So are YOU a feminist?

After two wonderful weeks of travelling all over Ontario to visit family and friends, as well as entertaining people in our home, it feels really good to have a quiet weekend with nothing on the schedule — nothing other than these couple of hours alone in the café to satisfy my craving for writing. Believe me, not being able to write during the holidays is more of a punishment than a vacation for me.

I know I mentioned Caitlin Moran’s feminist book How To Be A Woman in a recent post, and anyone who has spent any time with me over the past weeks knows that this is pretty much all I’m talking about — yes, even at Christmas dinner with the extended family, but only because my aunt had seen the book on top of my bag and wanted to hear about it.

photo: socialistwebzine.blogspot.com
photo: socialistwebzine.blogspot.com

Now I’ve finished it, after prolonging the delicious latter half because, honestly, I didn’t want it to end. Her writing, while not academic in any way, is funny and sensible and provocative. She says things that make me squirm — and I consider myself someone who is comfortable talking about anything. Masturbation, abortion, porn, pet names for female genitalia, Brazilian waxes… nothing is off limits and she stares down all of these aspects of what it means to be female (plus countless others) with an unfaltering, deliberate scrutiny that makes some of them seem utterly ridiculous and others perfectly normal. The chapters that made the biggest impression on me, however, were on feminism (the chapter devoted to her moment of enlightenment at 15), strip clubs, and abortion.

Feminism

I am 100% on board with Moran, who believes that feminism has failed young women today and needs to be reclaimed. It started out as such a promising movement but has clearly not done what is needed if only 29% of American women and 42% of British women call themselves feminists. So what is feminism? It means making the world equal for men and women, that women can be as free as men, that women have complete control over themselves and their bodies. If you’re in doubt, try Moran’s quick feminist test: “Put your hand in your underpants: a) Do you have a vagina? and b) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you answered yes to both, then congratulations, you’re a feminist!”

Strip Clubs

It never fails to astonish me how strip clubs are considered a rite of passage for young men today. Whenever one of my husband’s friends gets married, the bachelor party almost always involves a strip club which makes me insane. Moran, however, articulated exactly what bothers me about it: How can it possibly be socially acceptable in a modern society to pay for “light entertainment” versions of the entire history of misogyny, where women are deemed little more than souped-up sex toys for men? It’s as incongruous as ads for “Jew Beating” or “Minstrel Shows!” or a white-owned cleaning agency that employs only blacks dressed in plantation clothing. The whole world would be up in arms because you simply can’t do that. Why is paying women for their body parts any different?

Interestingly, Iceland outlawed strip clubs in 2010 for feminist, rather than religious, reasons. The lesbian prime minister, backed by a parliament that is 50% female, said, “I guess the men of Iceland will have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale.” Wow — when I read that, I jumped up from the sofa and danced around the room for a minute, shrieking, then I read the whole chapter aloud to my husband.

Abortion

This definitely will become a separate post, but Moran got me thinking in particular about society’s expectation that women must be constantly loving and protective of all life, that we must be prepared to give and give and give. Why is it so wrong to put a cap on our ability to give and say, “Enough is enough?” Clearly the world doesn’t view human life as sacred, with all our wars, famines, epidemics, pain, and poverty. “Why should a pregnant woman be subject to more pressure about preserving life than, say, Vladimir Putin, the World Bank, or the Catholic Church?” Anyways, lots more thoughts about that yet to come…

So this is where I’m at right now, my head swimming with new surging feminist opinions. I’m hungry to read more — Camille Paglia, Germaine Greer, anything I can get my hands on right now. Suggestions, anyone? Please share your thoughts on strip clubs and abortion, too. Do you call yourself a feminist, male or female?

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16 thoughts on “So are YOU a feminist?

  1. I’m a feminist, as in equal treatment and equal opportunity for both sexes; however I do not subscribe to the belief that women must make up 50% of every dissected population to make this a reality. For example, it’s possible that firefighting or policing just aren’t extremely desirable occupations in the eyes of most women. Similarly, working in a daycare center may not have much appeal to many men. 50% does not ensure gender equality.

