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Three Popular Myths About Feminism Briefly Busted

2013 April 24

I am supposed to be writing about Bioshock Infinite right now (which is amazing and you should all play it right bloody now) but then, something happened.

Something long-awaited, occasionally hoaxed, but nobody was ever entirely sure would ever come to pass…THE SUN CAME OUT AND SPRING ARRIVED IN THE UK, FINALLY. And also there was the death of 87-year-old Margaret Thatcher of a stroke at the end of a protracted illness.

And lo, the internet did have a field day. Twitter was a maelstrom of popping corks, whitewashing of one of the darkest times post-war Britain has faced, and joyous choruses of that song from The Wizard of Oz, all alongside expressions of disgust for every aspect of the reaction. The 8th of April 2013 will go down in Twitter history as a bona fide fustercluck.

I Need Feminism Because... sign

Photo: Laura Forest (for more info, see link at end of this post)

The New Statesman ran a brief and to-the-point piece about whether or not Thatcher could or should be considered a feminist icon. In the words of the Iron Lady herself, “I hate feminism. It is poison.”

So far, so cut-and-dry. But her words have been niggling at me somewhat. She’s not the first woman to denounce and distance herself from feminism. Nor will she be the last. But I cannot help but wonder what would drive a woman who would never have reached her position without feminism to speak out against it with such contempt.

While we can now only speculate on why her personal views were what they were, I’m reminded of a few arguments I hear with disheartening frequency about why feminism isn’t needed and why feminists need to shut up.

Spoilers: I am neither moved nor convinced by any of them.

1.I don’t need feminism. We have the vote. It’s done. Women are totes equal. Get over it.

This line of reasoning barely dignifies a response beyond pointing out, somewhat wearily, that it’s demonstrably untrue. Whether we’re talking pay gaps, sexual abuse, street harassment, representation in politics, assumptions about childcare arrangements or anything else in an endless list of smaller inequalities adding up to a great big unequal world. Yes, women in the UK have it better than at any point in the past; no, that doesn’t mean that equality has happened.

2.I’m just ‘one of the lads’ in my social group/place of work. Feminists are trying to drive a wedge between me and the men in my life by making a fuss over nothing.”

It is wonderful to be accepted as socially or professionally equal to men. Yet I felt bile rising in my throat as I typed that. Being “one of the lads”, while harmless on the face of it, is an argument that has some rather unpleasant meanings once you place it under scrutiny. It panders directly to the “man, rather than person, as default” rhetoric that pervades almost every corner of our society.

This line of reasoning erases feminine identities and elevates stereotypically masculine traits or interests as something one should aspire to and work towards, something essential for social acceptance. There is internalised misogyny afoot every time a self-proclaimed “ladette” crows about chugging pints of beer, watching a match, ogling boobs or besting her boyfriend at Modern Warfare 2. The heavily implied sentiment here is “these are all MAN things and I am more like a MAN for doing them and that puts me above all of you feminists trying to spoil my fun.”

None of these activities are inherently “gendered”, and the fact you behave like they are is sort-of-kind-of-rather undermining those of us genuinely striving for equality.

3.Everybody should be judged on merit. Feminism is trying to give women a leg-up over men and that is unfair!”

Yes, the promotion of one group of people over another based on nothing but their attributes at birth is inherently unfair, and no, this is not what the majority of feminists want.

Feminists LIKE men. In fact, plenty of feminists ARE men. Feminism is about reaching equality, or parity, whatever you want to call it. It is a movement against the oppression of hundreds of years. In most fields of employment, and certainly at the highest levels, women are underrepresented. If you really believe that we already exist in a meritocracy, how else could you account for this disparity without the spurious notion that “men are just better at everything, LOL”?

Feminists are not seeking to take anything away from men: they are simply trying to level the still-slanted playing field so that the ball stops rolling into the men’s goal by default. Sure, it’s not the vertiginous cliff face it once was, but the angle of elevation still very much favours the dudes. If you want a meritocracy, you have to submit to its conditions. If you believe the only way you can succeed is by ensuring that the oppressive status quo is maintained, then you may need to revisit your understanding of the term “individual merit.


These are just three of the more common arguments I hear. From women with whom I am friends, it’s troubling, but can at least be the start of a constructive dialogue. From women in the public eye, however, from politician to pop star, these are toxic messages that reinforce oppression and can thwart the ambitions of girls and women.

The cognitive shift from “Hey, I can do that, and I happen to be a girl!” to “I would like to do that, but I’m a girl” may sound subtle, but its impact is potentially devastating. The dismissive words of a high-achieving female role model can make all the difference, so it’s vital that we understand that these women would not be where they are today without feminism and that their public declarations show a fundamental lack of understanding about the ongoing struggle for equality.

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