Feminism – What The F*ck Went Wrong?
This is something that I've wanted to write for a while, mostly for myself. I find it helpful putting my thoughts into writing but I now see how important a topic this is, not just for me, but for a whole generation.
Hence me finally sitting at a computer and putting my thoughts into something tangible and hopefully coherent.
‘Feminism’ is something I’ve always struggled with, it’s a question I've often been asked,
‘Are you a feminist?’
It was a question I was getting asked long before I’d even begun to think about who I am or what I identify as and so began my ‘struggle’ with feminism and what the word means.
When I think about my past, growing up as an outspoken female and the way people reacted to that, certain moments stand out.
At thirteen, there was nothing I liked more than listening to Eminem and intentionally making boys feel uncomfortable by talking openly and explicitly about periods. I didn’t have many female friends as a teen, so the latter was something I was presented with many an opportunity to do. The boys would ask, in a way I could tell was meant to make me feel some kind of way,
“What, are you a feminist or something?”
As much as grossing boys out with the intention of helping them realise periods are a normal part of life was probably quite a ‘feminist’ thing to do, at thirteen, I thought – ‘no, no I'm not a feminist, I'm just me’.
At fifteen, I threw the shotput at school, during one of the few P.E lessons I’d bothered showing up for, and much to my surprise, whilst paying very little attention, I broke a school record on my first throw and began throwing competitively. I enjoyed being ‘abnormally’ strong for my build and as much as I still hate to admit it, for my sex. I made no efforts to hide that I was unusually strong and, in fact, it was something I was quite proud of. This must have stood out to the other girls and they’d say almost wishfully,
“Yeah but you’re a feminist though”
Again, being a feminist was something I’d never ‘identified’ as, I just enjoyed being strong - I was still ‘just me’.
By the time I hit about eighteen, I realised in society’s eyes that being ‘a feminist’ was probably quite a rebellious thing. I’d never had much need to rebel against my mom - it’s hard to rebel when there aren’t many rules - so I did most of my rebelling against society. And so, from that point when asked,
“Are you a feminist?”
I’d say ‘Yes, yes I am’ while leaving the house practically naked in almost minus temperatures and actively chasing a career in commercial modelling. Neither, I think are very ‘feminist’ things to do, yet I was now ready to ‘identify as a feminist’ purely because it was the ‘wrong’ thing to do.
Maybe this was something a few women and girls did at this point because, not long after I starting calling myself a feminist, it became ‘cool’.
I was seeing t-shirts with catchy feminist logos or buzz words and so naturally, I started questioning my ‘feminist’ identity again…If it’s trendy, I hate it. That’s just how my brain works, I have to really, really, like something that lots of other people like in order to keep liking it, and feminism…well, I just wasn’t that invested in it.
I was invested in me, being loud, outspoken, dressing provocatively, being colourful and strong but everything I chose to do seemed to fall into society’s ideas of what ‘feminism’ was.
This is where I believe the waters start getting really muddy, this idea that anything a woman does is inherently feminist. For me, this leaves lots of questions about what the word feminism actually means.
Is feminism something you identify as or something that others identify you as?
Is someone a feminist because they think they are, or because they ‘do feminist things’ and others think they are?
Is there a difference between being ‘feminist’ and being ‘a’ feminist?
Can men be feminists?
All, I think are valid questions when defining the word feminism.
If we go by the definition of feminism given by Google - “the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”, then I’d say yes, a man can be a feminist.
But to me, ‘feminism’ as society now understands it, does not begin to cover the breadth and depths of the varied and immeasurably important ways in which women are at a disadvantage across many different societies of the world. Nor does calling everything feminism give us the ability to focus on the very real issues faced by very real women and girls across the globe.
It seems ‘feminism’ these days is anything done by a woman - even if most would describe it as degrading - if it’s a woman doing it, it’s feminism. I disagree and I call this particularly watered-down version of feminism, “Beyoncé Feminism”.
Now, before I take this any further, I do not want to incur the wrath of Beyoncé’s hard earned and very loyal fan base so I’m going to first, state facts; Beyoncé is clearly absolutely beautiful, insanely talented and has incredible stage presence. She is an all-round amazing artist and performer.
Right, now that we’ve got that out the way, let me explain why I call it ‘Beyoncé Feminism’.
