You’re probably a feminist, accept it

Slutwalk London 2011 - 05LET’S START this all off with a little quiz. Do you believe in the social, economic and political equality of all sexes and genders? If yes, then congrats, you’re a feminist. If no, then you’re probably a berk, and shouldn’t bother continuing to read this. I am not looking to justify the idea of gender equality in this article, that’s for a different time. What interests me is why it is so hard for so many people to accept feminism. I’ll be honest, it took me a while. For many years I paraded myself as an ‘equalist’, ‘humanist’ or some other term to similar effect and it took me a long time to realize why this was wrong, or at best inaccurate. Simply put, not only does it deny the history of the feminist movement but it also denies the simple fact that almost all gender bias is skewed against women and those identifying as such.

So now that we’ve established the fact that you are, in fact, a feminist, let’s look at why so many have a hard time accepting this. I propose that it is because there is no ‘international regulatory body’ of feminism, it is a moral school of thought that is open to interpretation and discussion. This means the whole ideology is filled with uncertainty, which scares people. Naturally – uncertainty is terrifying – but we must constantly live on the edge of uncertainty if we want to strive for any kind of progress. The debate over such petty semantics must be one of the greatest hurdles slowing progress, as it is so easy to mistake it for some kind of development when in reality, all it does is prevent the necessary discussions from taking place. Even if you are still fervently holding onto the idea that the term ‘feminism’ is somehow toxic to its cause, then I would argue it would be much more beneficial to leave that discourse for another time. Semantics can wait, praxis cannot.

Let us now look at other ideologies that face similar and opposing issues. I think one of the most relevant cases right now would be Islam, and more specifically the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Most (rational) people accept these actions as not being those of someone truly acting in the name of Allah and are simply terrorists that do not represent the Muslim people. So why do people assume that the most absurd of acts done in the name of feminism are representative of feminism? It’s simple. It makes most sense to look at Sunni Muslims, given they make up the vast majority of the population.
Despite not having a formal hierarchical structure of power, it is very clear what must be done in order to be considered a Sunni Muslim and respect is gained as an Imam by the merit of your scholarly work. What a brilliant system; rigorously defined with promotion and praise of individual scholarly work.
Clearly, this is the kind of system that feminism needs. It makes sense – we crave to be part of a well defined herd. Herd instinct and morality are inextricably linked, so it seems exceptionally optimistic to expect large enough numbers of people to accept any school or moral thought without a ‘herd’. Of course this is a quite ridiculous idea in practice; it’s going to take a shift in consciousness to turn away from our evolutionary urge for the herd and jump into uncertainty.

We must now turn our attention to one case where a definitive mantra without emphasis on scholarly study has proved particularly problematic. I think most people can guess who’s coming up now; yup, it’s UKIP. An ideology fueled by patriotic pathos. As soon as someone has taken their bait the rigorously defined ideas on a ‘better Britain’ make people feel very comfortable, no matter how utterly ridiculous. It also justifies the detestable racist comments that seem to be weekly, biled up by their followers because they can just say it’s not the official party line and they were talking as individuals. Even if almost all their comments are insinuated by the very idea they stand for an independent nation. But there is another factor at play here, it is so much easier to hate, it takes so little effort for the most part. Especially hate of the unknown. It takes such an effort to love, it is continuous and exhausting. There is a pleasure in the ease of hating. That’s what makes groups like UKIP so toxic.

I realize this article is probably very antagonistic and occasionally patronizing (hopefully only patronizing for the men’s rights activists though), that’s just the habit of a lifetime I’m trying to kick. But, it’s also exactly the point I’m making. We sometimes need to look at an idea fundamentally and try to scrape away the gubbins inevitably left by the imperfect human condition. So let’s try to stop being so scared of uncertainty and labels and try to focus a little more on the ideas those labels signify.