Skip to content

Postfeminism? Bollocks.

March 19, 2011

Post-feminism is a complex term. I hear it most often used to imply that feminism’s goals are completed: we don’t need feminism; feminism has gone too far; there’s nothing left to fight for; women have already got it all. As explained in the link, there are more nuanced ways to use the term, but they are not how I have experienced it. “Post-feminism” as I have heard it deployed is used either to announce an end of feminism, or even the desirability of feminism’s reversal.

Both of which I declare to be bollocks. I usually to try to present a relatively balanced argument in this blog, but the concept that feminism is over, that women have achieved everything, infuriates me in its utter stupidity. Sure, feminism has achieved many things. Women have the vote in the UK, we have equal employment rights, there is less open misogyny. But there are two points to make: first, the achievements and rights women in many Western societies take for granted are not by any means mirrored in other countries and cultures; second, even in the supposedly enlightened West, there is so far to go in terms of women’s rights and treatment that I am astounded people can even consider saying feminism is over.

In the UK, 22 % of MPs are women. Of reported rapes, 6% result in conviction. Of the FTSE 100 business, 12.5 % of board members are women. More than half of UK women in prostitution have been raped or seriously sexually assaulted. In fact, I’d recommend just reading this document on inequality between men and women in the UK. Many of the figures speak for themselves.

Of course, it would be naive to give as a blanket explanation for these inequalities “sexism” or “the patriarchy”, although they are factors. Feminism today is more nuanced than that. But the explanations that some give for the lack of women in politics, for instance, are just feeble. While there are no doubt women who put childcare before a political career, I do not believe this is adequate to explain a parliament composed of just over a fifth women, or a Cabinet with only four women, especially when there are so many countries with far higher rates of women’s political involvement. In Switzerland, there is a women majority Cabinet. Perhaps people who give this explanation haven’t experienced what it’s like to be a woman trying to speak in a room mostly full of men or in a meeting chaired by a man, with an all-male panel. It’s not that easy. There is no open discrimination,  certainly (in my experience at least), but it’s the subtle things. The way men get to speak for longer. The way men are picked first to speak. The way men are treated with just a little more authority. It is this which feminism has still to combat.

Then we come to sexual assault. Although this is an area where men will inevitably say that they suffer too, and it is indeed true that sexual assault on men is never something to be taken lightly, this is a phenomenon overwhelmingly committed by men on women. It’s not just a matter of rape; daily women live in fear of the “little” things; minor sexual assaults which are not taken seriously, often brushed off. It’s that which leads to women being afraid to walk the streets at night. That is not equality. I wasn’t entirely aware of just how upsetting this is until I was sexually harassed on a night-coach to Manchester last September, by a man who touched me, leant against me, and took a picture of my cleavage. I was almost in tears, and even more frustrating was my paralysis, my inability to shout at him or move. Eventually I left my seat and sat somewhere else. I spoke to the driver when I got off, who told me not to travel alone at night. There is a massive problem when it comes to blaming women for their own sexual assault; a close member of my family blamed me for wearing a low-cut top that night. I think it’s 25 % of people in the UK who think women are in some way culpable for their own rape if they’re wearing revealing clothing or are out “looking for sex”. This is not equality. Feminism has not achieved its aims.

There are the more subtle gender double-standards still perpetrated in UK society. Women who have the temerity to have sex with people are regularly denounced as “sluts” or “slags”, as compared to men who boast about their sexual achievements. Conversely, a woman who doesn’t particularly want to have sex is “frigid” or, apparently the worst insult of all, a “lesbian”. I’ve heard people say boldly, without any dissent, that it’s more ugly for girls to swear than it is for boys. A girl at my college claimed that women shouldn’t be police officers because they’re too emotional. When it comes to female political involvement, a particular interest of mine, female MPs are criticised for their clothing, or the pitch of  their voice, rather than their policies. In general, a male voice is listened to more. At the set-up for a play produced by the amateur dramatic society to which I belong, I made a suggestion for how some steel-deck should be moved into place. It was ignored. A few minutes later, a man who’d been standing near me made the same suggestion. Guess what happened?

