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August 3, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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What Feminism Means To Me

Historically, I’ve sought friendships where the other person thought I was cool and funny. For ages I thought the best way to achieve this was to make heaps of male friends and have a weird almost-secret not-that-subtle hope that they’d see me as “not like other girls” that they knew. That way, we could Just Have Laughs without (God forbid) any time-consuming power or gender dynamics.

I didn’t want to be like other girls because “girls aren’t that into all hanging out together making jokes” and “they like creating drama, especially over guys”. The overarching lesson was that being “different to all the rest” was ultimately Very Desirable. Instead of being like the others, I’d be a Cool Girl – whisky, not sav! Steak, not kale! (Or whatever the kale equivalent was in 2009. I don’t know. Cruskits or something.)

I eventually unpacked this idea – “unpacked” here meaning “realised it was whack as shit” – as late as last year. It seemed I’d taken as fact certain stereotypes or conceptions from TV or books. Because on TV and in books, dudes were portrayed quite clearly as the winning team. Wanting to be “not like other girls” was me agreeing that they were the winning team. Not productive. 0/10. Would not perpetuate again.

Feminism is a Hypocrite
Feminism is a lady garden,
Don’t shave that shit, beg your pardon.
Feminism is a Brazilian wax,
Keep it smooth inside ya daks.

Feminism is being a whore,
How many dicks can you score?
Feminism is being a virgin,
Save yourself, resist the urgin’.

Feminism is #freethenipple,
Check your Twitter, your ‘likes’ will triple.
Feminism is covering up,
Don’t tell no one about your mooncup.

Feminism is burning your bra,
Let your boobs be free lil’ ma.
Feminism is sexy undies
All the time, not just for fun-dies.

Feminism is being a builder,
Those misogynists you will bewilder.
Feminism is being a housewife,
Knitting, cooking, committing to blouse-life.

Feminism is wearing make-up,
Mascara and lipstick as soon as you wake up.
Feminism is going bare,
Beauty standards – I don’t care!

Feminism is a hypocrite…
Until you realise feminism is freedom.

As a female, saying you’re not a feminist sounds contradictory and, in some minds, an offence worthy of beheading. But, I will say it, nonetheless. I am not a feminist. Hold off the guards! That doesn’t mean that I don’t support women. It doesn’t mean that I don’t think we’re awesome enough to rule the kingdom. I just don’t like the connotation the word brings with it. It is supposedly about equality, but where is the word ‘manism’ in the dictionary? It’s special treatment. We don’t need it. Women are quite capable, strong and fiercely smart. Why do we need a word asking for a leg-up? And, who are we asking for that advance? Feminism puts all the power with the men to say, “Sure. We’ll let you join us up here on our almighty throne”. Bollocks. All our man and lady bits aside, we are the same. We’re human. We all come in and go out the same way, so just get on with it. Life is short.

I am a feminist. Search for the definition of feminism and you’ll find: “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” For me, feminism is as simple and difficult as that definition. After all, if you go by that definition, then shouldn’t everyone be a feminist anyway? Why do some of my (female) friends screw their noses up when I mention it and proudly declare they aren’t feminists? Fact. Being a feminist does not mean I hate men. Fact. I think it’s cool if men are feminists. For me, feminism won’t be over when the USA has a female president or when ‘Blurred Lines’ stops getting air time. There will never be an end to feminism until girls stop getting asked what they were wearing after being assaulted or until rape jokes stop being made. There will not be an end to feminism for me until there is no sexual violence against women and when being a woman doesn’t mean you are worthless in any part of the world. I will never apologise for advocating the rights of all women in any way, shape or form.

