Monday, September 21, 2009

What feminism means to me

According to The Guardian, Margaret Atwood isn't sure she is a feminist any more. And Fay Weldon thinks that women should stop worrying about trying to get men to pick up the socks and just do it themselves. Now, I'm not going to go into these quotes or their sources in any great detail because I feel it is likely that they have been exaggerated in the press, but I have been thinking about feminism a fair bit recently.

This morning I read Lucy Mangan's article What feminism means to me and wondered what it is it means to me. I found the article very interesting (not least because it gave me another reason to think that Mangan is an all-round good egg) Like Lucy Mangan, I identify myself as being a feminist. And like Lucy Mangan, I sort of wish that this had come from careful thought and consideration, and lots of reading on the subject. It hasn’t, although in recent years I have read more and more around the subject – like many women, The Womens Room by Marilyn French and Backlash by Susan Faludi have made me think about what it means to be a feminist, and what kind of society I am living in. It depresses me when other women feel that they have to distance themselves from feminism. In the same article in which The Guardian talks about Margaret Atwood, they quote the entrepreneur Deborah Meaden:

I'm not a feminist. I consider my position in the business world not as a woman but as a person. And don't think, "Did that happen because I'm a woman?" Feminism doesn't have a particularly constructive image, although I think there was time when it was relevant. But I think we are more sophisticated now and we no longer have to batter people over the head with it

I admire Deborah Meaden, both for being a talented and successful businesswoman and for her attitude and behaviour towards the contestants on Dragon's Den, but it depresses me that she believes that feminism is no longer relevant. She is the only female entrepreneur among the Dragons. This is fairly proportionate as there are many more male CEOs at her level than female. I'm not qualified or informed enough to talk at length about the gender pay gap in business and the 'glass ceiling' and all of that, but I wonder that it isn't more of an issue to her that there aren't more women competing at her level.

Meaden says that feminism doesn't have a very constructive image, and I think she is right. While I would like her to feel more strongly about women in business, she isn't obliged to, and I'm not entitled to try to make her feel differently (in, you know, some parallel universe where I actually know her. Man, I should plan these things a bit better, I didn't mean to go on about her for so long) One of the image problems feminism has is that women are afraid that they'll be judged by other women – you're not feminist enough, you’re betraying the sisterhood, or whatever. And the other fear, of course, is being labelled a buzz-killing man-hater.

Anyway – to move away from the political and back to the personal. What feminism has meant to me, in recent years, is finding and understanding myself a little bit better. That, and being able to make more informed choices and decisions. I have largely stopped watching TV (I have a television set, but no TV signal. I occasionally watch things on the iPlayer) and this choice was informed by my growing feminist beliefs. I got so tired of every advert using sex to sell products, I couldn't participate in it any more. I won't have TV in the future either, particularly if I have children. I would like to say that I have stopped buying magazines but I'm weak and I haven't quite yet. When I was a student I was an avid reader of Heat magazine, but eventually I decided that I couldn't condone that either. I hate the constant focus that magazine has on the female body – too fat, too thin, cellulite, sweat marks, spots – all magnified and distorted and derided all of the time. I struggle, like many women do (and many men also) to feel good about my body, and I couldn't tolerate Heat magazine's attitude any longer. It’s not just Heat, of course, and my ban has extended to any and all celebrity gossip magazine. I'm weaning myself off the fashion and lifestyle glossies as well, because they are just as hateful in their own way. These are just two decisions I have made based on my growing feminist beliefs, but they have improved my life.

Feminism hasn't meant that I have stopped wearing make-up, or being interested in fashion, or wanting to lose a wee bit of weight, or any of those things. But I like to think that I am more conscious about what I do and what I want, and why I want those things. I don't know if I am a 'good' feminist either, and I don't know if I should be more political, more radical with it. Let's just say that my education is ongoing.