In the media, it is men who get the most screen-time. In films, precious few pass the Bechdel test: i.e., it has to have a) at least two named female characters. b) who talk to each other, c) about something other than a man. Women are always made sexy in mainstream films, and the male gaze is highly prevalent. Oh, and how about the news? Let’s not forget that we live in a society where it’s acceptable to read The Sun, with its pictures of naked women on Page 3. These blatant examples of reducing women to their breasts has become something of a National Treasure. This is not equality. Feminism has not won.

Thus far, I’ve focused on women’s status in the UK. However, across the world, women are suffering. Female Genital Mutilation, disenfranchisement, forced marriages, rape, lack of legal rights. This is not to say that there aren’t problems with white women trying to speak on behalf of other societies and cultures. But all too frequently feminist campaigns and groups outside the West are ignored by our media. The myth of post-feminism has seeped in everywhere.

The title of this post is provocative. It’s meant to be. I just didn’t feel that “The myth of post-feminism”, or “Why post-feminism is wrong” fully expressed my feelings or the reality of feminism. Feminism is still an active, vibrant movement. It has to be: there’s so much to achieve. Yes, the movement needs to change to circumstances, and in some ways it’s still flawed; there is the danger that it will return to being a white straight middle-class women’s campaign. But saying that feminism is over is patently ridiculous. What I’ve written is the briefest of summaries; this post could have been a book. Post-feminism? What bollocks.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2011 4:22 pm

    Excellent post and very, very sorry to read about your appalling experience on the coach.

    Rgds,

    Peter

    • March 19, 2011 4:29 pm

      Thank you so much. And yeah, I’m alright now about the coach-thing, but it really impressed on me what it’s like for women, with the constant fear…

  2. March 19, 2011 4:39 pm

    Expanding on a comment I made on Twitter earlier. I said that there will never be a post-feminism ever. The reason why I believe that is the case is because I believe that even if the feminist movement was to receive the equality they have called for they would still fight for more. There are also examples of feminist factions within the movement who feel that the equality they seek is one that can only be realised with continued and consisstent reparations from the patriarchy.

    Could I ask for clarification how many women of the 22% presented serve in the devolved assemblies? Can you elaborate why 94% of rapes do not result in conviction?

    I forget the stats but the UK’s population is a majority of women. This has been one of the major arguments for more female representation in Parliament. Can I ask for your thoughts on the role of women within a democracy, specifically considering that if women vote for a candidate and that is elected, is that not being democracy served? What % of female MPs, and devolved administration representatives, would satisfy the feminist movement?

    What I think you are identifying is that people within committees, or public speaking responsibilities, have roles. These roles have more to do with who you are, and who people perceive you to be, than what you’d like to be considered of you. Expectations are different from all people. Young people are expected to be off the ball and incoherent with their arguments, women are expected to be reserved and eloquent when they speak and men are supposed to be the bulls in the china shop. These could be someone’s expectations but why must we fight every person’s paradigm of how the world works? Everyone either proves their merit or fails to do so. Regardless of gender.

    I am sorry to hear of your experience in Manchester, and more so of your families’ reaction, it does seem that men can take their bodies (or lack of sexual appeal) for granted. As I haven’t seen the cut of the top I can’t really comment on how low or appealing it is but I appreciate that regardless of what we wear we do deserve the right not to be challenged over it. However I do think that the feminist movement at large should appreciate the challenges that other social groups face, that do include men, and how mainstream society treats specific groups.

    I also think its worth feminist groups and activists understanding the challenges that men face in modern society, rather than instantly dismissing them, and working together. Only when we listen to each other can we achieve the fairer society we want.

    Could I ask for your views on the established conventions between men and women when dating? How should men and women act? Having been the victim of homophobic abuse at schools, based on the fact I had an identical twin, could you discuss whether it’s just women who receive this kind of abuse?

