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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

Balancing educating others with being a shouty feminist....

34 replies

AnnieLobeseder · 03/05/2011 22:57

Hi ladies

Well, as happy as I am to have discovered feminism and to be thinking about feminist issues more, I have found that all my posts on Mumsnet now seem to be feminism-based, and I suspect I'm becoming something of a bore to the rest of MN Smile.

What worries me most is turning into one of the feminists who used to put me off identifying more closely with feminism, the shouty ones who tell you you're wrong and ignorant if you don't believe what they do.

And it's very hard, when you see something so clearly as sexist and oppressive while other women don't, not to shout at them and ask why they can't bloody well see what's before their eyes!!

Like the rash of threads about Mrs/Miss/Ms there have been lately. That's a subject I've always felt very strongly about, even before my recent feminist reawakening. I can see why some women blindly follow the social tradition to change their title to Mrs when they get married. But I cannot see how any woman can seriously examine the issue, think hard about what being called Mrs really means for women, and then happily go on being a Mrs anyway. I just can't.

So on those threads, I can feel myself getting little shouty, although I know I won't win anyone over that way.

On the other hand, if I encountered someone who felt very strongly that women should wear trousers and never wear make-up, I'd disagree strongly and say it doesn't make me less of a feminist if I occasionally want to look pretty. But a very militant extreme feminist might disagree - because although I personally am not oppressed enough to feel that a woman's look are so important that I can't go out without my 'face' on, other women are. So all make-up is bad to this fictional other feminist.

Extreme example but I hope you know what I mean.

So if women are saying that they personally are not oppressed and de-valued by being their DH's 'property' by calling themselves Mrs, even though it perpetuates ways to keep women subservient, should I accept that and not be endlessly frustrated with them?

I'm rambling. I hope someone can figure out what I mean.

I think what I'm trying to ask is, am I wrong to get so frustrated by women who happily live with sexist societal norms, because another feminist who has reached a 'higher level of enlightenment' might see me in just the same light?

At what point do you draw the line in trying to educate? Just make your point once and hope it sinks in? Keep debating? Get drawn into an argument about how women are their own worse enemies?

Is it something I'm likely to get better at with experience?

My heartfelt congratulations to anyone who can figure out what I'm trying to say here. It sounded much clearer in my head!

OP posts:
littlesez · 04/05/2011 00:03

Whilst you think its ok to wear make up, another person may disagree. That doesnt make you wrong.

But same goes for the mrs thing surely?

At what point do you draw the line? Its really upto you how much energy you have! I mean there are many many issues you could fight for what you believe in all day if you choose but you would be exhausted.

your not wrong to be frustrated because of something you feel strongly about we all have stuff that gets us annoyed.

dittany · 04/05/2011 00:04

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AliceWorld · 04/05/2011 08:38

There isn't a hierarchy of feminists like that. There's individual people. How do you ever communicate your views to others? Do that. People use and like different approaches. The person that puts you off something, turns others on to something. Horses for courses. May well change over time with different experiences, but it takes all types.

dittany · 04/05/2011 08:40

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EvelynBakerLang · 04/05/2011 08:47

Snort at dittany.

JessinAvalon · 04/05/2011 08:57

It's not something I manage very well. I think that living your own life by the principles you believe in sets an example for others who may not have thought about it (eg the Ms/Mrs thing) and gives other people courage to follow.

The only frustrating thing about that though is that it operates on a long time scale and, like you, I want to shake people's shoulders and say 'don't you see??'

fluffles · 04/05/2011 09:01

to some people Mrs does not mean husband's property (whatever it used to mean) it means 'entered into a loving and equal partnership' to THEM.

just like to some people, make up and plucking is the worst expression of the patriarchy and to pander to it in any way is to show you're nothing but a sex-toy.

you need to accept that the things that you choose to shout out about are not the most important in an objective way, they are your subjective priorities.

zikes · 04/05/2011 09:09

I feel inclined to argue with you about your wording: "it doesn't make me less of a feminist if I occasionally want to look pretty."

Cos to me, the implication is that a woman in her natural state of unmade-up-ness isn't pretty.

