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Young women's attitudes to feminism

(31 Posts)
LaraInTheSky Tue 29-Jan-13 13:22:52

"I believe women should have equal right and I believe in fighting for the rights of other women, but I'm certainly not a feminist"

I certainly think that if you believe in fighting for women's rights and that if you want to be treated equally at work, at home, everywhere, then you are by default a FEMINIST.

Is this just a problem of semantics? Is it only a question of giving feminism a different name - "Fred", for example - for people to take it seriously these days?

But I guess the big question will remain: why are you not a feminist?

I just wanted to have some of your thoughts on young women making statements like the above, and apart from the usual "feminism is aggressive and unladaylike", why do you think young women are not interested in it?

AmandaPayne Tue 29-Jan-13 13:38:16

I think it depends how young you mean by young. I think that there is a large element of it not really hitting home privileged middle class girls that we still live in a patriarchal society.

For example at school, many are taught quite obviously and repeatedly that they can do anything, encouraged to science, etc. I think it takes a degree of maturity to realise how much of society is cancelling out the surface message. That it isn't a coincidence that there are more boys than girls in the further maths class.

I also think that a lot of teenagers and young women think that sexism is a historical problem. They see the lack of senior women in their company, and think it is just a pipeline problem. They don't realise that the pipeline looked the same 15 or 20 years ago.

So I agree on the labelling, but I also think that many young women literally do not see the relevance of feminism to their lives. They see discrete (discreet, never can remember?) issues like sexual assault, but not an overall patriarchy.

Not sure if that makes sense.

TeiTetua Tue 29-Jan-13 16:09:20

My explanation is that the word "feminist" has connotations that drive young women away. In particular, they're likely to have the instinct that it means someone who's a rebel, opposed to existing society. Maybe what we might remember about the militant side of the suffrage movement has something to do with this, but it's also constantly reinforced by anyone who feels uncomfortable with feminism. As in "Feminists are..." followed by a series of outrageous exaggerations which chances are, nobody in earshot will question. And even if lots of people recognize that it's not entirely true, they're affected by it, especially if they're young and not confident of their position in the world.

On the other hand, when it's a question of individual issues, not many people would want to go back to the world of 1913 rather than 2013. You can imagine naming a list of things--having the vote, the right to work in any job (for married women, even), being allowed to wear trousers, even the right to go out at night without a male escort--and having one of these non-feminists say "Yes of course, all those things are important" and then telling her "Well then, you're a feminist" and hearing her say "No, no I'm not..."

Maybe the point isn't accepting all the feminist gains of the past, but the idea that a "feminist" is someone who's dissatisfied with the way things are now?

BertieBotts Tue 29-Jan-13 16:20:10

When I was 18 I thought that a feminist was someone who wanted women to have more power than men. Also - because I was socialised to or because I didn't look at it very closely, or because I didn't know the figures - whatever - I took very seriously the "what about the menz?" arguments against feminist campaigns/theory etc.

Added to that what others say about the world seeming equal when you're young because you're always told you can do anything that a man can do. While this is an improvement, nobody tells girls that although it's possible for her to do all of these things she's going to find it a lot harder than a young man would in her position.

It's only through reading and learning and listening and thinking about it more that I have been able to see what feminism really means and relate it to my life.

bootsycollins Tue 29-Jan-13 16:27:24

I would think that she meant what she said and that's where it ends, as in she isn't exclusively championing women's causes, I'd presume that she would be up for speaking out about human injustice regardless of gender.

dublinrose37 Tue 29-Jan-13 16:43:50

I think a lot of young, and not so young, women are complacent, we've more or less grown up with the illusion of equal rights and possibly younger women aren't at an age or life stage where they have had that equality challanged so maybe they feel the job has been done and there is no need for feminism.

It does annoy me that feminism is seen as a dirty word and something to be ashamed of when those same women who run it down are the very ones happy to reap its benefits.

ecclesvet Tue 29-Jan-13 18:18:27

I believe people should have individual responsibility and I believe in reducing government intervention, but I'm certainly not a Conservative

I believe you should treat people as you wish to be treated and I believe in a life after death, but I'm certainly not a Christian

I believe that the rich should pay more tax and I believe in fighting for the rights of the poor and working classes, but I'm certainly not a Marxist

I think it's largely about avoiding the negative connotations that come with the/a label.