It was a moment back in 2013 while listening to ‘Drunk in Love’ when I realised Queen B was maybe not quite the “feminist queen” that her PR team had clearly done a great job in packaging her as, a package that I and many others had happily bought into. So, I’m watching the video, I’m enjoying the song, Beyoncé’s doing that weird dancing, it’s a pretty cool sepia toned video, filmed on a beach at night. Beyoncé does her thing and then in comes Jay-Z, her husband.
As you can imagine, being a song writer, I’m a lyric person. I heard Jay-Z say what I thought was “Eat the cake, anime”. He repeats it twice. I was curious as to why Jay-Z would be rapping about cake and anime so I hopped onto google, as you do, and typed “Eat the cake, anime” into the search bar, only to find out the correct and full lyric was in fact-
“I’m Ike Turner, baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Anna Mae, I said eat the cake Anna Mae”
Not, as I'd initially thought, a reference to cake and cartoons but in fact a flippant and mocking reference to the abuse faced by Tina Turner, at the hands of her then husband, Ike. Tina’s birth name is Anna Mae, it is a clear reference to a scene in the biographical film about Tina Tuner’s life, 'What’s Love Got To Do With It'
It’s a troubling scene, whilst in a diner celebrating the release of her first single, Ike becomes irrationally jealous of Tina’s growing fame. He force-feeds Tina cake after two young boys appear at the table asking for her autograph instead of his. While we watch this unsettling scene of domestic violence unfold Ike says,
“Eat the cake Anna Mae”.
I abhor the normalisation of domestic violence in any form of media. I was now witnessing Beyoncé my ‘Feminist Icon’ doing an odd sultry dance around her husband as he glorified and made light of the abuse faced by the very same woman that Beyoncé herself stood on stage eight years previously and paid tribute to.
Watching the footage, even now, Beyoncé’s words feel honest and heart-felt, she says -
“When I think of inspiration, I think of the two Tina’s in my life, that’s my mother Tina and of course the amazing Tina Turner. I’ll never forget the first time I saw you perform, I’d never in my life saw a woman so powerful, so fearless…”.
Now, I still wasn’t 100% sure what qualified as feminism but I was sure as hell that glorifying domestic abuse did not.
I started, at this point, noticing other things that were being celebrated in the name of ‘feminism’ that didn’t feel particularly feminist like,
“How to be a mom and still be fabulous”
This didn’t make sense to me. My mum is fabulous for many reasons and one of them is that she is a mom, not in spite of being a mom. And then, along came the word ‘empowering.’ Now, I know the word didn’t just ‘come along’. It existed for quite some time but then the word “empowering” started to appear everywhere, usually before some sickly reference to a ‘girl-boss’, glossed over notion of ‘sex work’ or some bullshit article about how porn is ‘empowering’, complete with a sensual picture of a strawberry dripping in honey on a pink background, more than likely with a perfectly manicured finger or overly glossed lip in there somewhere for full effect.
‘Porn is glossy, safe, bubbly and colourful, get involved or be square ladies!’
This is the message I feel coming from most media outlets.
Now, considering the findings of a study done in 2010 revealing that,
of the “50 most popular rental pornographics”, 88.2% depicted violence against women
I really struggle to see, especially eleven years on, how porn could ever be described as empowering or feminist.
Radical Feminist Gail Dines, wrote a book titled, “Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our sexuality” that very same year. ‘Hijacked’ is a perfect word, I think, for what has happened and is still happening to feminism.
Maybe ‘feminist porn’ does exist but, really think about it, what would that be? Maybe a couple of actors having sex saying things like,
“Hey, I think women should have more representation in parliament”?
Because let’s go back to the definition of feminism -
“the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”
What could ‘feminist porn’ possibly be?
How can ‘sex work’ that is largely done by impoverished women with no choice be called ‘work’, and then suddenly be ‘feminist’ when it’s done by a western woman who ‘chooses’ it?
‘Choice’ is an important word. When did any of us choose to have such a huge amount of value placed on our looks?
How did selling pictures of our bodies to men as wanking material online become “feminist” or “empowering”? It’s a way of making money, sure, but is it really empowering?
