Feminism: the modern con
- Published: 12 June 2010
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For the majority of women who haven't made men-friendly choices and followed the post-modern route of university-marriage-kids, equality still doesn't exist, and feminists have become a woman’s worst enemy, writes Lou LaRoche.
She was utterly at peace with how things worked - though described the division of household labour as "so traditional as to be almost embarrassing" - because, in her own words, "I could change my mind and do something else at any time".
Feminism has become passe. It's become one of those things that has outgrown itself and seems to lack relevance any longer. Women are equal now, right? Girls go to university, run companies, pop out babies, marry and dominate various fields.
The media loves to pour over stories of how Maggie, mother of three, 44, from Manchester has just finished a nursing degree and is now a manager with her local NHS trust. Well good for Maggie.
These figurehead totems around which all the rest of us are meant to worship are coming to represent something of a false-positive when it comes to the shape of modern feminism.
Women are programmed to believe that we can have it all: family, career, husband (who will support us no matter what), success, longevity, respect, fair pay for good work blah blah blah. But the truth is, feminism is still limited to playing the game according to the rules that a male-led society has given us girls.
This isn't feminism. This is being allowed to sit at the grown-ups table because we've been good. The truth of the matter is, equality - for the majority of us who haven't made men-friendly choices and followed the post-modern route of university-marriage-kids - still doesn't exist.
I'm feeling like I've been conned at the moment, and not by men but by these "radical feminist" types who seem to think that, actually, feminism isn't about the right for women to make their own choices, but, instead, it's about a woman's obligation to seek out inequality and challenge it.
These radical types will discount my circumstances because I didn't take the fight to the guys in the usual way; I didn't take a man into my home so that I could fight over the division of household labour and raising the children. Nor did I go to university so that I could take the struggle up in the workplace and make my demands to get equal pay (even when I take time off to have babies).
Ironically, perhaps, it is these feminists who are now limiting my equality - within my own gender. I am, apparently, a "less-than" woman; a bad soldier; a poor feminist. And all because I did it wrong.
I've always seen my life in three distinct sections: the adventure, the family, the career. I never fussed over university when I was 18 because I didn't know what I wanted to be and figured that I still had the first two stages to figure it out in.
So I lived and had my adventures. I did my dumb stuff, gathered my stories and got hold of a solid notion of who I was. I didn't challenge men (at least not deliberately and within the sphere of equality); I didn't need to: I never felt that equality was an issue and, besides, being a woman at that age was a huge advantage.
The naivety of my approach became solidly obvious when children fell into the mix; my lack-lustre approach to relationships left me destined to sink with a family that also viewed me as an outsider: by the time I was 23, I had lived a life so different from their experiences and expectations that they had no reference with which to work from.
And they certainly did not wish to take this strange new kind of creature as they found her. Nor, indeed, did they believe that there were yet choices for me to make. Feminism does not exist within my family: once you pop a child out, your own life is over.
Now comes the time when I'm looking to the sisterhood for a little help. One of their own wants to start on her third stage - the career - and needs a little help with it. And, given my circumstances - 33, single, disabled child, urge to go study at uni - you'd think they'd be leaping at the chance. I'm pure poster-girl material, no?
No. I'm really not. Ironically, it's men and women who don't classify themselves as "feminists" who are giving me the greatest push. And it's the hardcore feminists who are telling me that, actually, my fight is already lost.
Apparently my choices have rendered my Modern Woman Membership Card irredeemable at the point of sale and I need to get out of the queue and put my choices back upon the shelf.
A close friend has recently challenged me over the way I seem to have written myself off at 33. I hadn't realised this was the case until, furious with the accusation, I started to really consider how I'm approaching my life these days. And then I realised he was right. But where did this dismissal of my own value come from?
Sadly, it's not my generally-evil family, or even the idiot men I've surrounded myself with in the past. It's other women who make me feel like I'm already past my prime and should give up and accept my lot already.
This is the danger we typical girls face these days: the media loves to talk up women who do stuff successfully, but it makes the rest of us (who don't have our ducks lined up quite so tidily) feel like we will never deserve such lofty praise unless we're also prepared to live more (ironically) traditionally feminist lives.
And when it comes to the popular hard-hitting feminists (And I include every TV-haunting witch and columnist except Bonnie Greer), well, I've already made my choices and they didn't involve struggling to reach the top in a man-dominated world so I've not proven myself worth anything at all yet: I haven't earned my membership into the esteemed ranks of continuing-the-struggle feminists.
This, frankly, is nonsense. It's a con. Feminism was never meant to be about the struggle, but about what's to be gained at the end.
It's like saying the emancipation of black people was about rioting - not the eventual equality they were aiming to gain, or like saying disability equality isn't actually about people becoming more aware and accepting of disabilities but just about not using the word "retard" anymore. Likewise it's saying gay people just don't want to be called fags anymore and all the other issues - marriage and fair tax-breaks and so on - are irrelevant.
No, this is incorrect: feminism isn't about whether I've struggled in a man-led world or not, but about the choices I should have still coming to me: it's not about whether I'm woman enough to wear the label, but about whether I'm human enough to keep trying.
As with so many civil rights movements, feminism needs rebranding. Its original purpose has been lost during the efforts to make it accessible, acceptable and part of modern-day life.
The word "choice" is no longer associated with feminism (as the BBC documentary so nicely demonstrated). And, worst of all, those women who, we are told, are still fighting the good fight, now imagine that they get to cast the rules that the rest of us have to follow if we're to merit equality at all - whether it involves our lives in general or simply the feminist movement alone.
Which is ironic, if you think about it: Feminists have become a woman's worst enemy.
Lou LaRoche is associate editor of The Scavenger.