02 December 2005

What Is A Feminist?

Thats a serious question, because I am trying to work out if I am one, or not.

I was brought up as a 'me' - my first sniff of sexism was at sixteen when I wanted a motorbike and my parents vetoed. Two years later my brother got one for his sixteenth birthday present, and the reason I was given was that a man could still get ahead in life with a scarred face or legs.

I went on to become the first ever female trainee Quantity Surveyor with a long established firm in Victoria W1, with a couple of OBEs in amongst the Directors. Having failed my A levels in the comfort of an all girl Grammar School, it was a harsh learning curve, even the males of my age aspired to the condescending attitude of the older generation without any real eye on the manners that 'went with'. I left to work for the BBC, which wasn't half such a rarified atmosphere.

Anne (of the 100 Monkeys) gave me the link to this:Wonderful. I don't feel things are quite as bad as that these days, but not much better, and for that its still a truism and funny.

What isn't funny to me any more, however, is The Secretary's Prayer. I had it on a bookmark once, and at that point in my life it seemed to epitomise the attitude of adult men in general. Obviously I completely missed what it said about me:

Dear Lord,

I NEED HELP. Help me to be a good secretary, and help me to have the memory of an elephant, or one at least three years long. Help me by some miracle to be able to do six things at once, answer four telephones at the same time while typing a letter that must go out today. And, when that letter doesn't get signed until tomorrow, give me the strength to keep my mouth shut. Never let me lose patience, even when the boss has me searching the files for hours for data that is later discovered in his desk.

HELP ME to have the intelligence of a college professor; help me to understand and carry out all instructions without being given clear explanations. Let me know always just where the boss is, even though he left without telling me where he was going. And when the year ends, please let me have the foresight not to destroy records that he will ask for in a few weeks, even though I was told to destroy them all.

HELP ME to keep a level head and my feet on the ground, so that my secretarial performance will be a proper reflection of the pioneer women who made a place for me in the business world, and those who established me in a profession.

At one time I honestly believed that women, like politicians, had to be perfect, with watertight standards to stand a hope of a half nod of approval from the men in an office. If you can't see the inherent sexism in that, then I guess you still read the 1960s papers, scan adverts announcing that the birth of women's liberation came with the invention of the Singer sewing machine, or watch TV as a housewife sings about giving her son and husband 'the best' in the form of Shredded Wheat, or dances lovingly around a new refrigerator; happy men and the possession of kitchen white goods being the ultimate in female ambition.

So, feminism has done good things. In fact it's done so many good things that the parts that make me choke with disbelief in the following snippet are now nothing to do with womens rights at all:

Within a generation the working class had switched allegiance from the Liberals to Labour, especially after 1918 when women over the age of 30, and women over 21 who owned houses or were married to householders, got the vote as well. Finally, in 1928 all women over 21 were given the vote on equal terms with men. In 1969 the voting age was reduced to 18, and in the same year Northern Ireland, finally, received the vote without the need for property qualifications.

I hesitate to call it racism, probably more like Imperialism, but - having to be a homeowner or part of a homeowning couple to vote? What does that say about keeping the tenants, the employees, the majority of the population 'in its place'? Okay you were penalised for being female, but not so much as you were penalised for being Irish, and the severity of the penalty relied upon income and status, across the board.

I guess thats why I'm not a feminist. I believe in equal rights, period; and I believe in equal rights for people. Not just women, who sometimes have it quite cushy, but for whoever is the underdog du jour. Humanist, as a title, has already been nabbed. So what to call it? I haven't a clue.

Lets call it nothing. Lets not find a name to rally to. Whenever a group of people get together under a banner, however much of a point they have, it causes an 'us and them' situation. I prefer to just go on being a me. A human being, who incidentally happens to be female and freckled. The two truths should have an equal lack of bearing on whether I speak sense or total rot, so I shall go on living as if thats true. Others can stand and shout, but I prefer the company of those that shut up and do.


bart said...

to be honest, i don't believe in feminism at all, if anything it's a reactional catch-cry to even out differences between the sexs/genders/whatever...

i DO believe in honesty, in personal worth and the right to be considered equal in any and all situations, not being subjected to paternalist/(maternalist ;-) ) attitudes...

if anything, we should be examining the power and control issues in society which exhibit themselves in (but not limited to) gender issues... mean, debilitating stuff is going on and it honestly needs dealing with...

keep well..

Badaunt said...

I distrust the word 'feminism' because it's become so loaded with other people's agendas. On the other hand, I do believe in common sense. (Does that make me a common sensualist?) In a common sense world people's choices are not dictated by their sex, unless it's common sense. (i.e. a man cannot give birth. But he can be a househusband and take care of children.)

I should add, though, that I do feel grateful to the feminists who fought/fight for women's rights.

ME Strauss said...

I am not a feminist, but I damn well care about what's fair for everyone including you and me. I guess that pretty much says everything.

fineartist said...

Equality for ALL humans. I love it.

Cheryl for Prime Minister, and ME Strauss, for President. Hand me the phone.

ella m. said...

I don't believe in the first wave definition of feminism, which was just as oppressive as any real or imagined partriarchy. Dworkin and Daly did feminism more harm than good with their virulently anti porn, anti homemaker, anti male agendas than any right wing nutters ever could.

I'm a loud and proud adherent of the third wave feminism however, which is not about making sure that women get their equal piece of the privlege pie currently held by white men. It's not enough to be considered equal under a flawed system, and the modern feminism realizes it breaking down that status quo so that everyone has a fair shot is more important.
(I could go on at length, but am Attempting not to clog up your comments page.)