Feminism has a new face with each generation and this is the face she wears with me. Feminism is my fighting chance to be heard. It’s knowing I have rights that my foresisters fought tooth and nail for, rights I’ll continue to fight for! Feminism is screaming into a microphone and not hearing the crowd say it’s good to see a women on stage. Instead, I know I will be judged on my musicianship rather than my gender. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel telling me to scream louder. Feminism is what helped me look at the media machine and laugh in its face. It’s helped me embrace other females instead of turning my nose down at them, as if they were a threat. It’s brought me together with some amazing women who feel the revolution is near and refuse to stay silent until we are no longer oppressed! Feminism has told me I am good enough and to never think any less. It’s for everyone! It’s about empowering, embracing, and encouraging, and I am proud to call myself a Feminist!

When I was home over the holidays, my parents and I were discussing a friend who has recently decided that she is a feminist, and has taken to announcing the fact very loudly and publicly at every opportunity. My younger sister overheard and asked me what a feminist was. “Someone who thinks that women and girls should have the same rights as men and boys,” I told her. She looked utterly baffled. “But don’t all people want that?” she asked me. Hearing that from the mouth of a young girl is the utmost illustration of what feminism means to me. Feminism doesn’t need to be loud and attention-seeking. It doesn’t need to be angry or aggressive. What it should be is the instillation of the firm and unwavering belief that females are just as valued as men on this earth, and should be treated as such. Hearing that my little sister is utterly assured that her own worth is equal to that of her male counterparts is, to me, the true value and meaning of feminism.

Growing up, I had a number of strong female role models who taught me that I was in no way superior because I was born with a penis instead of a vagina. If anyone has met my mother, they’ll know exactly what I mean!

The sad reality is that a number of men in our country feel that they can treat women as their property. Too often, we men treat women with less respect than we treat other men. This is not okay.

Whether it is cat-calling while driving past a woman alone on the street or inappropriately groping someone in a club when they’re clearly not interested, everyday sexism is harmful and unnecessary. Everyday sexism is at the heart of New Zealand’s rape culture, because too many men think that they can do what they want with a woman’s body.

To me, feminism means treating everybody with equal respect. However, this also means recognising that women have a unique set of challenges to overcome (many of them created by men). Feminism is about redressing that inequality, whether it’s in the workplace, on the street, or in the home.

Ode to Beyoncé

Feminism is the amazing group of women I have around me in my life. They are the people that help me grit my teeth and smile through PMS. They let me cry on their shoulders when I’m sad and make me feel good about being a woman (even when I’m treated like a second-class citizen).

Feminism and Beyoncé have become somewhat synonymous in my mind. She’s a strong woman who can do whatever she wants. The best thing Beyoncé taught me: Who run the world? Girls. Whether it’s true or not, I really enjoy yelling those lyrics with a posse of badass bitches, shaking their booties and being all flossy on the D-floor.

She makes me feel proud to be a woman despite all the shit we have to put up with. She makes me feel like I can spit in the patriarchy’s face and get away with it.

From what I have learnt through the various depictions of feminism in the media, as well as the things I picked up on in that one ‘gender and sexuality’ media paper in second year, all I can say is that ‘what feminism means to’ me is a topic that is a little dated, subversive and confusing.

I am aware that feminism is a concept that has served to empower women and search for gender equality, which at a stage in recent-ish history was unfathomable. This is due to the male rule over so many roles in society. It is amazing what the idea of feminism has done to defend the rights of women the world over, it really is. Nowadays though, labeling everything that involves an empowered woman (which I feel happens pretty often) as an act of feminism becomes confusing because it has become more of a norm for women to be able to take on such roles. At least compared to the context which the term was established. In other words, the complexity of contemporary society makes it hard for me to make sense of what the term means now.

With so many types of feminists, I guess it’s unsurprising that feminism has many meanings for me.

As a uni student, feminism is that subject that somehow weaves its way into every paper. A catch 22, when mentioned it leaves you overjoyed at semi-understanding (for the first time all semester) what the lecturer’s saying. But your attention rapidly plummets, for no matter how cleverly reworded the story doesn’t change.