And if you think about that, it is quite a disturbing thought. If you'd said 'glammed up' or something, that'd be another thing. This isn't about me trying to make you throw away your make-up 'though. Grin

I think too often people get told they're being too loud/too strident when it's just that the people they're talking to aren't comfortable with what they're hearing and don't want to listen.

I wouldn't worry about being 'shouty'.

meditrina · 04/05/2011 09:10

I'd say that it's not helpful to look on it as education. That's not something possible really in context of other adults (unless they've signed up for classes from you).

It's not about being right or wrong it's about being persuasive. That means avoiding shoutiness, thinking about there the other person is coming from, and stating your case; and not expecting to see results in terms of immediate change, just in terms of getting your thoughts into the debate. Even this may well provoke an abreaction - especially if you say something that goes against the group-think of a thread - but the more thoughtful posters might just listen to what you are actually saying rather than seeing difference as hostile.

Bonsoir · 04/05/2011 09:12

Yes you should respect other people's choices within the law. If you want the law changed, go through the appropriate channels.

cokefloat · 04/05/2011 09:29

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AyeRobot · 04/05/2011 10:21

I've been thinking about this a lot recently, Annie, and have stepped back from posting much because I found myself typing replies that were out of character for me, then deleting them. Which doesn't really get anyone anywhere.

A few things that I have to remember are that my truth is not the same as someone else's and it is not my job to change that individual's mind. Indeed, it would be arrogant of me to have that as a goal. I think that on open forums, it helps me to "post with the lurker in mind". Also, attraction, not promotion, is much more powerful. Laying out opinion and/or facts to be accepted or rejected and not having a personal stake in which stance is taken works for me on other forums. I have to let go of the outcome otherwise I damage myself and my argument. It's only because I'm a newby feminist with all the zeal and passion that entails that I am not able to be more measured. That's for me to deal with, not anyone else.

A big hurdle for me in having the kind of discussions that you describe is that I understand the default, accepted stance that I am arguing against. That's because I lived it for a long time and it is around me all the time in the mainstream. So, endless arguing with posters whose stance I understand but who are unwilling to even start to understand my viewpoint is frustrating. When the wires get crossed, deliberately or not, over dozens of posts back and forth, I have to bow out.

Challenging the status quo, even by simply asking questions, is always going to lead to confrontation and defensiveness. It was helped me to read contentious threads elsewhere because I can see that the dynamics are exactly the same, whatever the subject. Posters trying to get other people to just stop and think about why they hold a particular viewpoint are routinely misunderstood, personally attacked and have their posts interpreted in a way that was never intended.

I don't really have any answers yet, so will keep reading this thread with interest. Thank you for starting it.

Oh, just seen that Shami Chakrabarti is doing a webchat at 1. The theme of this thread (how to be effective (whatever your cause) in the face of opposition) would be a great question to ask her.

everyspring · 04/05/2011 10:36

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sakura · 04/05/2011 10:47

THis is how I get around it.

I only bother talking things I personally strongly believe in, the things that I have thought deeply about, over a long period of time. OFten the conclusion I have reached, with the help of other feminists (by reading their work and what have you) will not be anything you see in the mainstream media.

It doesn't matter how persuasive you then try to be with that point of view, there will be people out there determined never to get what you are talking about; there will even be people out there purposely obfuscating your arguments for the lurkers. There will be people who take what you're saying personally, when it's not personal, it's a political POV based on an analysis of power. THere is the subject of cognitive dissonance. There are so many factors involved. You cannot make someone see , when they are heavily invested in not seeing.

All you can do is keep throwing spaghetti at the wall and hope some of it sticks.

InmaculadaConcepcion · 04/05/2011 10:57

I think it also depends on the recipient (!) as mentioned above.
Some people love to argue the toss and will get a lot from a lively debate on the subject and - yes - may even (eventually) change their views.

Others, as you say, will be put off by anything stated too assertively (for whatever reason) and lots of people will get fed up if they feel they're being preached or lectured at.

It reminds me of the time when I was at Uni I was a meat-eater surrounded by veggies. I felt on the defensive for my eating choice and was determinedly anti-veggie for a time.
But within a couple of years, I turned vegetarian myself and still am - while at least some of my previous preachers have re-introduced fish and/or meat into their diet.

So even the lecturing/preaching approach can get results.

