Feminism 101

Posted on June 8, 2012 by | 14 Comments

EK McAlpine is taking part in the Fuck The Patriarchy Readathon in aid of Rape Crisis – donate here.

My name is EK McAlpine and I am a strident feminist. I’ll shout that from the rooftops, if you like, but to a lot of people it either won’t mean anything, or it will mean something different to them than it does to me.

A lot of people – men and women – are feminists. It’s not really an exclusive club. However it is grossly misunderstood in mainstream politics and from both ends of the political spectrum. Society as a whole generally sees feminism as outdated and irrelevant. After all, it’s the 21st century, right? Women got the vote nearly a century ago! What the hell is the fuss all about? If anything, it’s shifting the other way. Them bloody feminazis. (I prefer ‘feminazguls’ but that’s besides the point.)

Well, I’m sorry to burst your bubble but that simply isn’t true. Sexism still exists today, worldwide. Women can’t vote in a lot of countries. There is a gender pay gap of around 16.5% in the UK, where men are paid more than women for the same job. The Equal Pay Act was in 1970. That’s forty two years ago. The world needs to catch up. It’s not all the fault of men, women can be misogynistic too. Magazines like Cosmopolitan and Company are written by women, for women, but promote harmful and sexist messages about image, relationships and self-worth. Rape conviction rates are incredibly low and we still have to endure articles in national newspapers that blame the victim’s clothing choice or drinking habits when they are exposed to sexual violence. Feminism seeks to change that, and gain gender equality.

So, what is feminism? What do feminists believe? Now, I can’t speak for the millions worldwide who call themselves feminists, but I’d like to put my two-penneth in.

Things Feminists Tend To Believe:

Women and men are equal.

This is the crux of it, to be honest. Gender (that’s not what’s between your legs people, but how you choose to be defined) equality. Men are not superior to women. Women and men are not ‘equal but different’. There’s no “Oh but women are naturally more caring” or “Men just have better hand-eye co-ordination” bullshit. We’re all humans, and any differences between the genders are imposed by society, not biology. Young girls might prefer Barbie dolls, but that’s probably because they were given them as kids. Little Tom likes football, his sister Mary doesn’t. Well maybe that’s because Mary wasn’t encouraged to play football, because she wasn’t supposed to get her dress dirty. Gender differences are imposed by society. And a lot of the time, they really suck.

Rape and sexual violence are never the fault of the victim.

While that might seem pretty obvious, it’s a massive problem in society. Feminists usually call it ‘victim-blaming’. You’d know it if you saw it.

“Oh, but she asked for it. She was flirting with him all night!”

“Did you see how short her skirt was? She was well up for it.”

“Raped? She should be grateful she got any attention!”

No. No, she didn’t ask for it. No, she wasn’t well up for it. No, she shouldn’t be grateful that she was raped. A hundred people could walk past an inebriated girl in a short skirt, but only a rapist would rape her. It is an active choice on the part of the attacker to commit that violence. No-one forced them to do it. It was their choice. And the blame lies solely with them.

Rape is not funny. Neither is sexism, actually.

Feminists have senses of humour. We do, really. But joking about something that affects 1 in 4 women is not something to laugh about. If you make a joke about rape, there is a good chance someone in the vicinity will have been affected by rape. You are forcing them to remember that experience. We call it triggering. You could put their recovery back years. You are forcing them to re-live what was likely the worst experience of their life. All for a cheap laugh. Is it worth it? You make the decision.

Rape jokes also encourage misogynistic ideologies. No, bear with me. Say you’re with a group of mates. You make a joke about rape. Your mates laugh. You’ve just told them that rape is an okay thing to joke about. That it doesn’t always need to be taken seriously. There was an attitude concealed behind that joke, and whether you intended it or not, you have just sent the message that rape is okay. Still funny?

Sexism isn’t funny either. It affects half the population of the entire planet. What’s that? It’s just banter? Banter is a keyword that sets off my spidey senses. It says to me that you’re using humour to hide your real attitudes, to put your ‘freedom of speech’ over my freedom to be treated equally. Again, for a cheap joke. Sexist jokes will only be funny when sexism is eradicated from the face of the planet. You let me know when that happens, and I’ll laugh at your “Get back to the kitchen” jibe.

We live in a patriarchal society.

