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I was thinking about opinions recently, and I realised that the kinds of opinions I generally believe to be Good and Insightful are held by women. Which was nice because I feel like if someone had asked me when I was 16, the ‘People I Respect’ list would probably have been headlined by someone like Woody Allen (who I now realise is a massive molesting creep). This isn’t going to be some kind of Lean In fan fiction, I swear, but I think that it’s really important we listen to women more. Everyone always listens to men, and they’re always talking and making the majority of the big decisions, because women’s voices are still pushed to the side when they should be standing in the centre.
I think that men can be very successful feminist allies, and I don’t want to discourage the Male Feminist Voice but I think it should be restricted and heard only in certain circumstances: (a) Calling out their male friends for being sexist knobs, and (b) To cheerlead and amplify women’s voices,* but never (c) To teach women about feminism, or showcase to everyone what a Good Male Feminist you are. (c) is the worst. Men have a limited voice in feminism because they do not experience the structural and overt discrimination that women experience on a daily basis. When you practise (c) as a man, you are crowding out the voices of women within a space that is specifically there to support and strengthen their voices.
When I was 17, I saw Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture for the first time at the Auckland Film Festival. Immediately after, I turned to my friend and said, “I think that may have changed my life.” She said, “I thought the sex scene in the pipe was a bit gross.” Now, I’m not sure if it changed my whole existence, but it did change my perspective on my worth and capabilities as a woman. I was so impressed that Dunham had written, directed and starred in a movie at such a young age. Yet, I never would have batted an eyelid if a man had done it, because men do stuff like this all the time. Of course, I knew that women did do loads of interesting and fulfilling things. It’s just that men were always doing cool things, and women succeeding seemed more special, or that they’d overcome some odds. Men were (and still are) seen as the baseline.
We’re so used to having this liberal version of feminism preached at us: the ‘You Can Have It All’ feminism. Which basically translates into ‘If You Try Really Hard You Might Get All the Things That Men Get Given to Them’ feminism. However, it’s just not achievable or desirable. Liberal feminism tends to favour only the most privileged women (meaning able-bodied, cis, white women). Telling women that all they have to do is take a seat at the Powerful Man Table and make their voices heard isn’t good enough. The You Can Have It All variety lacks the requisite compassion and understanding of why women don’t ‘Lean In’ in the first place. It’s not only that we hold ourselves back: it’s that the system doesn’t work for us, because men designed it by and for themselves. Which makes the way people like Dunham perform womanhood in their film and in their writing so much more interesting and relevant. The reason Dunham’s work resonates with me is because she’s not ashamed of anything typically womanly.
Of course it’s not just Lena Dunham. There are plenty of other women who represent the more relatable side of Being a Modern Woman. Roxane Gay’s book of essays, Bad Feminist, explores contemporary feminist debates and pop culture in a way that is moving and (often) hysterically funny. There’s also the work of Mallory Ortberg on The Toast, which is hilarious, smart and empowering, and you should definitely listen to Julie Klausner’s podcast, How Was Your Week?, and watch Broad City, if anything said here has resonated with you. And if there’s one thing I got out of my teen-years subscription to Teen Vogue, it was the knowledge that Tavi Gevinson existed.
It’s nice to see women succeeding who don’t prescribe to the kind of womanhood or feminism that demands them to be both the perfect woman and the perfect worker. The voice that these women represent, as well as the issues that they discuss, are so important. Young women need it to be made clearer to them, that in order to succeed you don’t have to adapt to fit into a system that takes only the lucky few. They need more role models who showcase the more accessible side of womanhood. Listen to more women who advocate for the kind of feminism that allows women to be themselves without transforming to fit any kind of patriarchal structure. Listen to your mum.
*For example, if you use Twitter, you should be retweeting and favouriting women’s opinions/tweets on or about womanhood/feminism. Rather than pushing your own voice to the front.
Chloe edited Salient’s Creative section this year. She would like to take this opportunity to ask a reader to please edit her a version of Four Weddings and a Funeral with all the Andie MacDowell parts taken out. You can find her on Twitter @chloelrds.