StormyBrid Tue 29-Jan-13 18:49:20

A lot of it does seem to be about the label. To my peers, feminism means lack of personal grooming, being permanently angry about irrelevant things, hating men, and wanting women to be privileged over men. Who would willingly take a label with those connotations? I'll happily call myself a feminist, but I then always have to explain what I mean by feminist. And then, most of the time, the person I'm talking to will say the concept needs a different name, to differentiate it from the hairy-legged militant lesbian feminism of the past.

That said, it's my firm conviction that that hairy-legged militant lesbian feminist image is cultivated by people with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Girls today are brought up surrounded by the message that equality has already been achieved, so there must be something wrong with all those feminists who still get angry and refuse to shave. Boys are brought up with the same message. It's insidious. And part of the message is that you do not question the message otherwise you take on that label with all its negative connotations. Thus we're left with a highly resilient meme that's remarkably resistant to being, well, resisted.

AbigailAdams Tue 29-Jan-13 19:30:14

Not sure what is wrong with being hairy legged, or a lesbian or even militant. In fact to suggest that there is something wrong with that is pretty insulting. Militant feminists got us the vote, made rape in marriage a crime, legalised abortion, got us free contraceptives and equal pay laws. Yay to militant feminists I say.

StormyBrid Tue 29-Jan-13 23:51:45

Oh, fully agreed, and I'm not personally suggesting that any of those descriptors are bad things to be. But that's the stereotype, and buggered if I know what to do about it.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 30-Jan-13 06:36:47

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AmandaCooper Wed 30-Jan-13 08:28:46

One of the main negative connotations is "ugly", which is not a palatable label for young women in this beauty obsessed culture. I've often had the word feminist slung at me on web forums and thought the reason was to silence any women who might have been tempted to agree with me. It's usually prefixed "lesbian", which also has the connotation "ugly".

sunshineandfreedom Wed 30-Jan-13 11:28:36

dublinrose37 said:
I think a lot of young, and not so young, women are complacent, we've more or less grown up with the illusion of equal rights and possibly younger women aren't at an age or life stage where they have had that equality challanged so maybe they feel the job has been done and there is no need for feminism.

This has been my experience with my contempories (I'm 23).

WoTmania Wed 30-Jan-13 13:29:51

I think the word 'femisnist' has been misused and the whole idea of feminism so misconstrued overtime that many young women have a completely warped idea of what feminism really is.
i know teenagers/young women who identify as feminists butmore who actively don't and even more who don't really think about the matter.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 30-Jan-13 14:14:20

I think young women are interested in feminism.

I'm sure not all young women are.

I don't mean to be rude, but I'm really tired of people telling me young women aren't interested in feminism. Some are, some are not. There are some brilliant blogs by young feminists. I've been interested in feminism throughout my 20s and I know a fair few teenagers who are too.

I also know plenty of older women who're not remotely interested or go on about 'equalism'.

Sausageeggbacon Wed 30-Jan-13 14:26:06

DD is young, reasonably intelligent and doesn't see herself as a feminist. The problem with the label is the people who dominate conversations especially the guardianista rad fems. She is learning towards a male dominated career path without and hang ups or fears and a lot of self belief.

Her worry is equality, it is the push to force changes without thinking of the impact instead of allowing the best to be chosen. Pet peeve, and one that I get, is the women only shortlists. Not because women can't do jobs as obviously we can but because we are scared to compete with men. The recent discussions (daily politic show) about the fact women aren't on boards missed one key point, board members tend to have 20 or 30 years experience in management. As much as we want people on boards would we really want to say that because of quotas we may n ot have the best person for a job.

DD doesn't expect to be at the top of her career path in 5 years or even 10, she knows that to get to the top takes time and effort.

sunshineandfreedom Thu 31-Jan-13 09:17:26

'Equalism' is a pet peeve of mine at the moment. I tend to respond that when feminism has achieved its aims, and all people of the world - all sexes, genders, races and sexual orientations - are equal, then and only then will I call myself an equalist.

I am in my early twenties and have a lot of feminist friends, but a lot who just don't get it. So yeah, it's by no means all of us!

rainrainandmorerain Thu 31-Jan-13 09:43:42

I think dublinrose has a point.

When I was early 20s, I was competing and beating men academically and in work terms. Anything that happened to me in terms of sexist comment/abuse, I could shrug off to some degree by looking at my successes. I had the feeling that I was in a largely level playing field and anything I achieved or failed at was down to personal effort.

I saw women in the developing world as having big problems - but they often came under 'human rights' more than 'feminism'.