Patriarchy means that the world is dominated by men, simple as. And it is. The most ‘progressive’ and democratic country in the world has never had a female president. Women are severely underrepresented in politics, film (7% of major film directors are women), business and pretty much any other sphere of society. A simple example is football. England’s national sport. You could probably name a handful of players from the English team, even if you’re not that interested in the “beautiful game”. Now name the Captain of the English women’s football team. Who won the last Women’s World Cup? Yeah? Thought so.

Men can be feminists too.

As mentioned earlier, the simplest definition of a feminist is someone who believes in gender equality. Men can do that. Men can contribute to feminist discussion.

However women feminists generally ask the men to do something called ‘check their privilege’. That means they have to sometimes be a bit careful about what they say because the patriarchy benefits men over women. Men are not affected by sexism in the same way women are. So while men are more than welcome in feminist discourse, it’s always best to be careful when discussing topics such as birth control, abortion and violence against women. I mean, an all-women council discussing whether vasectomies should be available on the NHS would be a bit silly. Just like an all-men board making decisions on abortion or birth control. Oh… wait. No, that does happen.

Yelling that we look nice in the street isn’t a compliment.

Neither is wolf-whistling, beeping your horn or actually any image-based ‘compliment’. If you want to tell me I’m “stunning”, go for it. But don’t expect gratitude. My self-worth is not based on what you think of me. And if you yell at me in the street, that makes you a massive fucking moron. Since when does your right to yell “nice pins, love!” supersede my right to get on with my life? I don’t give a shit what you think about my breasts, or my hair, or my arse. They’re mine, and I did not grow them especially for your consumption. Why should I have to listen to what you have to say? I don’t want to, I find it disrespectful. So don’t cat-call. It’s street harassment and makes women feel uncomfortable, not flattered. If you like a woman, go and bloody talk to her. What are you twelve? Talk to her about the weather, or politics, or cheese. And if she’s not interested, leave her alone. It’s not her duty as a woman to talk to you.

Femininity and masculinity don’t really exist.

They’re what we call ‘social constructs’. Femininity isn’t a real thing. It’s a concept that tries to dictate how women should and shouldn’t believe. And that really isn’t in line with feminist thinking. The same goes for masculinity. I’ll do what I want, regardless of my gender. I’ll have hairy legs, and drink beer, or I’ll do ballet and wear pretty dresses. It’s my choice. And I couldn’t give a toss what you think about it.

Things Feminists Don’t Believe

Men can’t be raped.

Men can be raped. And it sucks for them in a whole heap of different ways, due to the gender stereotypes associated with ‘masculinity’, which society would have you believe is the holy grail for men. Rape Crisis centres are not just for women, either.

All men are evil.

You show me a ‘feminist’ who believes women are better than men and I’ll show you a sexist. Gender equality, remember?

Men shouldn’t hold doors open for women.

This one’s just daft. Hold a door open for me, please. Especially if I’m carrying stuff. It’s polite. I’ll hold it open for you, too. Just don’t look at my arse, expect endless gratitude and please do it for members of your own gender too. That’s just rude else.

If you wear makeup, you’re not a feminist.

You’re a feminist? You can wear lipstick. Push-up bras, a tinfoil hat, a burlap sack. We couldn’t give a shit. It’s about not feeling the pressure to wear any of those things. Although if you’re under pressure to wear a tinfoil hat, please get in touch. Nobody should feel that they have to wear mascara to be accepted by society. Because that’s not good. Sometimes I like wearing make-up. When I’m at a music festival, the eyeliner comes out in swathes. But I wear it because I want to. Not because I want to impress anyone, or even to look presentable. The way I look, and the way you look, doesn’t matter a jot. Cheesy though it sounds, it’s what is inside that counts.

If you get married or have a boyfriend, you’re not a real feminist.

See above. It’s about the choice. We don’t have to get married, or have a boyfriend. Being single is cool, regardless of what women’s lifestyle magazines would have you believe. Being married or having a boyfriend is cool. You’re not a traitor. As long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters. See, we’re rather nice, us feminazguls, aren’t we?

If you’re a housewife, you can’t be a real feminist.