Humour is one good way, I find - pointing out something with a witticism or two is often better received than ranting/lecturing/preaching etc. etc.

Interesting thread.

dittany · 04/05/2011 11:32

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ElephantsAndMiasmas · 04/05/2011 12:14

Interesting question, OP.

Like dittany, I think releasing your inner shoutiness can be very powerful for women, and perhaps it can be genuinely helpful for other women to witness people who are willing to be very loud and outspoken and uncompromising in declaring that women are people and deserve the rights that go with that. Annoyingly I can't find a link to the video, but I recommend reading Finn Mackay's speech at Feminism in London 2010 for an idea of what I mean.

I suppose the answer depends on your audience. If I'm speaking to my friends (who are not knobheads) I tend to try to "model" by e.g. declaring that I use "Ms" or that I will not change my name on marriage, or by mentioning things I have read in the papers (often a lie because I have read about them here or on feminist blogs :o) about legal threats to women's rights - and I suppose this is part of what they used to call consciousness raising.

If I'm speaking to someone who seems hostile I am more into the piss-taking technique. I never shout though, at least I don't remember getting angry with the people - my anger is directed at the people who are responsible for the issues we are dealing with. Politicians here and abroad who are trying to roll back women's rights, plastic surgery companies who make a living making women feel like they need cutting up in order to be acceptable, media commentators who dissect the appearance of women in the public eye etc.

ElephantsAndMiasmas · 04/05/2011 12:16

Oh oh AND: Women are certainly not their own worst enemy. Put the blame where it belongs. It's easier to get annoyed with the women who go along with it but bear in mind that they're living within a patriarchal framework which is not of their creation.

sakura · 04/05/2011 12:17

I think you do sometimes need to bring the subject onto your own territory.

So if I say, "women should never ever live with men ever" most people are like this Shock But sometimes when you frame the argument on your own terms it helps move things forward. For example after reading that line, it would then be very difficult for someone to say that a woman should "try to make it work" with an abusive husband, or with one who has had an affair.

dittany · 04/05/2011 12:20

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SybilBeddows · 04/05/2011 12:36

you've persuaded more than a few I think Dittany.

what often happens on Mumsnet IME, with this and other subjects, is that people don't admit they are wrong on that thread but it slowly sinks in and they think it over and on a different thread in the future they say they've changed their mind.

I think, in the end, it's not worth worrying about whether people agree with you or not, because ultimately it's out of your hands. What matters is whether you've made yourself clear: discussions I would like to go back to and do differently are the ones where people have genuinely misunderstood what I'm saying.

SybilBeddows · 04/05/2011 12:38

also that fabulous Overton Window concept is useful here.
you may not have actually changed someone's mind but you've moved the window in which their thoughts on that subject happen.

eg they may not be about to give up porn but they know that there's a large body of opinion among people their own age saying there are problems with it, it is not the case that EVERYONE thinks it is ok.


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MrIC · 04/05/2011 12:39

Well, obviously people have to use their own judgment as to what the situation merits, but I've generally found that (with adults at least) a teaching technique called "guided discovery" works best. Not just with feminism, but with anything.

The idea - briefly - is to lead people to the desired conclusion/teaching aim covertly. You provide the "learner" with evidence and raw material, and ask neutral, prompted questions that guide them towards making the discovery for themselves. Its more effective than dogmatic lecturing as it means the learner has joined the dots in the logic themselves, rather than just being told "this is so because it is", and interpreted the evidence in their own way, rather than being told how to interpret it.

Of course, as Sakura pointed out, some people are invested in not seeing things, and will deny the obvious (and uncomfortable) truth in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This is when a little knowledge of logic can go a long way, by taking the stubborn git learner through the argument step by step. (e.g. Do you agree men and women are treated differently? Yes. Do you agree married women and unmarried women are treated differently? Yes. Do you therefore agree that a person will be treated differently depending on whether they preface their name with Mr, Ms, Miss or Mrs? Yes)

Prolesworth · 04/05/2011 12:41

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ElephantsAndMiasmas · 04/05/2011 12:44

Ooh yes I was going to say Overton Window Sybil! (And I love this thread.

It's true - you sow the seeds of knowledge that there is another framework in which to think about things. And if people have latent feminist feelings then it might help them to become more confident in thinking about them/expressing them.

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