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How to be a Feminist?

(71 Posts)
soupforbrains Tue 06-Feb-18 13:50:15

Hi everyone,

This is my first post over here in Feminism. I'm essentially posting because i want to learn more.

I have considered myself to be a feminist since I was about 14. However at around the age of 19 I realised I had actually not been a feminist at all and had just enjoyed saying I was a feminist. I then learned a little more but flipped from going to wrong way about feminism (the sort of militant women should do/wear/say this/that/the other because otherwise it's 'un-feminist') I later then briefly decided I didn't want to be a feminist if 'you have to follow stupid rules'.

In the years in between I have become more aware of what feminism really means. I think. I believe I am a feminist, and I certainly WANT to be a feminist but I worry that perhaps I don't know enough/ am not aware enough of things to be a 'good' feminist.

Can anyone suggest any articles or feminist works I could read which might help me find my feet?

Additionally any stories about what incident/article/moment made you feel the way you currently do?

HelenDenver Tue 06-Feb-18 13:54:38

Hello soup!

Easy to read books that are often recommended are Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender and Helena Kennedy's Eve Was Framed. The former is about gender stereotyping and neuroscience, the latter about women in the legal system.

I'd say this board has informed my feminism more than anything else in the last 5-10 years.

OlennasWimple Tue 06-Feb-18 13:59:35

Great idea for a thread!

Not light reading, but Simone De Beuvoir's Second Sex is a classic. Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman is a very different, but still interesting, read.

Incidentally, I decided long ago to embrace my "bad feminism", because there are enough sticks in the world that are used to beat us with without me adding in my own guilts. So I am married, I changed my name and I'm currently a SAHM. I recognise that these are not feminist choices, but they are my choices and they were the right choices for me at the time that I made them.

No-one is a perfect feminist!

HelenDenver Tue 06-Feb-18 14:00:50

"No-one is a perfect feminist!"

A(wo)men to that, sister!

soupforbrains Tue 06-Feb-18 14:01:09

Thanks Helen

I will add both of those to my reading lists. Finding time to read whole books is tricky but I know it will be worthwhile so I will try to get to them when I can and will come back to you to discuss once I've read them!

soupforbrains Tue 06-Feb-18 14:04:21

Olenna Thanks, I actually already own Caitlin Moran's book but it's on my 'to read' pile.

Your description of your 'bad feminism' interests me. I thought the whole point of feminism was that every woman has the choice to be what they want to be? That you can choose to be a SAHM if you like, but that no woman should be made to be a SAHM 'because that's what women are for' or for any reason other than their own choice?

HelenDenver Tue 06-Feb-18 14:07:52

Feminism, to my mind, is not solely about women's choices. Obviously, to some extent, it is and certainly was (e,.g. extending the option to leave an abusive relationship which didn't used to be possible) but some choices are more feminist than others.

I wouldn't consider being a SAHM a non-feminist choice - caring for children and bringing in money are necessary for all family set ups and we all decide the balance that works best.

SuperLoudPoppingAction Tue 06-Feb-18 14:08:01

'what incident/article/moment made you feel the way you currently do?'

My mum and godmother were feminists. They talked about feminism and I eavesdropped. I read mum's copy of 'the female eunuch' when I was 14.
Plus I never lost that child-like sense of fairness and I think sexism is one of the most obviously unfair things around, along with racism which I also fight against.

I like feminist discussions that evolve around the group's lived experiences, and that acknowledge we're all different and have different opinions and barriers.

Sometimes I do a group exercise where I draw a bird cage and get women to write the different bars on it - different manifestations of women's oppression. Women always have something to put on that piece of paper. One woman might have nearly lost her gran to female infanticide. One might fear forced marriage. One might be angry she couldn't play football as a girl. Everyone has different stories but all aspects of the same whole.

The exercise is based on this essay
'Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would gave trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment.'

I don't know if it's really out-there or not, as it's been a long time since feminist writing seemed out-there to me. Not meaning that to sound like a boast - I'd quite like to be able to remember!

But I remember Kat Banyard's writing was very convincing. And Pornland by Gail Dines.