    As to your experiences in the drama group. Were you the stage manager or was he? Was it directly related to your gender?

    Do women not have the right to celebrate their bodies and their personality in whatever way they choose or is that anti-feminist? My issue with the feminist movement overall is that it condems and attacks its’ own when they choose what they want to do with their life if it doesn’t conform to the ultra feminist ideology.

    • March 19, 2011 4:50 pm

      “Could I ask for clarification how many women of the 22% presented serve in the devolved assemblies?”

      Those are MPs in Parliament itself.

      “Can you elaborate why 94% of rapes do not result in conviction?”

      Tonne of reasons. There is the problem that often its a difficult crime to prove. Also, however, there’s the way women are made to feel ashamed by the police and often their families. Especially if it was someone they know, there’ll be a multitude of insinuations that it’s their fault, etc. Often women themselves are persuaded into thinking that if they’re drunk, or dressed revealingly, they don’t have a right to say no to sex.

      “Can I ask for your thoughts on the role of women within a democracy, specifically considering that if women vote for a candidate and that is elected, is that not being democracy served? What % of female MPs, and devolved administration representatives, would satisfy the feminist movement? ”

      Hm, this would take a lot of expansion. Might have to write another blog-post on this! Also, there’s a lack of female candidates being selected – sometimes women don’t have the chance to vote for a woman. Esp. with our current electoral system, meaning that people can’t distinguish between different candidates from the same party.

      “Everyone either proves their merit or fails to do so. Regardless of gender.”

      Who judges whether merit has been proved?

      ” …also think its worth feminist groups and activists understanding the challenges that men face in modern society, rather than instantly dismissing them, and working together.”

      Feminists DON’T do this. What all too frequently happens is that men fail to ally themselves to the feminist movement, even when their problems also stem from the patriarchy and restrictive gender roles.

      “Could I ask for your views on the established conventions between men and women when dating? How should men and women act? Having been the victim of homophobic abuse at schools, based on the fact I had an identical twin, could you discuss whether it’s just women who receive this kind of abuse?”

      I want a lot of those conventions to be swept aside, quite honestly. And on the homophobic abuse thing – of course it’s not just women who are subject to that. LGBT oppression overlaps with female oppression, but it’s certainly not synonymous.

      “Were you the stage manager or was he? Was it directly related to your gender?”

      We were both cast members. My role was actually bigger. And nobody said “this is because you’re female” – but that’s my point. Gender discrimination’s often subtle and implicit rather than explicit.

      “Do women not have the right to celebrate their bodies and their personality in whatever way they choose or is that anti-feminist? My issue with the feminist movement overall is that it condems and attacks its’ own when they choose what they want to do with their life if it doesn’t conform to the ultra feminist ideology.”

      Yes, but those choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Women are pressured into celebrating their bodies in a certain way. Women absolutely shouldn’t attack other women for doing this, but should be looking at and critiquing societal norms.

      And finally: “As I haven’t seen the cut of the top I can’t really comment on how low or appealing it is…”
      That’s because it’s totally irrelevant to the anecdote. Completely unacceptable to take a picture of my breasts no matter what I’m wearing, without my consent.

      • March 19, 2011 4:57 pm

        Re: the role in the cast.
        Sometimes it comes down to personality. I don’t think it’s always as simple as “people listen to me because I am male” or “they don’t because I am female”. I think a lot of young people today look solely at the person making a request of them and how much they respect them.

        • March 19, 2011 4:59 pm

          You can’t treat each case as individual, though. That story concerned me, but it happens all over the country. It was illustrative of a wider phenomenon. It’s hard to gather statistics, because it’s not measured. One of those things which women experience and men don’t, and men, not experiencing it, just don’t notice it half the time.

          • March 19, 2011 5:07 pm

            You have to be able to see something to fight it. You have to know its there to combat it.
            And only those who feel oppressed comment about it. That’s n0t limited to just women but includes men of all different ages, races and creeds. I think when people don’t get their way like this it is easier to lay blame than to understand the real reason, which may just be co-incidence.