    If strippers are getting paid good wages and are well protected in their line of work, then I’m not sure I have a problem with it. It’s a woman’s choice to strip. There are many clubs featuring male strippers too. It might be better to focus on making a wider variety of good-paying jobs available to women so they don’t look to stripping as the only available option to keep a roof over their heads. Increasing minimum wage is a step in the right direction but I think some work is needed in the area of affordable daycare.

    As far as abortion goes, I’d have to say I’m pro-choice. It’s irresponsible of any society to force a woman to bear a child they don’t wish to (or can’t adequately) care for, especially given the state of overpopulation, globally. The other option we’re seeing today is infanticide, which strikes me as way worse. Opinions differ, but I just dont see a 12 week old fetus as being equal to a full term baby that has already been born. The only catch in my mind is the cost. Abortion will almost certainly never be publically funded for low-income Canadians or for oppressed women in developing nations, where the need is greatest and religious beliefs keep populations divided. Can you picture a World Vision advertisement requesting funding for birth control or abortion? No. Just no.

    1. Wow! I wholeheartedly agree with you. I would go one step further in the policing and firefighting example as well. Some places (I’ve heard) have instituted a separate physical test for women specifically to allow enough passing grades to increase the proportion of females in the profession in the name of ‘equality’. REALLY??? My house is burning down and my children won’t be rescued equally as quickly because half the firefighters pass a lower standard of testing? In my opinion, if you want to be treated equally, you have to be equally as qualified. There are some things in society that will never be 50/50 and, although I pass the ‘test’, I’m OK with this.

    2. Interesting you mention World Vision and abortion, because I recently heard a woman interviewed on CBC who’s fighting for the UN to recognize access to birth control as being a basic human right. I’m not sure if that includes abortion clinics, but I’m guessing it probably would. So who knows if someday you might be hearing ads for that. Though I believe that abortion should be a last resort, making it available to every woman certainly distributes sexual power more evenly, for men can no longer impose their bodies and unwanted offspring on women who can’t do anything about it.

      As for gender differences in the workplace, absolutely. Moran believes entirely that men and women have fundamentally different physical and emotional inclinations and that’s okay. Women will never be as strong as most men and there’s nothing to do about that. She’s not a man-hating femi-nazi by any means, just someone who wants to see more equality overall — and certainly for those who deserve it, not just because they have a vagina.

  2. I don’t pass the a) or b) test, but would still consider myself a feminist in the sense that I strongly support equality of the sexes. Many, many of the world’s problems, especially in the third world can be solved by empowering women. I think a problem some feminists have nowadays is that they’re too often associated with the vocal, militant feminists who I think do a disservice to all women. I first learned about feminist theory in my cybernetics university course, of all places. (It was a strange, confusing course) If I remember correctly, the theory is the 3 stages of feminism, where the first sought equality, (right to vote, right to choose, pay/employment equity, etc), but then the second stage crept up which seemed to neutralize female sexuality (wearing pant suits, short hair, bra burning, etc) and then started pushing to become “more equal” then men. The third stage backs that off a bit and once again pursues actual equality while embracing female sexuality and the differences between men and women. (womyn? 🙂 )
    So when most people hear the word feminism, they associate with the second stage and I think that’s a big reason why many women don’t call themselves feminists, because really, all women have vaginas, and I believe that the vast majority want to be in charge of it. That’s the biggest obstacle I see for so-called third stage feminists right now. I oppose recent legislation in the EU mandating that boards of directors of major companies be 50% female (or 40%, can’t remember), or the fact that when you apply to most jobs, identifying yourself as female gives you a leg up. These political actions all work to undermine true equality because how can a women feel good about landing a great promotion when she’s not sure if she actually earned it, or if politics were at play.
    As for strip clubs, I’ve never been to one nor do I desire going to one, but I would like to play the devil’s advocate, because I so enjoy doing that. The outright banning of strip clubs for feminist reasons seems to take away the right of those strippers to choose a “career” that I’m sure many of them really enjoy doing. Granted, there’s a lot of room for exploitation of immigrants, or naïve young women, but I think that’s where tighter regulation would be more important rather than prohibition which would simply push the business into the underground and allow for even more exploitation. It’s the same with current prostitution laws which push vulnerable women into the streets and controlled by terrible, terrible men. This could easily be solved by allowing regulated brothels.
    As for abortion, it has always been a sticky issue for me and my views are constantly being modified. As I currently view it, I think the right to choose is paramount and should never be in the hands of some government bureaucrat. But there is a problem in Canada where we have no laws at all regulating abortion which means that killing a baby once it’s been born is murder, but killing one a day before it’s born is not. (Not that this ever happens, but that’s how it’s defined by the law) The biggest problem with the abortion debate is that it’s impossible to have an actual debate because of how both sides frame their arguments. Being Pro-Choice infers that if you are not, then you must be against choice. And being Pro-Life infers that if you are not, then you must be against life. (In other words, the arguments are blown out to the extreme so no actual progress can be made) Also, I completely agree with you with how the world views human life (not well at all). It’s abhorrently hypocritical for those in the US, for example, to vehemently oppose abortion in all cases, but not flinch when carpet bombing Afghani villages.