BertrandRussell Tue 06-Feb-18 14:09:06

I am older than most people on here, but I think the first influential book I read was The Woman’s Room, by Marilyn French. It’s very dated, but still worth a read. I can’t remember not being a feminist.

There are loads of interesting books, but it seems to me that being a feminist simply means that you put women in the centre of your thinking - both personally and politically. “Does this action/vote/utterance/choice make things better or worse for women?”

We all make anti feminist choices sometimes- life forces them on us, but being aware is crucial. There used to be a thing in the early days of feminism called “ consciousness raising”. It was basically a way of helping women see past their conditioning and socialization and see clearly what was happening. It was life changing for many women.

HelenDenver Tue 06-Feb-18 14:10:32

So if a woman chooses to, say, picket an abortion clinic, I would not describe that as a feminist act even if she is a woman making that free choice (extreme example but hopefully shows what I mean).

I shave my legs, and am aware this is largely as a result of all societal images showing women with smooth legs, shops selling suitable razors etc. I'm OK with that choice, but of course support any woman who opts not to do so!

HelenDenver Tue 06-Feb-18 14:11:37

Nice analogy, SuperLoud

UpstartCrow Tue 06-Feb-18 14:12:35

My reading list would be everything written by Andrea Dworkin
Germaine Greer's the 'Female Eunuch' and 'The Whole Woman'
' We Should All Be Feminists' and 'Dear Ijeawele' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
'Backlash' by Susan Faludi

''Feminism is a political practice of fighting male supremacy on behalf of women as a class, including all the women you don't like, including all the women you don't want to be around, including all the women who used to be your best friends whom you don't want anything to do with anymore. It doesn't matter who the individual women are. They all have the same vulnerability to rape, to battery, as children to incest. Poorer women have more vulnerability to prostitution, which is basically a form of sexual exploitation that is intolerable in an egalitarian society, which is the society we are fighting for.''
Andrea Dworkin.

Pick a charity that benefits women such as Rape Crisis or Refuge, and if you can't get involved then fundraise. You can donate a percentage of your ebay sales.

What makes me feel the way I do? How long have you got.
The least personal answer is that women didn't manage to achieve 50% representation in Parliament or equal pay or agency over our own bodies before men decided trans activism was more important than equality for women.

SuperLoudPoppingAction Tue 06-Feb-18 14:14:59 My sister likes this. I haven't heard it but Hannah Gadsby is fab so that one might be good. Just was reminded of it due to 'bad feminist' talk.

I think there will always be someone who will call you a 'bad feminist'. It's about them, not you. If they actually cared about furthering women's politics they might say 'have you considered this angle' or 'how does this square with women's rights' but they wouldn't come and remove your feminism card from your wallet (or whatever metaphor works better here).
If you put women at the centre of your thinking, and do what you think is best, you'll be grand, I think. I was a feminist in a different way in 2010 to the way I am now, but I was a feminist.

LangCleg Tue 06-Feb-18 14:16:57

Yay! soup is brave!

I come from a huge and close extended family full of second wavers. It was all highly matriarchal so it never really occurred to me that I wasn't a feminist, IYSWIM.

My feminism basically consists of my barging about shouting my mouth off and telling men who have the temerity to disagree to bog off.

Oops! wink

The work of Audre Lorde always makes me think and makes me smile.

soupforbrains Tue 06-Feb-18 14:20:24

Thanks Super and Bertrand I've added more to my list for reading. smile

Helen yes obviously I see you point about the picket line. I hadn't considered the broadness of my statement and was thinking only in the contexts that Olenna gave of name-change and SAHM.

To me I feel that both of those go along into the same category with your leg shaving. It is feminist to argue for the right of women to not shave their legs, change their name or be a SAHM but that doesn't make it anti-feminist to choose to shave your legs, change your name or be a SAHM. It would however be anti-feminist to call out a woman either for shaving or not shaving her legs.

lunamoth581 Tue 06-Feb-18 14:20:32

Oh there's lots! Lot's of different types of feminism too.

I've always found Barbara Ehreinreich and Katha Politt to be very accessible writers. Politt writes essays on current events. Ehrenreich is a socialist feminist, I highly recommend "Nickeled and Dimed" and anything she co-wrote with Deirdre English, particularly "For Her Own Good," which is about "experts" advice on women.