            • March 19, 2011 5:09 pm

              Not limited to women, but to all oppressed groups and minorities.

              Co-incidence? Bollocks. I’ve experienced it too often for it to be co-incidence.

              • March 19, 2011 5:13 pm

                What I’m trying to say is that I think that each person needs to look at themselves closely to understand why they interact with the world around them.

                Things like this could be explained easily or I find that they use these kinds of ideologies rather than ask the searching and deep questions some people can be afraid to ask.

                I’m not saying this is the case with you as we’ve only interacted on Twitter but I do think it does need some consideration.

  3. Lisa Ansell permalink
    March 19, 2011 4:48 pm

    GOt to love the predictability of Rowan’s comment. Great post.

    • March 19, 2011 4:51 pm

      Thank you very much, Lisa! And I think there are some fair points in his comment, and hopefully I’ve addressed them satisfactorily…

      • March 19, 2011 4:58 pm

        Lisa, can I ask whether you chose to be a women or chose to be born into this society?

  4. Harry permalink
    March 19, 2011 4:58 pm

    Well, I guess I’m partly the inspiration for this post. And I’m seriously no expert on gender politics, so I expect to get slapped down pretty quickly.

    I do describe myself as a post-feminist, basically I believe the best *person* for the job should get it. I think it is *more* demeaning for women, because she’ll feel she is only there *because* she is a woman. I may well be ill-defined.

    I think that feminism hasn’t gone away or died – it has just evolved. As you say, it’s become more nuanced. Within in the UK, the big ‘easy’ things have been done, as you’ve listed. Now we all have to push for the more subtle change in society. And you can’t measure that directly. I think that perhaps is an underlying problem.

    What I find most interesting is that stuff like calling women who (quite rightly) aren’t just after sex are called lesbians & frigid in the State sector. That is something that is very worryingly present within my (private boarding) school.

    I think, in summary, I don’t fundamentally disagree with *you*, I think I’m probably just ill-defined as a Post Feminist…

    • superior homeslice aka top dawg aka your better aka you know who permalink
      March 19, 2011 5:02 pm

      just how *high* do you have to *be*

      /comment

      • March 19, 2011 5:03 pm

        Sophie, he made a relatively reasonable comment! XD

        • superior homeslice aka top dawg aka your better aka you know who permalink
          March 19, 2011 5:05 pm

          let me *phrase* this in harry’s *language*

          ************

    • March 19, 2011 5:02 pm

      “I do describe myself as a post-feminist, basically I believe the best *person* for the job should get it. I think it is *more* demeaning for women, because she’ll feel she is only there *because* she is a woman. I may well be ill-defined.”

      I think you are a bit ill-defined, because there’s a hell of a lot more to post-feminism that that. Also, the idea of positive discrimination is something which inspires a lot of debate within the feminist movement, not just between feminists and post-feminists. I happen to agree with it, but I recognise there are coherent arguments against it.

      ” Within in the UK, the big ‘easy’ things have been done, as you’ve listed. Now we all have to push for the more subtle change in society. And you can’t measure that directly. I think that perhaps is an underlying problem.”

      Dude, you’re sounding like a feminist. Join us! :P

      “That is something that is very worryingly present within my (private boarding) school.”

      While I hate to bring this up, I’m not entirely surprised that Eton, an all male private school, might not inculcate the ~most~ enlightened gender ideas in its pupils…

      Ta for the comment, though! I think we’re mostly in agreement. Become a feminist, Harry!

      • March 19, 2011 5:09 pm

        I thought you had to be a woman to be a feminist? Cos of the potential for the patriarchy to manipulate the movement?

        • March 19, 2011 5:32 pm

          Nope. Men shouldn’t dominate the movement, nor should their voices drown out female voices, but no reason why men can’t be feminists. There have been some disagreements over this, but I think the majority of feminists would agree that men can be feminists too.