When the women hailed by our media as the most powerful feminist icons also happen to be dripping in intentional sex appeal, you have to then wonder how much of that power is tied to the fact that they are sexually appealing?
I started to scrutinize Beyoncé’s ‘feminism’ a little more and started asking questions, like how did “Bow down bitches” become a feminist statement?
Is it feminism because Beyoncé stood in front of a twenty-five foot sign that said ‘feminism’ while she performed the lyrics –
“I know when you were little girls you dreamt of being in my world, don’t forget it, don’t forget it, respect that, bow down bitches”
Is that why she is a feminist icon?
Is it by sampling the words of renowned feminist Chimanda Ngozi Adichie on “Flawless” that Beyoncé then becomes a feminist by association?
Can a song that essentially carries the message ‘you will never be as good as me’ spoken from one woman to another really be classed as feminist?
Let me pull up that sneaky definition again,
“the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”
I don’t think so no.
I don’t think a woman in power is inherently a feminist thing. Especially when it seems that the women our society labels the most “powerful” or “empowered”, Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé or Rihanna for example, also happen to be extremely appealing sexually. How much of that power then comes from the fact that they are aesthetically pleasing?
Let’s go back to that quote from Beyoncé’s tribute to Tina Turner in 2005, the full quote, because I intentionally left a few important words off the end…
“When I think of inspiration, I think of the two Tina’s in my life, that’s my mother Tina and of course the amazing Tina Turner. I’ll never forget the first time I saw you perform, I’d never in my life saw a woman so powerful, so fearless...so fabulous. And those legs.”
The last 5 words of that quote tell us that Beyonce knows Tina’s “power” is tied into her fabulousness and “those legs”.
Beyoncé owes me nothing, but I felt let down when I realised what she had allowed her husband to do in, “Drunk In Love”.
She allowed her husband to mock the abuse of a “powerful” woman, a woman whom she admires on her own song. Where’s the power in that? Is every choice a woman makes ‘feminist’ purely because a woman made it? I don’t think so, no.
Ghislaine Maxwell, “a British socialite known for her association with financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein” who worked for her father a publishing tycoon, made lots of choices it would seem. Certainly, a powerful woman but like I say, I don’t believe a powerful woman is inherently a feminist thing. It is simply a powerful woman.
This type of “feminism” has been called many things Liberal Feminism, Choice Feminism and Empowerment Feminism to name just a few…but whatever it is, has tricked many of us.
There is a need for women to support one another. To build each other up and shout “girl power” but we need to call that what it is, girl power, women supporting women.
I’m all for that but let’s stop pretending if it glitters, it’s feminism.
When companies realised there was money to be made from women looking for empowerment, when 'empowerment' became a brand, feminism, the word itself, lost all meaning.
Feminism is an understanding that the world is fucking hard for girls. It's not a glittery girl power gang.
Feminism is looking at the ridiculously high numbers of women who die at the hands of men all over the world, the atrocities that happen to girls who have their genitals mutilated and the damage being done by surgeons and doctors turning young, healthy bodies into social and medical experiments. It’s understanding that there are currently, as I write this, almost 41,000 women on GoFundMe asking for money to remove healthy body parts, while women in other parts of the world have no choice but to endure ‘breast ironing’, an inhumane practice carried out by some mothers in attempts to make their daughters less of a target for rapists, the men who see having breasts as an excuse or reason to rape.
It’s acknowledging these things and feeling the pain and subsequent rage that comes on behalf of those who aren’t able to speak up, or even see these problems for what they are.
It’s feeling the rage until you have no choice but to do something about it. That’s what I believe feminism means - protecting each other, protecting yourself, your daughters, your future daughters, your sisters, neighbours, friends and mothers.
If your ‘feminism’, what you’re saying, doing or posting about isn’t controversial to the masses and feels generally accepted by the media…it’s probably not feminism, it’s probably just girl power and that is what it is. But calling it feminism dilutes the word and makes it harder to focus on the life threatening and serious issues still faced by women and girls all over the world today.
We need to look at the ugly, painful realities, pick them apart and re-educate ourselves and the world as to what feminism actually means.
It means we fight for the voiceless, the nameless and the dead. We fight along side the loud women, the angry women, the women who continue to speak even when they are told their words are wrong.
We fight for the safety, dignity, equality and respect of ALL women.