My current laptop was purchased around early March this year – an act of necessity after its predecessor suddenly carked it. Though I ported all my files across, the one thing I didn’t do – have never done, in fact, because I can’t be bothered – was save my browser settings and bookmarks. Starting afresh on the current machine, I defaulted to Firefox for the first week or two before finally conceding to the superiority of Google Chrome. After that, it was another week or so more before I bothered to set up specific folders for any links that caught my interest. Factoring in the fact that we moved house on March 20, that makes their approximate start date the 1st of April. It is now the 31st of August – meaning that my folders have been live for roughly 122 days.

Since then, based on nothing more than my daily browsing of Twitter, Facebook, blogs and news sites, the folder titled Feminism, Motherhood, Sexism and Sexuality has accrued a grand total of 208 links. That’s almost exactly 1.7 articles per day that have struck me as pertaining to the feminist debate. The first link is to a green paper on rape statistics in Camden, written by PhD student Brooke L. Magnanti – who, as some of you may recall, was revealed in 2009 to be the author of a once-pseudonymous biography titled The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl. The paper debunks the previously established idea that the prevalence of strip clubs in the borough directly contributes to a higher incidence of rape. The most recent link is one I added this morning: a t-shirt made by American retailer JCPenney for ‘girls [aged] 7 to 16’ which reads: “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother had to do it for me.” A random sample of other bookmarked articles includes:

And this is before we cross over to my other folder on SFF, YA and Literary Culture, where a vast majority of the 274 articles bookmarked concern the portrayals of women in narrative, culture and subculture, as well as discussing issues like racism, homophobia, culture and discrimination. Some of these include:

Feel free to look at all those links, or some, or none. There’s not a lot of coherency between them, except for the fact that they all relate to the treatment, perception and acceptance of women, whether in the positive or the negative. But they’re all things I’ve read since April this year – bookmarks of discussions I’ve had, arguments I’ve followed, scandals that have broken, cultural linchpins I’ve railed against. The creation date of some posts predate my finding them by weeks, months or even, more rarely, years; others popped up on my radar almost as soon as they were published. All are relevant to feminism, to women and to society. If I’ve had a conversation with you about anything even vaguely feminist at all this year, the chances are I’ve made reference to something bookmarked in my links folders. Possibly I might even have sent you the articles themselves, if you expressed interest in seeing more.

I didn’t use to be a feminist. As a teenager, I did the weaselly thing of calling myself an equalist, which is a way of saying that I thought women should be treated the same as men (good) but that I was afraid of being associated with man-haters who just wanted to turn the patriarchy into a matriarchy (good in principle, bad in that this is a toxic misconception of feminism). Crucially, I also thought the change in terminology was necessary because, apart from sounding more, well, equal, it seemed as if feminism itself had already succeeded to such a degree that the very word, feminist, had been rendered as anachronistic as bluestocking. Sure, I’d copped my share of flak for having short hair and acting the tomboy, but I went to school and was praised for my brains; I had equal rights with men under the law; I had the vote; I wouldn’t be married off or penalised for divorcing an unwanted husband; I could sleep with whom I wanted, use contraception, aspire to any profession I chose and wear pants with impunity. Surely all of that freedom meant that feminism had seen its use and should gracefully pass on, the relic of a bygone era?  Wouldn’t calling myself a feminist under such circumstances be an innately radical act, putting me in the same camp as those hysterical man-haters I’d heard so much about? What more did I want?

The successes of feminism thus far are many, and huge, and vital – but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to fix, nor that all the remaining problems are small. Women are still paid less than men for doing the same work. They must have better qualifications to be hired for the same job. They are still the primary domestics and caregivers for children, even when both partners work. Discrimination is still widespread. Sexism, misogyny and chauvinism still exist. Institutions like the business world, academia and popular culture are still rife with negative stereotypes, to say nothing of the progressive under-representation of  women the higher up the food chain ones goes. Yes, we can vote, and yes, we have rights – lots of them! These are all good things. But they are meaningless if we do not exercise and fight for them; if we ignore every person who impedes equality as an anomalous upstart; if we are afraid to call ourselves feminists because we don’t want to be perceived as radical; if we are content to assume that everyone thinks as we do, because it’s 2011; if we dispute the existence of anti-feminist (or anti-equalist) sentiment on the large scale of culture, institution and subconscious bias simply because we’ve never experienced it ourselves (that we know of).