Andrea Dworkin is a good place to start with radical feminism. Most of her works are available for free download:

"The Second Sex" by Simone de Beauvoir is also good.

Also anything by bell hooks. I find bell hooks to be very accessible, especially "Feminism is for Everybody" and "Ain't I a Woman." bell hooks does intersectionality right.

Germaine Greer's "The Female Eunuch" and Naomi Wolf's "The Beauty Myth" are both worth a read. So is Susan Faludi's "Backlash."

My favorite is Gerda Lerner's "The Creation of Patriarchy." It's a scholarly work that traces the rise of patriarchy throughout history. But heavier reading but real feminist scholarship.

Also second the recommendation for Cordelia Fine. I've never read "Eve was Framed" but now it's on my reading list. I've also heard good things about "Who Cooked the Last Supper" by Rosalind Miles but have never read it either (note to self....)

You won't agree with everything you read. And some of it will reflect the political climate and events at the time, but the themes that these authors point out still sadly apply to current times. Also keep in mind, that a lot of feminists are doing class-based analysis, looking at things from a broad perspective and not an individualistic one.

SuperLoudPoppingAction Tue 06-Feb-18 14:20:52

I love Audre Lorde so much - her fiction,
her poetry, her essays.

Actually that's maybe one of the biggest personal impacts feminism has had on me - apart from getting out of an abusive relationship,
helping me with my career, helping me to be a parent etc etc -
I love poetry now!

Here's a poem by another feminist - Marge Piercy -

CertainHalfDesertedStreets Tue 06-Feb-18 14:23:14

We're all a work in progress aren't we?

I wear quite a bit of make up but when my 7yo asks me why I say 'the patriarchy' grin

HelenDenver Tue 06-Feb-18 14:25:12

I think there's a distinction between 'anti-feminist' and 'not a feminist choice' - which is often a bone of contention when this point is discussed!

I don't think it's anti-feminist of me to shave my legs. I do think, if I was asked to rank the two options, not shaving them would be the "more feminist" choice - because I would thus be helping in a small way to 'normalise' unshaven legs.

Whereas I do think picketing an abortion clinic would be actively anti-feminist.

(Honestly, my legs aren't something I think about that much!)

LangCleg Tue 06-Feb-18 14:25:59

I wouldn't consider being a SAHM a non-feminist choice.

I agree with this. We make our decisions according to our situations. My DH was SAHD until my youngest started school because I was the highest earner. And about two years after that, I was able to set up my own business and work from home, so we reversed it.

Neither choice was anything to do with feminism. Just about how to maximise a) money and b) one of us spending as much time as possible parenting.

CertainHalfDesertedStreets Tue 06-Feb-18 14:27:26

I agree Helen. Also choices you have to make because of the bars of the birdcage (becoming a sex worker) vs those you make more freely (being Katie Hopkins).

CertainHalfDesertedStreets Tue 06-Feb-18 14:28:27

And the whole SAHM thing is only really a thing if you believe in the great god of capitalism. Which I don't.

WiggyPig Tue 06-Feb-18 14:28:59

soup I think that's one of the biggest lies sold to feminists in the last 15 years or so - that anything a woman chooses is a feminist choice.

Of course it's not.

No choice is made in a vacuum. And not all of our choices in patriarchy can be feminist ones. Not all choices that are personally empowering are also empowering for women as a class. I think realising this was the biggest moment of feminist enlightenment I've had.

BertrandRussell Tue 06-Feb-18 14:31:33

The leg shaving thing is interesting- taking it as a proxy for so many other acts of “performing femininity” I think there’s a good case for calling it “anti feminist” because it puts an extra teeny tiny bar in the cage, and helps to maintain the idea of what is normal for women- that we have to modify our bodies in order for them to be acceptable.

soupforbrains Tue 06-Feb-18 14:32:45

Helen yes I see what you mean now.

I hadn't considered the differentiation of 'anti-feminist' and 'not a feminist choice' I see now that by 'not a feminist choice' what is meant is 'not the feminist ideal'

Thanks to everyone so far though. although I'm beginning to feel a little daunted by the size of my reading list!

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