Part of me adopts what I would guess to be the dominant male view. Lesbihonest, the outspoken dykes are getting old (literally) and the situation is no longer as dire as they claim.

Yet, the woman in me has a deep admiration for the feminist plight. Inequality does still exist. From pay cheques to sexual double standards – the feminist movement isn’t and shouldn’t be over.

But I do believe we need to find a better balance.

Yes, we still have a way to go but at the same time we shouldn’t forget how far we’ve come. Things are better now than ever before. We have women in the work force and studying at unis. And here I am answering this question, which some would call a feat in itself.

Kia ora koutou. Ko Joshua James tōku ingoa. Nō Tāmaki Makaurau ahau. Nō Ngāti Whātua tōku iwi. He (tino!) takatāpui ahau.

My name is Joshua James and as a Queer (homo-sexual, hetero-romantic/homo-romantic) man I need feminism. I need feminism because I shouldn’t be told that I can’t do something because that’s what women do. It is problematic in two ways: firstly it implies that allwomen do the same thing, think the same, and that they are individual-less. Secondly there is nothing wrong with doing things thatwomen do, because there isn’t anything wrong with being a woman.

There is a level of prejudice that exists against Queer woman (cis-women, trans+ women, drag queens)  and Queer men (cis-men, trans+ men, drag kings) who have feminine qualities within the Queer community which deeply saddens me. As a camp man, I have quite a feminine voice – something I was ashamed of until quite recently. This is another reason why I need feminism. I want everyone to be able to be who they are, or who they desire to be, without prejudice or contempt just because they have what is perceived to be “feminine” (note the quotation marks) qualities.

Mana Takatāpui. Mana Wāhine.

Ngā Mihi

Feminism, for me, is simply an ideology that supports me in being whoever the hell I want to be. Once I understood that I, a woman, am actually a person with no one to please but myself, I began to really live. Now, if I want to wear makeup, I will damn well wear makeup. If I wanna wear fat pants and a baggy sweater to uni, so be it. Leather jacket and flower crown? No problem. And you can bet your arse that if I’m busting mine at the gym, it’s for nobody’s satisfaction but my own.

This may all sound like a fairly obvious concept, but it wasn’t to me. Not until feminist ideology opened my eyes to exactly how ingrained sexism is in our everyday lives. Objectification, prettifying myself for the opposite sex, is not okay. My value as a human being is not proportionate to the size of my waist. There is no dichotomy between being smart and being sexy. Feminism doesn’t mean surrendering my femininity for a place in a man’s world, but rather realising that the world needs to make room for and understand women. We cannot, will not, be subdued.

I am sad to say that the struggle is indeed real. And by that I mean I wake up every morning and am not Kim Kardashian. Why is this a struggle? Not because I am not absolutely magnificent but because society loves this bitch. And I am guilty of giving in to the social pressures that they enforce just by allowing themselves to perceive her and every beautiful person as the only thing they desire. In this way, I am definitely not a feminist. And not because I choose to shave my legs or that I think strip clubs are amazing but because I have allowed myself not to be satisfied when I wake up in the morning. I do not think feminism is something that can be generalised to a group of women as a basic idea. True feminism starts in the midst of a woman’s thoughts about herself. It is not at all an external show of parodies in relation to other societal groups. Almost always men. And yet, it has almost nothing to do with them. By not letting society and the collections of people within it affect how you perceive yourself, you have already won as a woman. And that is what true feminism is to me.

Feminism taught me that religion can be and is used to subordinate and oppress, and that I can believe that without compromising my faith. Feminism showed me that my scriptures can be interpreted as having a gender-neutral God; equality between men and women; no indication that females are spiritually deficient; strong, positive representations of women; and that none of this is heresy. Feminism gave me a leg up to say that it is not okay for women to be excluded from leadership and teaching positions, and over-represented in administration and childcare. To say that men are not closer to God simply because of their sex. And to say that things must change, and religion must not be used to cloak oppression. Feminism handed me a microphone so I can loudly proclaim that I will not allow thousands of years of man-made tradition and patriarchal institutions to silence me in my own religion, nor will this oppression turn me away from my faith. Feminism transcends borders, cultures, and religions. Feminism is a fresh set of eyes through which to look at the elements of my faith and the ways that it is used to mask subordination and inequality, and the empowering force to tear off the mask and bring change.

