How To Be A Feminist was a roundtable discussion as part of the Sydney Opera House’s All About Women conference, that took place yesterday, on International Women’s Day.
I went to How To Be A Feminist because I want to know How To Be A Good Feminist, because I identify as a feminist, because I write about women for women every day and because I understand that media is part of the structure that influences society. I also have to answer very important questions like “is it OK to write a news piece celebrating Taylor Swift not wearing makeup?” and I feel like knowing How To Be A Feminist is something that could help me with such lofty conundrums.
Things like How To Be A Feminist need to exist because feminism is confusing! Worse than that, it’s being purposely confused by The Man (who are men), who needs to keep it confusing so we continue to fight among ourselves about little things like whether feminists can wear makeup and dresses, rather than uniting to overthrow the status quo.
During How To Be A Feminist Clementine Ford, Roxane Gay, Germaine Greer, Celeste Liddle, Tara Moss, and Anita Sarkeesian unpacked what feminism is, how feminists should interact with society, and what issues feminism should address. Here are the best takeaways, namely this kind of thing from Germaine Greer, who said: “Kim Kardashian is no help at all”.
1) Defining Feminism
This is what feminism is:
“Political movement defined by overthrowing systems of oppression” – Celeste Liddle.
The speakers collectively trounced the idea that feminism is different things to different people, which is what the Internet has kind of turned feminism into. Feminism is underpinned by specific political theory like any other political movement. We don’t allow conservatism, or neo-liberalism, or nazism to mean different things to different people, so we shouldn’t allow feminism to mean different things to different people either.
Feminism is about the individual and the collective:
“Is it enough to self-identity as a feminist, or does one have to act for the advancement of the feminist cause to be a feminist?” was a question that divided the panel.
Anita Sarkeesian, who founded Feminist Frequency to protest sexism in video games and now receives constant death and bomb threats and has to travel with a security detail argued that “feel-good personal empowerment is not feminism”, and that to be feminists we have to act for the greater good.
Germaine Greer, on the other hand, suggested that “you are a feminist if you identify as being a woman” and make decisions based on that identification.
The takeaway from this discussion was basically that there are two tiers to feminism: that it’s important that as many women as possible identify as feminists, and it’s more important still that as many of those women as possible act on those decisions.
Feminism needs to be inclusionary
“Inclusion matters…we need to fight for all women” – Roxane Gay.
We can’t just try to achieve equality
“[Today’s understanding of equality] is all to do with the way men conceive power…[We can’t] go on replicating current equality. We need to create new equity” – Germaine Greer.
2) Approaching change from a realistic perspective
“A lot of this conversation is interesting, but I’m a realist”, explained Roxane Gay, who cited the fights for subsidised childcare, the rights of single women, and access to birth control as the three most important issues facing women, at least in the States, today.
Violence against women
“Never let it be said that we don’t have Fatwas in the west” – Clementine Ford, on the fact that women are constantly threatened with violence in the West, too. The fact that so far in 2015 two women per week have died at the hand of domestic violence in Australia chillingly confirms this.
That women are neither believed nor trusted
“Women are never believed, never trusted” – Roxane Gay, speaking about the allegations against Bill Cosby.
Women are more anxious about womens’ issues now than they have ever been
“Women’s anst is getting worse” – Germaine Greer, arguing that women are more concerned with society’s expectations of their bodies than ever before, and that the high prevalence of conditions like anorexia proves this.
The representation of women in popular culture
“Kim Kardashian is no help at all” – Germaine Greer.
One reading of all of this is that How To Be A Feminist was super depressing – overall, the state of womens’ rights is either equal to, or worse than it was in the ’70s. Lame!
However, all of this only highlights how important and wonderful it is that panel discussions like How To Be A Feminist exist – we need to have a thorough understanding of what contemporary feminism is, in order to use it to change the system.
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