Fast forward 15 or so years, add children into the mix, and I am getting whupped by structural sexism, and have the feeling that as a young woman, I was allowed to join in a race that was set according to rules that, over time, were very much in favour of men.

badguider Thu 31-Jan-13 09:53:40

When I was a teenager I was sheltered entirely from the need for feminism. I honestly believed that being female would not disadvantage me in any way. I studied maths and physics and although I was in the minority I was also encouraged by everybody around me so I didn't feel discriminated against. I succeeded in everything I wanted to do in terms of academics, sport, etc. and my household was an equal one - my dad did all the meal/home duties when I was a teenager as he worked from my home and my mum did shifts as a nurse. I, and all the girls I knew were pretty bolshy and called the shots in our romantic relations with boys too.

In many ways I think that was a good thing... sometimes if you don't know your 'supposed' to be disadvantaged then you are not smile

So.... I sort of do support teaching young women about feminism but at the same time I'd be very careful about setting expectations among young women that they're 'supposed' to be oppressed or disadvantaged compared to young men... in many ways I think that it's only natural and right that (with the exception of any body issues and beauty myth stuff that comes up in puberty) women come to feminism naturally a little bit later in life either through the famous 'lived experience' or when they start thinking about procreation.

sunshineandfreedom Thu 31-Jan-13 10:27:33

Interesting thoughts on it badguider smile

verylittlecarrot Thu 31-Jan-13 10:32:16

What rainrainandmorerain said. In my teens and twenties I felt I was competing on a level playing field, through university and my early career. I was unshakeable in my belief I was equal to my male peers, and recognised as such. But as I've approached the motherhood phase of my life it became more apparent that I've been ejected out of the game, and the odds of getting back in are stacked too high. I never envisaged being a SAHM so it never occurred to me I would ever face this.

I've also observed in MN women who have experienced being brought up with the message that girls and boys are equal with equal opportunities. They pair that message with the observation that despite this, there are still disparities between the sexes holding senior positions and earnings, in division of household responsibilities and so on. And their conclusion is that the differences must somehow be innate. Girls really DO like pink, are better at housework, aren't as aggressive professionally, aren't cut out for physics.

Noone cares to admit that they have been influenced to believe such fallacies. That they've been conned about the reason these differences exist.

northeastofeden Thu 31-Jan-13 22:11:18

I would like to echo what verylittlecarrot said in the first para of post at 10:32pm, I felt I was competing on a level playing field until I got married and hit 30. Then things started to rapidly change and a lot of assumptions (specifically re:babies and who would do the childcare etc by male bosses) were made which started affecting my opportunities, thing is they were narrow minded prejudiced assumptions based on precisely nothing.

Sausageeggbacon Fri 01-Feb-13 12:18:35

Normally I post once give my opinion and leave the thread but for a change

I asked DD what was her biggest issue about feminism, to her the issue is that certain sections of the more vocal (and radical) feminists preach that what they say in total is correct and anyone questioning what they are saying is a traitor. Rather than talking through and accepting different positions there is this stance of indoctrination or your not a feminist. This is her perception at 18.

As a mother I am much more concerned about the future for my boys to be honest, DD is much more capable of thinking for herself and deciding for herself although my opinion of Bindel and co may have influenced her.

Arcticwaffle Fri 01-Feb-13 12:27:37

I think it was ever thus, when I was a teenager in the 80s most girls and young women were not feminists, they didn't see the point, and similarly at university, the feminists were a minority.

And in my mother's generation there wasn't a huge proportion of feminists either (she grew up just before the 60's exploded, and missed all the excitement there).

I think feminism has always been something that only a few women in each generation really adhere to.

I don't understand why women aren't all on board the feminist wagon. Having always been a feminist, to me it's always been utterly obvious, just looking around, that women are doing too much of the housework and getting paid and promoted too little in their paid jobs, but other people are funny like that.

badguider Fri 01-Feb-13 15:49:39

As another thought - I was brought up in the 80s and went to University in the 90s both of which were very much the time of the individual when collective action of any sort was discouraged.
I grew up in an era where if you didn't like how YOU were treated then you would fight it, but do so as an individual. So you would be encouraged to take any discrimination against you at work to a tribunal as an individual but not necessarily encouraged to fight collectively for change on behalf of a whole group.
Things have changed slightly recently with the rise of online activism but I still think that collective action of any sort is viewed with suspicion.

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