Browsing in my local bookstore today, I came across a book called The Death of Feminism by Phyllis Chesler. Chesler is a feminist of four decades now, and has written extensively on women's rights and issues. This book presents a serious charge against her fellow women, namely, that women have forgotten and abandoned their commitment to equality, women's rights, and freedom. In particular, the context she writes about is women who live in Islamic regimes, and she criticized liberal feminists for not standing up to fight for these women who are silenced by their religion and their government. Now, I haven't read the book, so I can't provide a detailed discussion, but the book's title certainly spoke to me as I considered what I wanted to write about here today. The question immediately presented itself to me: Is feminism really dead?Whenever I tell people that I am a feminist, the reaction is mostly the same. Nobody really wants to hear about it. I have female acquaintences who have said, "Really? You're a feminist? You really believe that women and men should be equal?" (I'm not joking!) One in particular told me that she couldn't identify with feminism because she still wanted a man to come along and take care of her. I couldn't figure out if she just didn't want to have to work, or if she really bought into that 1950s housewife stereotype. Another acquaintence said to me, "I'm not a feminist. Do you think that's bad?" I began to wonder, what is so wrong with being a feminist?
As it turns out, lots of things.
In the 1970s, feminism was overtaken to a large degree by radical lesbians, who promoted lesbianism as a lifestyle by which a woman could avoid men and male domination altogether and still have sex and love. Part of the problem of women's subversion, you see, is that women are complicitly involved in intimate romantic relationships with members of the group that oppresses them. Because of this, women are separated from each other and dependent on men. Lesbianism offers an alternative, and an important one: without the option of lesbianism, women would have no choice but to get into bed (literally and figuratively) with their oppressors. There has to be an option that provides women with a way to live their lives without male dependence and male-female intimacy.
I think this is one of the reasons that "feminist" is a dirty word – women who identify as feminists are seen as rejecting men sexually, and that isn't good for the male ego. Heterosexual women also see this as a problem: when you are attracted to men, you don't want to be seen as inherently rejecting them sexually. Also, lesbian feminists are just seen as being anti-sex, because in our male-dominant world, sex necessarily revolves around penile penetration and the celebration of the phallus. Lesbian sex is not considered "real" sex. for evidence of this, look at how lesbian sex has been captured by the pornography industry and made into "girl-on-girl" sex – sex acts between two GIRLS (not women) for the benefit of the male gaze. This phenomenon has so overtaken society's thoughts on lesbians that young girls are now prentending to be lesbians IN ORDER to attract male attention at bars in this city (probably other cities too, we all know that Halifax is behind the times trend-wise)! My young friends tell me this happens all the time! Lesbian sex has been stolen from lesbians and perverted into something to be used for male pleasure – which is centred around the penis and in particular ejaculation. Lesbians are also often seen as not "real" homosexuals, but rather as women who are either "bitter" (oh how I hate that word) or have had a "bad experience" with men, either emotionally or sexually. Therefore, feminists are associated with lesbians, and lesbians are seen as bitterly rejecting sex with men or else just another titillation for male pleasure.
Feminism is one of the best examples of how grassroots movements can grow and develop into recognizable and legitimate organizations for social change. Unfortunately, when society is forced to change, it means that some groups will have to give up some of the privileges associated with being supported by the status quo. This breeds resentment of an alarming intensity. Look at the backlash against equal opportunity hiring (AKA Affirmative Action). Suddenly, middle-class able-bodied white men weren't considered the best candidates for the job, and instead were passed over to give an opportunity to a black person, a disabled person, a woman, instead. When you're used to getting the best seat in the house, all of a sudden being seated next to the kitchen is a bit of a shock.
All in all, I think that most modern women feel as though feminism was a battle their mothers and grandmothers fought, and that battle has ended because there is legislation in place that supports equality and punishes discrimination. Combine this with the resurgence of "family values" in right-wing politics, and it seems as though feminism was a bad idea altogether – families are torn because children are more delinquent than ever (whether that's true or not is beside the point), and this is blamed on feminism, which insisted that women be permitted to work outside the home for equal pay. Feminists have taken a bad rap. No wonder many women don't want to be called feminists.
But does that mean feminism is dead? I hope not. In my eyes, there's still a lot of work to be done before feminists can rest. Me? I'm proud to call myself a feminist, and put myself in the company of great women who have fought a difficult battle against male supremacy. Long live feminism!