‘Feminism. Confusing, isn’t it?’ I recently opened a magazine to be greeted with this remark at the start of an article which was supposed to be about being proud to be a feminist. In another magazine the opening gambit was ‘do you use the F-word?’ It seems that the latest vogue for trying to ‘reclaim’ feminism is to debase and deny it in the first instance. Cosmopolitan magazine’s F-word campaign is supposed to be a way to ‘stand up and be counted as loud, proud, T-shirt wearing feminists’. It involves buying a T-shirt from the magazine that says ‘I use the F-word, do you?’
I fail to understand how one can call one’s self a ‘proud feminist’ when the T-shirt itself negates the use of the word ‘feminist’. ‘The F-word’ could be anything to the unsuspecting observer. If I saw someone wearing t-shirt saying ‘I use the F-word’ I’d believe they meant ‘fuck’, not feminism, and the assumption here seems to be that the word feminism is every bit as rude and unseemly as the word ‘fuck’.
The profit from the sales of these T-shirts doesn’t seem to go to any women’s charities, but to the magazine itself. A magazine that uses stick-thin models in their advertising and that assumes the heterosexist viewpoint in most of its articles that its readers are all on the hunt for ‘the perfect man’. Some may argue that to mention feminism at all is positive move in raising awareness. I, personally, don’t believe you can raise awareness by being incapable of mentioning your cause by its name in a magazine that seems to ignore a lot of feminist values.
In another magazine, I read an article about feminism written by a female pop musician, a supposed icon for young women. She writes, ‘people are exhausted by the concept [of feminism]. Me included.’ Call me a cynic, but I don’t feel this is the most insightful and inspiring way to encourage people to think about what feminism means to them. She continues. ‘With the invention of – I’ll just say it – the vibrator, men were becoming redundant in our worlds. We wanted not just to be as respected as men, we almost wanted to BE men.’ It seems this celebrity has an aversion to use of ‘inflammatory’ language as a whole. She can’t bring herself to say ‘vibrator’, just as she can’t bring herself to say the word ‘feminist’. This is a woman who is supposed to be the poster-girl for the F-word campaign.
The assumption is that feminism is a dirty thing, akin to sex toys and swearing and things that can’t be considered fit for public discussion. These articles align feminism with one cause only; the aim to equal men. For many of you reading I think you’ll agree that your own personal feminism has very little indeed to do with wanting to BE men. I find this definition of feminism to be highly disturbing as it negates all the positive aspects of my own feminism.
Feminism is not a one-cause movement, and one’s personal feminism can be radically different to the next feminist’s. Last year I had a conversation with a stranger during which I self-identified as a feminist. The person I was speaking to asked me ‘what kind of feminist are you?’ I had never thought of narrowing down my own feminism into an identifiable sub-section. The more I read about lesbian feminism the closer it appeared to align with my own views. Yet, in finding a kind of feminism that felt right for me, I didn’t wish to discredit feminism as a whole, or to refrain from using the word altogether at the risk of having my views mistaken.
The female pop musician I wrote about earlier writes that feminism is seemingly now associated with ‘aggression, bitterness and a hatred of men’. For some people, aggression is part of their activism, their inspiring force. Stupid magazine articles like this begin by citing what are supposed to be negatives to put people off feminism as a whole, then go on to define ‘femininity’ in a reductive and narrow-minded manner. If this is how feminism is marketed, I’m not surprised that people are frightened to use the word. I am a feminist because I don’t believe in constantly re-asserting that ‘feminism’ is a dirty word, and I never feel the need to replace it with other slogans. The ‘F-word’ may be a naughty word that we’re not supposed to say in front of children and people with delicate sensibilities, but ‘feminism’ shouldn’t be that ‘F-Word’. As far as I’m concerned, my ‘F-word’ is ‘fuck’, and combined with ‘off’ I feel that’s exactly what magazine articles like this should do, instead of damaging years of positive activism with flippant comments.