave him bell hooks pocket book “Feminism is for everybody” asking him to only read the 5 page introduction and come back and tell me if the feminism defined by hooks is in contradiction to his commitment to gender equality. Three months later he still has not read those 5 pages.

    The problem is not only with men, it’s also young women who identify themselves as feminists with no historical understanding of the feminist movement. Their being women is the only requirement it would seem. Surely, one cannot identify as a black consciousness movement member if they have not read any book on the movement or at least Biko’s book “I write what I like.” Surely one cannot prophess to be a loyal member of the ANC without having read a single document or listened to a single member of the ANC? Surely that person must know Tambo, Luthuli, Mandela, Sisulu etc. But somehow it seems that with feminism there is no need to listen to feminists or read feminist text because everyone knows ‘those’ troublesome feminists. Hence I challenge any woman or men who label themselves as such to tell me about the feminists who have inspired them. Every movement has its icons right?

    To answer your question of what feminism is to me in 2011, I still use hooks 1984 definition in her book “Feminism from margin to center” that feminist politics is a “movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” Somehow though I think hooks is also correct in her argument that even in 2011 “all advocates of feminist politics know that most people do not understand sexism or if they do they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media.”

    I expand on this topic in this piece: http://bokamosoafrica.org/2011/04/gendering-local-curious-feminist-african-knowledge-production.html

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  2. Most of the time I find that it’s easier to explain what feminism ISN’T, that explain what it actually IS – and that’s one of the reasons why his question is very relevant, especially in 2011. We need to be able to define feminism in this day and age.

    To me, feminism is a journey, not only consisting of my own future experiences, but consisting of a journey into the past, to where and why it all began. You can’t ‘support’ or ‘be part’ of a movement if you haven’t the faintest idea of what’s it’s about, how it has developed or what it has accomplished.

    I like the following definition from Wikipedia, because, though fairly broad, it emphasizes the fact that feminism is a movement you become a part of, not a label you give yourself ’cause you meet some requirements, agree with some ideas or act in a certain way.

    “Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women’s rights. Much of feminism deals specifically with the problems women face in overcoming social barriers, but some feminists argue that gender equality implies a necessary liberation of both men and women from traditional cultural roles, and look at the problems men face as well. Feminists—that is, persons practicing feminism—may be persons of either sex.”

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