I’ll say it again. It’s about freedom, and choice. If you want to be a housewife or a stay-at-home-mother, go for it. And we’ll fight for you to have the right to do that. Just like we’ll fight for you to have the right to go out and earn a living. Having kids doesn’t mean you’ve betrayed the sisterhood. Women are allowed to be mothers, we’d just rather they weren’t stereotyped as them constantly, and portrayed only as mothering types in the media. You’re still a woman if you don’t have a maternal bone in your body, and you’re still a woman if you have eighteen children and adopt forty more. Go for it.

Men aren’t affected by the patriarchy.

This is an important one. Men are affected by the patriarchy. Men of all ages, races, religions. The patriarchy really fucking sucks. However it tends to affect women more than men. Women are definitely getting the raw end of the deal. The majority of rape victims are female, women are bullied in the media more than men and their appearances/sexuality/the contents of their womb are always up for public discussion. So if you don’t mind, let’s not do the whole “it hurts me more than it hurts you” bullshit, and concentrate on getting rid of the damn thing.

You have to have been born a woman to be a feminist.

This one has come to light after the recent furore over RadFem’s exclusion of transgender women from a conference. Like I said before, gender is not what is between your legs. You could have a penis, a vagina, a small Rottweiler or a self-collapsing two-man tent down there. If you identify as ‘she’, you’re a woman. And vice versa. It is not our business to ask what is between your legs (although if you have a small Rottweiler, I am a little curious) or what you “used” to be. We are promoting freedom from the constraints of gender. It is not society’s place to tell someone what gender they are. Even though they do. A lot.

Sex is bad.

Sex is sex is sex. Intrinsically, sex is a good thing. Two things don’t come into it – morality, and the government. You want to have sex with six guys a week? Go for it. There ain’t no-one who can tell you otherwise. If you think that’s “immoral” or “slutty”, take a hike. It is not your business. Obviously feminists would encourage safe sex, but again. It’s not our business. Another thing – sex is, by definition, consensual. Non-consensual sex is not sex at all, but rape.

Pretty women are the enemy.

It goes back to the same idea – we couldn’t give a hoot what you look like. Whether you’re Angelina Jolie, or you’ve got eight noses on your left ear or eyebrows that would rival Alistair Darling. Because it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And we would rather that women weren’t judged on the way they look. Actually we’d rather that no-one was, but again, women seem to suffer this a disproportionate amount. I don’t want to go to a job interview and be hired because I’m “cute”. I don’t want to go places with my boss and have people think I only got the job because he fancies me. I don’t want to have people question my intellect or knowledge because some society considers me pretty.

So, let’s round this up.

Feminists believe in gender equality. We believe we live in a patriarchal society that discriminates against half the population and actually isn’t that great for the other half. Not all men are evil, gender isn’t what lives between your legs and you can wear make-up if you like.

Any questions?

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14 Responses to “Feminism 101”

  1. Adam RamsayNo Gravatar
    June 8th, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

    Great piece. Some stuff in here which some feminists wouldn’t agree with, but I mostly do, and such disagreements are of course healthy in any movement…

  2. maybelaterNo Gravatar
    June 8th, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

    I agree with all your points except one, the first one funnily enough. The differences in gender and women being more caring..as a mum of boys and owner of many cats and animals over the years, I have to say females are more nurturing. They will clean a baby when its near, a male will get as far away as possible, especially when the baby is the same gender. I don’t think I gave them any Barbies or footballs. Why is it such a stickler of an issue? Good article though.

  3. GilbertNo Gravatar
    June 8th, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

    Thank you very much for this. I found it really helpful. I think I need a ‘Feminism 101′. Actually, there is a comment that I was going to make on an earlier piece that you wrote, but I didn’t, because I was scared of saying the wrong thing, but I’m going to make it now.

    I think you said something along the lines that there is nothing that a woman can do to make it less likely that she will be raped, because rapists are rapists and they will rape however a woman is dressed or however she behaves.

    The reason I found this so problematic is that although I totally, completely agree with its sentiment, I just cannot see how it can possibly be factually true. Put it this way: it would seem to be obviously untrue with regard to any other type of crime. There are all sorts of things I can do, for example, to make it less likely that I will be murdered, robbed or defrauded or, for that matter, raped. Most of those are straightforward situational things, but some of them are cultural as well. Walking around in Kandahar province telling people that you are the secretary of the Zionist youth movement is obviously a bad idea. Getting on the wrong side of the secret police in certain countries would be another.

