I’m a feminist but…

What might it feel like to have to qualify the statement “I am a feminist” with “…but that doesn’t mean I want to sleep with you.” ?

Fossicking about on twitter, this blog-post http://halftheworldiswatching.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/the-feminism-discovery/ by @sophwarnes caught my eye.

I was struck by several remarks in the piece. Like this one:

To me, feminism has long been shorthand for ‘sleeping around and not caring’.

And this:

…my view of what counts as feminism had largely been propagated to me by men who are “feminists”. I don’t doubt they genuinely believe in equality between the sexes – but they use this as an excuse and a way to cajole women into bed.

Wow! These were eye-openers to me. There are many myths about what feminism does or doesn’t mean, but can there really be a need for women and men who self-define as feminists to clarify that feminism doesn’t mean constant female sexual availability?

I’ve been on the receiving end of some dodgy chat-up lines in my time, and like every woman I know, I’ve been subjected to frequent and unwelcome doses of uninvited slap-arsery. I’m guessing I’m probably 20 years older than @sophwarnes and now a mother of four, yet that kind of attention hasn’t stopped. But…no man has ever directly or indirectly implied that I should be having sex with him because I’m a feminist.  I’m not disagreeing with @sophwarnes. Her experience is real. I find it interesting that my experience has been so different and wonder if I’m from a generation of feminists where that argument isn’t tried because it just doesn’t cut ice.  

As far as I can gather the original twitter traffic (which I didn’t see) that led to @sophwarnes’ blog was about whether or not men can self-define as feminist; and if they do, what that means in terms of their expectations of and behaviour towards women. 

In my professional life I work with men who absolutely self-define as feminists (and – of course – some who don’t); my husband is clear that he is a feminist too. Again, these are mostly people in their thirties, forties and fifties. If they qualify their feminism at all it will be by saying something like “I’m a feminist, but I’m not sure about all-women shortlists” or, “I’m a feminist, but I don’t think positive-discrimination is appropriate” or maybe “I’m a feminist but that doesn’t mean I think all men are rapists” (a 1970s disclaimer). I don’t think any of these men would think it necessary to say “I’m a feminist but that doesn’t mean I think women should be sexually available at all times”. I am sure they would think that notion was nonsense. They understand that feminism is about equality as a human-being, nothing more or less. They also understand that systemic gender inequality still persists in many areas of life and needs to be rectified. If they think about feminism in terms of sexual activity they would accept that it means that women have a right to say ‘yes’ to sex and a right to say ‘no’ and a right not to be judged, whichever decision they make. Just like men. 

So where I part company with @sophwarnes is that I do doubt that these men she writes about are genuinely committed to equality between the sexes. Men who use the term feminism to cajole women into bed are lazy, inadequate, manipulative or all three. And they are treating the women they cajole with disrespect. They are no different from the ones, back in the day, who used to say: “If you really loved me you would”; or “If I don’t get any, it makes my balls ache” or “My wife is happy that we have an open marriage” or any of the other woeful, desperate manoeuvres that get played out in bars, clubs and parties or other places sad men try to pull.

No cajoling should be necessary. Men sometimes lie to get sex, but lots of men are simply sexy, interesting, fun. Good to go to bed with; if that’s your thing. 

So, lets fine tune our radars, work out which is which. Be a feminist. Say ‘yes’, or say ‘no’. And let’s not accept others’ judgements about that decision.

I am a feminist. No buts.

2 thoughts on “I’m a feminist but…

  1. Thanks Luise. I hadn’t read that before. I think I can understand something of the frustration of finding a movement that should value all women, act in all women’s interests and support the attainment of equality for women in every sphere of life but instead is fragmented, cliquey and excluding.My own approach would not be to seek to establish an alternative to feminism, but to work to ensure that the feminism that I am engaged in is genuinely inclusive in practice. I am happy to be challenged on this point.

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