Looked at in isolation, any of the articles listed above – or, indeed, any of the myriad others I’ve never encountered, or haven’t mentioned – might well seem like a storm in a teacup; a glitch on the social radar that, while dispiriting, is ultimately a minority example of behaviour that everyone knows is unacceptable. Looked at in the context of the whole, however, a different picture starts to emerge: one where, quite possibly, there are still miles and miles to go before we sleep. And that’s why I argue with people in pubs and online; why I get frustrated at having to explain, over and over and over, why I bother; why feminism is still necessary.

Because suffrage wasn’t the end of things. It was only the beginning.

  1. Yes!!! You are so right. Not all the anti-female forces in the world are religious, but an awful lot of churches and mosques have the money and power to put behind those forces.

    • fozmeadows says:

      I find it distressing that so many people think that the ability of women to give birth and breastfeed somehow means they have no intellectual capacity, that men shouldn’t cook or clean, and that women who choose not to use their body that way are unnatural.In their honour, I’m seriously considering having a t-shirt made that says I AM NOT MY UTERUS.

  2. to be honest, I’ve had to remove myself from the online feminist community almost completely. I can’t bring myself to refer to myself as ‘a feminist’, not because it conjours up an image of a crazy, man-hater but because it conjours up the image of an intelligent, apolistic, racist, ableist oppressor. obviously, there’s many feminists who are none of these things but seeing words like ‘gypsy’ and ‘lame’ being thrown around and the exclusion of trans*women in feminist spaces leaves me feeling more than slightly uncomfortable.

    but, I totally agree that feminism is *still* something that is really, really needed. even if you exclude all the (apparently) ‘un-important’ things like media portrayal and pop culture discrimination there are still women in countries suffering ‘correctional rape’, genital mutilation, death for adultery because they’ve been raped. people need to stop thinking that because we can vote that everything’s just okaydoky.

      • fozmeadows says:

        It’s really awful that you’ve had those experiences with any part of the feminist community. Still, no matter what their beliefs, people are still people and that means a certain proportion of them will inevitably be, at any given time, assholes.

        By way of balancing the scales, if you’re interested, I’d recommend checking out the blogs/journals of YA authors Karen Healey, Sarah Rees-Brennan and Malinda Lo. They all write excellent posts on feminism, ableism, LGBTQ acceptance, racism and diversity in general, and the communities of commenters all add something to the discussion.

  3. Brendan Podger says:

    There will always be a need for people who call themselves feminists. While things may be getting better, and perhaps a fight or two has been won in the ongoing battle towards equality, that just means the focus may need to change or new lines need to be drawn, perhaps in a place that the Suffregettes or the radicals of the sixties may not have even considered.

    • fozmeadows says:

      I don’t know if the universe is inherently ironic or what, but since I wrote this post, I’ve seen so many appalling instances of online misogyny that I’m actually staggered.

  4. Cora says:

    Great post. Also thanks for the links, because there were several I hadn’t seen before.

    Besides, I’d argue that feminism is not only still necessary, it is becoming more necessary, because the pendulum is swinging backwards again. All sorts of problematic ideas such as women’s and men’s brains are absolutely and always different, women don’t really like sex, they just want to cuddle, etc…, ideas that were thought banished for good are creeping back in and becoming respectable again, while the pressure on women to shave bodyhair, wear bras, wear sexy clothing and so on has increased. I get a lot of shit for not doing some of those things, while my teenaged students don’t seem to realize at all that wearing a bra or a miniskirt or high heels or shaving one’s bodyhair is a choice and not a requirement. Most of them flat out don’t believe or accept it, but once in a while you can see the face of a teen girl light up once she realizes that she doesn’t have to conform to some beauty regime she feels uncomfortable with.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Culture is so much more fascinating when you start to realise how much of it is optional, assumed, redundant, arbitrary and unconscious. Also more depressing, too. But that’s people for you.

  5. Cora Buhlert says:

    […] Foz Meadows points out this great post by British academic and writer Rosy Thornton about how her books were given stereotypical chick lit covers, even though they were anything but, and how she is not taken seriously as a writer and academic, because she dares to write about women and issues affecting women. […]

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