          • Anna permalink
            March 19, 2011 7:40 pm

            I grew up with a feminist dad (and mum). It basically just meant the absence of gender roles at home – eg. dad cooked, mum drove, both worked – and an example of parents as partners. That’s one great thing to be gained from feminism that benefits everyone: more equal division of labour and lack of gender roles helps fathers be fully engaged as parents.

  5. March 19, 2011 5:33 pm

    Thanks so much for your post. I couldn’t agree more. (I was linked by a friend of a friend of a friend on Twitter…)

  6. Heather permalink
    March 19, 2011 5:45 pm

    There is no such thing as Post Feminism. Of course there is still a need to try to bring about equality between the genders around the world. However, there has never been one feminist movement; there has always been different factions; it has never been cohesive. While we in the West quibble about whether men can be feminists or what women can or cannot wear, women and girls in other countries are denied even their basic human rights. That’s what feminism should be about – highlighting and fighting inequality. Unfortunately the people who suffer the most inequality are women, that’s why its called feminism but it could quite easily be called humanism but that has other connotations doesn’t it?

    Feminism is a word that means different things to different people – I see it as standing for the right to be treated equally in this world regardless of my gender, sexuality, age, race or ability. That’s quite a simple idea to understand.

  7. March 19, 2011 6:55 pm

    Thank you for writing about this. A close friend of mine writes anti-injustice poetry and feminism is a reoccuring theme. We were talking today about the issue of the abuse of women and were feeling overwhelmed by the size of the problem and how invisible it is.

    Reading your post really made me feel that we weren’t alone in seeing the problem and it felt like a well written hug. I’ve shared it with her and I’m sure it will give her hope too.

    Too often Feminism is talked about in a historical context (votes, birth control, right to equal pay, first Prime Minister etc) that many people don’t realise that there is still loads more to be done. I didn’t either until I made friends with feminists as an adult.

    I realise that we don’t want to hold girls back by saying ‘Nah, don’t bother trying to become a cabinet level of politician, very few women get those jobs’. Because limiting their expectations will limit their ambitions too.

    But we also can’t pretend that there isn’t a disparity. Society has been doing that for years and it hasn’t resolved itself. When we pretend a problem doesn’t exisit, we do nothing to fix it.

  8. March 19, 2011 7:41 pm

    Hooray for this post! That is all :)

  9. March 20, 2011 1:26 pm

    *applause* What an excellent post. Linking on Facebook stat.

  10. hubbit permalink
    January 3, 2012 6:48 pm

    “Women who have the temerity to have sex with people are regularly denounced as “sluts” or “slags”, as compared to men who boast about their sexual achievements. Conversely, a woman who doesn’t particularly want to have sex is “frigid” or, apparently the worst insult of all, a “lesbian”. I’ve heard people say boldly, without any dissent, that it’s more ugly for girls to swear than it is for boys. A girl at my college claimed that women shouldn’t be police officers because they’re too emotional.”

    I half-jestingly came up with the portmanteau words “skud” and “stut”, because the double standard regarding sexual activity is so pronounced. He’s a stud, she’s a slut, but they’re both behaving in the same manner! Worse are parents, usually fathers, who boast about how studly their sons are for their sexual conquests (a term I particularly loathe), while simultaneously prepared to guard the sacred virginity of their daughters with force if need be. Boys will be boys – but not with MY daughter.

    Being that probably a good 80% of my friends, online and in realspace are and have been lesbians, I fail to see the insult in that particular word. :) And my experience has been that, if anything, women are more rational and detached, and capable of judging third parties much more fairly.

    • hubbit permalink
      January 3, 2012 6:50 pm

      Whoops. That first word should have been “slud”. My fingers automatically typed the name of a well-known feminist digital rights blogger. And I can’t seem to edit it.

Trackbacks

  1. Under Armour Women Scarlet
  2. Godbiter fra uke 11 « kaffedamen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,856 other followers

%d bloggers like this: