This morning, putting on my “feminist frightbat” T shirt ready for holiday shopping, I had what I view as an epiphany about why some women are so against the very notion of “feminism”.
As a feminist of over sixty years standing I have always found this hard to understand.
I understand the women who want life to be as it was for many generations, who are frightened of making decisions and want them made on their behalf or who want to spend many years child rearing as the major parent and be financially supported by a partner who agrees that his parental job is essentially to provide. I support them in their choice and their right to take up such options.
What I have never understood is women who want half of both worlds, who reject the idea of a movement but yet seek the advantages already won for some women by the feminist movement, such as the right to select clothing and the way they dress, the right to engage in occupations that were previously not available to women, particularly married women, and the right to own their own sexual behaviour. Yet they stop short of saying they will belong to a movement which works for these and other rights to belong to all women, in all circumstances.
I understand this from the male perspective. The fear that women will make a difference to their own opportunities is a real one. If women take up half the senior roles in life that men currently take then there will be less of these roles for men and this would make them understandably anxious. For this reason I admire men who unselfishly support the feminist movement, and there are many of them. I think, in time, most men may eventually realise that they, themselves, will thereby gain in their own choices in the long term. But that the immediate prospect could fill them with fear is self evident.
But this morning I realised that female feminist-rejectors are also fearful. They are scared of leaving a majority group. If they firmly eschew the feminist mantra they can stay in an “anti- extremist” group, enjoying the privileges of the majority group with no stigma, together with advantages already won for them by previous feminists. In the same way racists who do very little of a positive nature to help minority groups can point a critical finger at a few extremists from whom they distance themselves, whilst continuing to enjoy the privilege available to them by being of the dominant race. This process is described well here.
It is a hard call to ask people to really combat the fear of loss of privilege by taking action. That can be recognised. But my message to those who overtly reject feminism is, never bad mouth those who support it. For to do so demonstrates clearly that you belong to the dominant, non accepting majority group. That is a free choice. But recognise it for what it is – privilege and the ensuing fear of being out of the “in” group.