Tuesday, 6 January 2009

They shoot feminists, don't they?

Ever so often, and with much trepidation, groups of women find themselves asking each other, as a collective, an important question: do you consider yourself a feminist? The wording of the question itself is quite telling. It suggests a degree of struggle with the definition; the idea that a simple answer is not expected. That rather, it’s acceptable to answer with several paragraphs and conjunctions worth of qualifications. The same qualifications as if someone had perhaps asked: do you consider yourself a stegosaurus? To which one might reply,
“Well if by stegosaurus you mean a herbivorous quadruped, I do try to eat vegetarian and am a natural pacifist but as you can see only have two legs. But if you mean the type of armoured, horned roof-lizard that most have come to picture when they think of a stegosaurus, then I would have to say emphatically that I am NOT because I absolutely abhor heights and so would never be a roof-dweller; and my skin is really quite smooth and supple, as I go to great lengths to maintain it….”
As compared with if someone had asked for example “Are you Barbadian?” To which one might calmly say “Yes. I was born there of two Barbadian parents."

You see the difference.

The identification with feminism seems almost as problematic as if one were to try and identify with being a prehistoric lizard. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a prehistoric lizard. (So don’t write and tell me that your neighbour’s adopted son was a stegosaurus and quite frankly was a charming creature who always helped you off the bus.) But why does the idea of feminism cause us to become as bristled as…well yes…a um…horned, prehistoric lizard? Forgive me but we’re working with an analogy here, albeit a strange one.

I decided to start my bright, new, shiny blog off with this question because it is a point of concern for me. But mostly because it is a point of identification for me. I am a feminist. I say that as easily and as proudly as I say “I am a Bajan.” “I am a woman.” “I am black.” There is no confusion. And it is not because ‘feminist’ is as simple an identifier as these other examples are. (Although arguably ‘woman’ and ‘black’ also have their degrees of being.) To suggest that would be naïve. It is because I have no anxiety over how other people may define it.

Feminism is a belief in the right of women to have political, social, and economic equality with men. I rest easy in that definition, and don’t need to rush to declare “Oh but I’m not one of the crazy, bra-burning ones who wear Birkenstocks and don’t shave their pits.” First, based on our definition, who would proudly claim to not be a feminist? “Well no…I don’t think that women should enjoy equal social and political citizenship. It’s really all a load of nonsense. Soon they’ll want to grow beards! And then where would we be?” I would suggest that it’s all the non-feminists who should feel stupid and marginalized. And really, if there do happen to be roving bands of Birkenstock-wearing, armpit hair-braiding feminists out there roasting their dinner over bra-fueled fires, and all we have in common is that we believe in equal human, economic and political rights, then I’m proud to have that in common.

I’m not afraid of scaring men off by declaring myself a feminist. Anyone who that easily wets his trousers and runs away is not very useful to have around in an emergency anyway. And my goal is not to seem as demure and inoffensive as possible. Of course, I can always see the running picture in several people’s minds (and by people I mean men) when they discover that not only are you a feminist, but you have the nerve to announce it to the public (!), rather than sticking to reading your propagandist pamphlets in the basement with the others. It’s as if they’re watching their prize horse run the Kentucky Derby, and all of a sudden, she buckles, felled by the broken leg that is feminism. Argh…so close! But now…useless.

Well, don’t worry. Call yourself a feminist. They’re not allowed to shoot you for it.


  1. I didn't thing there were many feminists left in the west. It's like MI5, they use to hunt german spies and when that ended, thankfully the cold war helped keep them employed.

    Is this in-equality in the aforementioned issues still so evident in Western society that feminists are 'active' and not just present?

    Before you ask where I'm living, I living in Barbados and as far as I know, UWI turning out more female grads than males, women getting loans for ANYTHING easier than men, I work in a company with at the very least a 50-50 ratio of men-women, several of whom hold senior mgt positions. The leader of our opposition is a woman (for the first time i think?) etc. So from where I sit women are doing ok, but I may be blissfully unaware of the areas where they are not.

    Anyway, have to finish sending my email to Scotland Yard, apparently they have an outbreak of feminism in their town and they don't know it yet. I'll get that OBE from the Queen yet!

    lol, nice read and funny as always marsh mango. :)

  2. University matriculation does not equate to access to employment or equal wages for equal work. Lots of Caribbean-specific research has borne that out. And I've never been sure of the significance of the age-old "but look the head of sanitation is a woman" argument. Work out the percentages of women in politics across the Caribbean and see if you need to count past your fingers and use your toes.

    But 1)Feminism surpasses just that and 2)This post isn't an argument to justify my existence. In fact, the whole point of it is that having a problem with feminism as defined above is something of a character flaw. And even were equality to come tomorrow for all women worldwide, we would still need to make sure it stuck around, since it seems such a slippery fella.

    There is (always) more to say, but this particular entry isn't 'In defence of feminism'. That's a laborious undertaking, and this entry is a little past that. It's 'This is me. Like it or go away.'

    Oh but not you, Philip. You can stay.

  3. But does the absence of a greater percentage of women across the caribbean in politics for example equate to inequality? Im not going to say there isnt still the 'old boys club' element even between opposing political parties, but there are women present. (not enough you think?) Of course there could be more, but what's stopping them but their own ambition? Personally I don't get the impression that a woman running for office in Barbados would lose just because she's a woman or at least not purely because of that fact.

    (I allow that some people still think a man could do a better job at x or y, cant fathom why, but that thinking does exist)

    And equal wages for equal work? I am not the authority on this (you are, haha) but I imagine this is happening in our less progressive sister countries? or is Barbados high on the list of the guilty as well..? (genuinely ignorant on this one)

    I don't have a problem with feminism insofar as they dont cross the line into something similar to affirmative action in the US, where you wind up with 'token chicks' in various positions simply because of a need to satisfy a politically correct gender quota.

    If that happens i will be forced to man the harpoons. :P


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