The famous line from Romeo and Juliet springs to mind now when I talk to my friends about feminism and what the word means. Some reject the word altogether saying it represents a movement that is not egalitarian and which seeks to promote women above and beyond men, whereas others identify with its broad aims and objectives but feel that the word is now too associated with negative images to be in any way productive for campaigning. Yet we see an increasing number of groups, for example Feminist Open Forum and the Irish Feminist Network who are proudly reclaiming the word and challenging the stereotypes. So who in all of this conjecture about what we should call ourselves when we mobilise for equality is right? Can we only achieve equality if we are feminists? Can we be for equality if we are not feminists? If we were to create a new word/slogan now what would it look like? What other word could we possibly use?Is it possible to reclaim words which are denigrated by mass media constantly?
Personally, I’ve been on a bit of a journey over the past three years from a place where I was a staunch anti-feminist to a place now where I’m setting up a feminist group…. Was there a light bulb moment? Yes, most definitely but that was only the beginning. Even as a confident feminist campaigner now I still have moments in the company of new people where I hesitate before naming myself as a feminist. The hesitation is usually accompanying by an intake of sharp breath and a squaring of the shoulders in order to prepare myself for what is coming next… one of the most recent comments was ‘feminists aren’t real people’. But yet I always name it, because it is important to break the stereotypes. As long as such negativity and ridicule is associated with feminism (the radical notion that women are people), a movement that organised for and won for women throughout the past few decades – how can women achieve equality?
And who wins if we change the name of our movement? How fast will it take for whatever new name we have to become the same object of derision that feminism currently takes? Because at the core of this issue is not the word feminism… is it what feminism represents – women agitating for change and for a better existence and not just agitating but winning. And this for me is the key. Feminism mobilised a generation of women to ask for more, to ask for a better life, to ask for equality and THEY WON! That is the power of a collective movement that we are now lacking because the divide and conquer reign of anti feminism has been hard at work. It is no surprise when you look at the history books that the ridiculing of feminism in the malestream media began after some of the biggest victories for women in the 1970’s to a place where now young women are conditioned to think that if they call themselves a feminist they will never be attractive to men and end up living on some sheep farm with hairy legs and stray cats.
We can win again… but what do we call ourselves to create that same collective movement that won before?
I call myself a feminist, what about you?