    Similarly, we can presumably also recognise that criminals are made not born, and that they are made to some extent by situation, and also that not all crimes are equally understood to be crimes everywhere. So when I read that claim in that earlier post of yours, it made me realise just how ignorant I am about where radical feminists are really coming from. There’s something I’m not getting, and I’d love to try to understand better.

  4. Martin1984No Gravatar
    June 8th, 2012 @ 8:09 pm

    “I have to say females are more nurturing.”
    I may be wrong but I think the point is that females have been exposed to the idea that they should be nurturing and received positive reinforcement for same from a very early age. Similarly men have been receiving the message that they should be stand-offish and strong silent type since boyhood. So yes women may be more nurturing but this is perhaps more as result of the pervasiveness of society’s ideas about gender roles rather than some biological determinant.

  5. Martin1984No Gravatar
    June 8th, 2012 @ 8:16 pm

    I wish I’d read this post a year ago. A lot of feminist blogs are written in a sort of shorthand with pre-understanding of the basics and common terms assumed. I’d find myself googling and reading two articles to get my head around the ideas expressed in one paragraph of the original article. Nice primer.

  6. maybelaterNo Gravatar
    June 8th, 2012 @ 8:20 pm


    I was referring to animals.

    The fluffy kind :)

  7. MarkNo Gravatar
    June 8th, 2012 @ 11:14 pm

    Like maybelater, while agreeing with much of your vision of feminism i also struggle with your first point.

    “Women and men are not ‘equal but different’”

    But there are things that women can do that men can’t, like the ability to give birth and then breast feed. I don’t think you can simply sweep aside all biological differences between the genders or ignore the impact this has as being a purely social construct.

    It not that I think my partner is more ‘caring’ than me, but she could give our children in their first few months something – sustenance – that i couldn’t, unless she spent large parts of the day with a breast pump….

  8. Invisible SteveNo Gravatar
    June 9th, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

    Thanks for this. I found it a useful – if somewhat simple – refresher on the basic tenets of feminism. It more or less chimes with my understanding of feminism – and with the principles with which I was brought up.

    But the problem for me starts with the rather simplistic assertion that gender is a wholly social construct. This is an idea which became popular in the 1960s following the research of John Money (and others), and was put into practice in a number of intersex cases – babies born without obvious male or female genitalia. Infants born with (biologically male) XY chromosomes but without a penis (“undervirilized”) were surgically given vaginas and raised as girls. This gender reassignment was common practice, until some adults who’d had their gender “fixed” in this way began to complain that they did not identify as the gender they had been given post-surgery. For me, this is enough to at least cast doubt on the belief that “any differences between the genders are imposed by society, not biology”.

    I’d assumed that feminism had developed since the ’60s to incorporate these grey areas surrounding gender, beyond suggesting that gender is something which is individually ‘chosen’. (If it has, an update featuring a nod to other schools of feminist thought would be a nice touch.)

    My second problem is this use of the word ‘choice’ in relation to gender. Even supposing gender identity *is* entirely a construct of society, to suggest that changing it is merely a matter of “choosing” to undo a whole childhood of conditioning is, for me, problematic to say the least. No-one “chooses” to be (born or raised) a boy or a girl, any more than one may argue they “choose” to be gay or straight.

    I could drone on for hours on my reservations about the notion of choice – but that’s for another blog….

    (The following Wikipedia links are handy:

  9. lupinNo Gravatar
    June 11th, 2012 @ 8:28 pm

    I used to think girl and boy type interests might completely socially controlled until I had children. Then I discovered they weren’t. Almost before they knew they were boys, boys were drawn, passionately drawn, to vehicles and weapons, dangerous monsters and stories of war and conflict, and not to babies, baskets and houses. My girl was different. She was socially driven and would play boys games if necessary but wasn’t driven by passion for vehicles, guns, swords & monsters. She didn’t like Barbie dolls either, but she just didn’t go overboard for the boy stuff in the way boys did. I compared notes with other parents who were observing rather than guiding their children. In those days children didn’t go to nursery until they were 3. They had very little television. They all agreed , these things are innate. I find the research hard to believe, if real research has been done.And its hardly surprising. Having(or not having) a womb and ovaries gives your body a different chemistry. Why should this not affect interests?

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