Perilously On Sexism


Today’s article by Grace Dent on sexism was something that felt right when I read it and yet, I know that surrounded by a hostile group, I might fall to pieces and feel unable to replicate Grace’s excellent points. Grace points out that “many men today think sexism is a perilous concept to get their heads around” and then manages successfully to simplify it for us.

Well, let me tell you, whilst I certainly am dead against sexism and believe myself to be a feminist (the two are mutually bound) I feel that the true perilous activity is talking about feminism. It’s a MINEFIELD of arguments and debates just waiting to happen which can sometimes cause me to totally forget my points and get me to repeatedly re-assess what feminism is and whether I practice it.

Caitlin Moran simplifies feminism in How to be a Woman when she asserts that you are a feminist if you want to be in control of your vagina (and, I assume, all that my vagina stands for). And, by the same token, men can be feminists too, by believing that women should be in control of their aforementioned genitals.

So why is it that sometimes, if I declare myself a feminist, it seems to be a bad thing? This scares me; it makes me feel afraid to speak out in case I give myself, and feminism, a bad name. Grace’s article is attracting many comments, including some which argue that she is being sexist. She isn’t; she is talking about specific individuals who happen to be males. @AlextotheG comments so very incisively “John Inverdale is a dick because John Inverdale is a dick, not because he has one”. Nice one, @AlextotheG. Indeed, *perilous twist* the tweeters who accuse Grace of male bashing make a sexist assumption themselves by generalising her specific examples as representative of all men.

Women who declare themselves ‘man haters’ or such-like are not feminists. How can they be? It would be sexist, and a sexist feminist just wouldn’t make sense. It’s like Zoe Williams says “You can’t fight for equality on the basis of one innate characteristic without signing up to the precept that we’re all born equal” . If we want equality we have to want it everywhere, universally. Caitlin Moran summed it up nicely today: “Just try to be nice” . Being nice to people makes you a feminist which automatically makes you a …. Hang on….. what’s the masculine word for feminist? *cue perilous twist* Erm… racking brains here but there certainly isn’t a word for it which I feel frequently appears in the media.

So, because ‘masculinism’ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue with familiarity, does this then mean that I’m sexist? No, because a) as I’ve discussed above I conclude that being a feminist automatically equates to being a ‘masculinist’ and b) words are used when they are needed, ie. the word ‘feminist’ is used so much because there are so many feminist issues.

OK, so how do I respond to a female committee member who greets me with “oooh, it’s great to have a woman sitting on the board”. *Perilous question*: Do I go ‘Oh, yeah, right on sister’, or do I go, ‘that’s so sexist, I’m here as a board member, not as a female’? Or would it be anti-feminist of me to declare the latter because I’m a) dissing this broad for her display of sister hood and b) not recognising that, although in my every-day culture it’s generally becoming a teeny bit more common-place for females to be in business with the men-folk, all around the world in so many cultures females are still not given the same opportunities as males. This is some complex shit! Yes, talking about feminism is certainly perilous and full of contradictory arguments which could get me flustered in a debate.

Well…. women who argue “I’m not a feminist, I like gentlemanly behviour, I like men to open doors for me” – you’ve missed the point. You can be a feminist whilst enjoying being wined and dined – it’s about choice! If the door-opening is consensual to both parties, then that’s fine, that’s feminist. And don’t get me started on the issue of leg-opening and consent. Grace Dent handles that beautifully with her general rule of thumb “Don’t do rapes”.

Feminism is about consent and anybody can be a feminist. Simple as that… what was I getting in such a tizz about? Oh hold on …. *perilous observation* you will notice that during this piece I have ‘fallen to pieces’, become ‘flustered’ and got in a ‘tizz’. It could be said that I have, referring to Grace’s article, gone HYSTERICAL. Am I being sexist to myself? Using sexist language to self-deprecate? Is it sexist language? Is it sexist of me to presume it’s sexist? AAAAH too many perils!

In case you didn’t know, I’ve been using Oblique Strategies cards (little cards with statements on designed by Brian Eno, used by the likes of David Bowie to inspire creativity, erm…. maybe Google it?) to frame my perception of life and then blogging about it. Well, I viewed my latest card “Decorate, decorate”, with the feminist debate in mind as I imagined a down-trodden, archetypal housebound housewife, telling herself ‘hysterically’ to “keep decorating old girl, keep a lovely home, put on a smile and you’ll be fine”. This woman in my head keeps decorating for dear life without ever speaking out as she quietly drinks herself to despair and feels lonely all day long. I’d like to think this is an old-fashioned imagining (not sure I’m correct) but the fact that I did imagine this sexist scenario brings me on to my final perilous question: are we perpetuating the sexist anti-feminist rhetoric? Do the language we use and the associations we make with it keep sexist ideas alive?

I’d like to be hysterical at times because I’m Ellie, rather than because I’m a woman. I’d like us all to have equal opportunities to speak out. I’d like inferences to be about individuals rather than generalisations.

But inferences exist because we make them.


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