I need feminism because my anatomy should not increase my chances of being a victim. Because an estimated 90 per cent of sexual offences go unreported. Because 21 per cent of reported rape offences went to court. Because 12 per cent of these resulted in a conviction (Ministry of Justice, 2003). Because New Zealand is the worst OECD country in the world in regards to rates of sexual violence (UN, 2011).

I need feminism because the pornography industry, built on the exploitation and degradation of women, is one of the biggest industries in the world. Because porn is seen as ‘normal’, something which had me feeling inadequate and asking my doctor for vaginal reconstruction surgery at age 13. Because the first time I had sex I was worried about ‘being good enough’, not about my pleasure.

I need feminism because nine million more girls than boys worldwide are not in school (UNICEF, 2003). Because women currently hold only 4.8 per cent of the world’s Fortune 500 CEO roles. I need feminism because in New Zealand, the gender pay gap was measured at 10.1 per cent (MWA, 2013). Because I should feel lucky that it is not the 37.4 per cent of Korea. The 20.46 per cent of the Netherlands. The 17.81 per cent of the United Kingdom.

I need feminism because performing an abortion on the basis of a woman’s request is allowed in only 29 per cent of countries. Because having complete bodily autonomy is not reality.

I need feminism because I am still being asked this question. Because I still protest this shit.

What does feminism mean to me? Tough question. Maybe it’d be easier to define what it doesn’t mean. For starters, it doesn’t mean invading various countries on the pretext of fighting for women’s rights, as has happened several times in the last decade-and-a-half. Nor does it mean the idea of simply getting more women into positions of power and assuming that they’ll make things better for women through their mere presence there; a quick glance at the 1980s, and Margaret Thatcher’s passing of the homophobic Section 28, as well as her attacks on welfare, should be enough to disprove that idea. So, if that’s not what feminism means to me, and the cliche quote about it being “the radical notion that women are people” is too simplistic, what does it mean? Maybe just that all the people marginalised by capitalist society deserve access to the fruits of modern technology just as much as those at the top of it.

There have been two ‘woah’ moments in my formative, personal history with feminism. The first being early 2010, in Year 12 Classical Studies. A kind-of friend I sat next to said something along the lines of: “Last night, I found out my mum is, like, a hardcore feminist, which is weird because I’m all ‘1950s housewife’.” My internal reaction was something like: “1950s housewife sounds repressive.” I probably said something more agreeable because she was higher in the social hierarchy than me. I asked my mum that evening if she considered herself a feminist; she said yes. So I decided I was too.

The second was some months later: a friend and I were walking home together, and a mutual friend’s fruitful sexual encounters came up. I made some gross comment about how she was kind of slutty, and my friend retorted with: “Would you say that about a man?” I realised that, no, I wouldn’t have. How disappointing.

I think feminism is important because there’s still a staggering amount of sexual and physical violence perpetrated mainly by men against women; there’s still a gender pay gap; and, for the most part, for a woman to succeed in male-dominated industries, she has to become like a man. Which sucks.

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Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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  1. UnravellingMyOwnHypocrisy says:

    Thanks for your wee snippet. I’ve definitely been tussling with the trying-to-be-cool-by-not-being-girly thing for a while – although has taken me a long time figure out that’s what I’m doing. Totally agree it’s whack as shit, old habits are hard to kick though, so thanks heaps for the well-timed (for me) reminder. Call myself a feminist and still learning how to stop fighting against being a girl – isn’t it ridiculous?

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