Why is feminism still relevant?
- Published: 18 April 2010
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Today as much as ever, feminism as an analytical tool is imperative to enabling people to question limitations, assumptions and damaging binaries, providing a framework for examining the world and collectively working on responses to marginalisation and oppression writes Siri May.
In order for me to answer the question of why feminism is still relevant, I think it’s important to first for me to outline a definition for feminism. In fact, the more I have thought about it, I believe the question of relevancy is actually answered in an exploration of definition.
In its simplest form for me feminism is an analytic tool with which to view, critique, deconstruct and reconstruct the world around me.
What essentially attracts me to feminism, is the fact that it is so heterogeneous in nature. Feminism changes over time, space, experience, and between people. And I think here in lies its beauty and also its relevancy. It is ever evolving just as the social constructs it aims to critique and question.
In fact not only does feminism evolve in response to external change, but it is also inherently self-questioning, and therein too lays a mechanism for evolution. Rigidity is not a concept that I find particularly attractive, and I believe it is as sure a way as any to reach a place of irrelevance as it can easily obstruct observation and adaptation.
My relationship with, and understanding of feminism has changed significantly over time, but it has always been incorporated into my daily practice. I use a range of feminist frameworks to analyse my world and assist me in my choices.
For me now, at this point in my life, feminism is primarily about gender, and not necessarily in the way that I have previously understood it. Gender in this context (as many of us in this room believe) as a social construct, can be, and often is a tool of oppression – and I do not just mean for women.
I believe the simplification of gendered constructs, the resistance to fluidity of gender performance and the way in which society positions these constructs can lead to experiences of great pain, oppression, marginalisation and isolation for people of all genders, not just the construct of ‘woman’.
This is not to say that I don’t still see and struggle against a set of inequities I believe are still faced by women in our societies, both locally and globally. In my case much of this struggle has been in the context of the intersectionality between sexuality and gender.
My professional life has actually been dominated by working primarily with and for women. My work has had as its aim the exploration of ways in which women, especially those who sit in the subject position of lesbian, queer or same-sex attracted, can collectively seek out dialogue, information, support and access to communities as a counter point to the invisibility of positive queer women in our society.
Feminism had underpinned all of these explorations for me.
The most significant example of this has been my work at [Sydney queer health organisation] ACON. This has began in the context of my work with young lesbians and queer women, and later in lesbian and same-sex attracted women’s health more generally, including collaborative work in South East-Asia and in Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander health.
In my work I have found such a sound and trust worthy friend in my evolving feminist practice. It has assisted me in effectively operating within a system and a paradigm dominated by male constructs of sexuality and gender.
I have been able to identity historical explanations for the invisibility of lesbianism in medical, legal and social discourse. This process of understanding has then assisted me in advocating for addressing this absence and moving forward constructively.
Later my friend feminism helped me learn to understand and appreciate gendered constructs within other cultural contexts, especially working with lesbian refugees seeking asylum in Australia, and exploring human rights violations against women who have sex with women in a range of South East Asian contexts.
So in this sense I believe that today as much as ever, feminism as an analytical tool is imperative to enabling people to question limitations, assumptions and damaging binaries.
It provides a framework for examining the world and collectively working on responses to marginalisation and oppression.
For me, it never really provides definitive answers, but it is perfect in its ability to help frame questions.
Feminism is one of the primary tools that enables me to operate in the world in a way, which is in line with my values and ethics – and for me nothing could be more relevant that that.
This is an edited version of a presentation given by Siri May at the ‘F’ feminist conference in Sydney, 10-11 April 2010.
Siri May grew up in a matriarchal family structure and on a diet of feminist literature and film. She was lucky enough to find further feminist inspiration and mentoring by landing her dream job at The Feminist Bookshop at the tender age of 21.
Since then Siri has had extensive experience working in the field of health promotion, community development and advocacy within gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (GLBTQ) communities.
Siri began working in the field in 2001 and played a pivotal role in the implementation of the Same-Difference Program, an anti-homophobia and affirming sexual diversity program in high schools and education settings at FPA Health. In 2004 Siri co-established The Young Women’s Project at ACON, Australia’s first permanent peer education program for young same-sex attracted women.
Siri has served as a committee member of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, as a director on the ACON board, and as an Australian Services Union delegate. She continues to work within the GLBTQ community in her role as the Co-ordinator of The Lesbian and Same-Sex Attracted Women’s Project at ACON and as a director on the New Mardi Gras board.