Pro-Choice on Feminism

13 July 2011
Are young women trying to impress Bob Ellis? Surely not, but why are so many of them falling over themselves to deny being feminists?

I could go down the path of blaming Lady Gaga. The redoubtable...Ms Gaga? or is she always a Lady? opined in 2009 ''I think it's great to be a sexy, beautiful woman who can f--- her man after she makes him dinner. There's a stigma around feminism that's a little bit man-hating. And I don't promote hatred, ever." Apparently Ms Gaga is in Sydney at the moment. Perhaps amongst her busy schedule of nightclub visits and appearances on A Current Affair (you want to talk about hatred?) she could take some time to brush up on feminist history and appreciate she couldn't be where she is today without the actions of the feminists who proceeded her. But I don't want to pick on Gaga specifically. She's not alone in her views; I hear so many young women preface statements with "I'm not a feminist, but...". Why has feminism got such an image problem?

It can't be that the work is done. The basic feminist issues - equal pay, equal rights, more just treatment of sexual assault cases in the judicial system - are agreed upon, if quietly, by the majority of the population. But we see drastically different images of what feminism means. The media presents a distorted picture; feminism is asexual, angry women proclaiming their superiority to men in the Murdoch press, high-flying career women banging their heads on the glass ceiling in the Fairfax press, so determined to be inclusive of minorities it can feel irrelevant to "ordinary Australian mums" in academia. Still, I think most women would describe themselves as feminists. For those who don't, it's the hatred thing that probably puts them off. I've also heard it said that feminism has made things worse for women. Until recently, I was unaware that there are large numbers of stay-at-home mothers amongst young women, who are quite happy in their situation and have no plans to go back to work, even once their children are older. These women feel under attack from feminists, and some yearn for the days when it was a given. some feel that women are better instinctively able to care for children. I don't think anyone's attacking them, but a few stay-at-home mothers want to deny all women the choice they have had. It's not something I would ever do, but go nuts, volunteer at the school or research the family tree or drive the community transport vehicle or whatever you like. Just recognise that this is a choice you have, and thanks to feminism you also had the choice to do a civil engineering degree and live alone till you're 43.

Well, financially permitting - I won't get into feminism and socialism today. But if feminism somehow disappeared tomorrow, many of the rights we take for granted would go with it. Maybe a little basic feminist history should be added to the high school syllabus (I'm sure kids would just love that). But something has to be done, anyway. The more a few women say "I'm not a feminist", the more it undermines us all.


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