    Well that was a long post.

    1. Thanks, Scott!! I love reading your thoughts. You should start a blog, you know 🙂

      You’re bang on about the second wave of feminism discouraging the next generation from wanting to associate themselves with the movement. That’s how I used to think, too, imagining crazy, man-hating women who never wore bras or shaved their legs. I didn’t want to be like that and that’s why Moran is calling for a new conversation and clearer definition of feminism — not one that scares off women who don’t actually understand how basic and crucial it is.

      As for women who choose a career as a stripper, that’s a common argument used in defence of strip clubs: “These are intelligent young women putting themselves through university!” As Moran writes, if that’s so, and we have clever girls having to strip in order to pay for education, then we have a gigantic political problem on our hands, not to mention that only the skinny, pretty girls are the ones who can do it, and presumably the fat, plainer ones (along with all the guys) have to find another way to pay their way. Add in the fact that 60-80% of strippers come from backgrounds of sexual abuse and you can see that the whole thing is rotten to the core.

      Your thoughts on the titles “pro-life” and “pro-choice” echo mine exactly. That’s what I’ve struggled with so much, that there doesn’t seem to be any in-between ground. I absolutely consider myself pro-choice, but that doesn’t mean I’m against life in any way or wanting to preserve it when feasible and reasonable.

  3. I think that legalizing prostitution is a better direction than banning strip clubs. The point is to regulate these industries so that girls aren’t being taken advantage of. The sex industry isn’t going anywhere, but we can make it better – prohibition will likely make the situation worse.

    1. Agreed that the sex industry isn’t going anywhere, but I do think that the clientele that uses prostitutes vs that of strippers does differ a lot. Strippers are ‘safe,’ for the typical North American family man who probably would never consider hiring a prostitute. That’s why I think strip clubs could be banned without a huge surge of people moving toward prostitutes as a means of satisfying their lust.

      As for the legalization of prostitution, I really don’t know where I stand on that because I don’t know enough about the issue. I did read, however, a very powerful and graphic letter to the editor of Geez magazine in response to someone else’s opinion that prostitution should be legalized in Canada. An excerpt from there says:

      “Prostitution is not an abstract idea; it is largely men with power buying poor, racialized women’s mouths, anuses, and vaginas to masturbate into. Sound sex-positive? As for decriminalization, removing sanctions on men buying women’s bodies for sex does nothing to reduce violence; it isn’t laws or locations or stigmas that rape and murder prostituted women, it’s men acting from a sense of distinctly gendered entitlement. The progressive and just response to prostitution is to follow the lead of the Nordic countries with the highest levels of gender equality internationally: decriminalize the sold, provide them with robust services and put sanctions in place against the buyers and pimps.” (Michelle Miller, Vancouver, BC)

      I agree with Miller, that instead of legalizing the women’s work, it’s the men and clients who should face much harsher punishments for choosing to buy women for sex.

  4. Hello Katherine, You wrote a very interesting article. I would suggest any book of Simone de Beauvoir. Also you could check on European Women Lobby that is the biggest feminist umbrella in Europe for inspiration and other book/article suggestions. Take care.

  5. heck yeah I’m a feminist. Part of being a feminist for me involves recognizing that our current system privileges men over women, and then realizing that this system works in conjunction with others that are also bad (but rightly are recognized as such – like racism).

  6. With your plan to do a lot of reading this year, you might enjoy reading “radical homemakers” if you haven’t yet. I thought it was an interesting look at how homemaking, feminism and consumerism play together.

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