It's not the label I would have chosen for the movement that fights gender-based oppression.

But if there's going to be a such a movement, and as long as it doesn't call itself something egregious (such as "All Men Are Rapists"), I will identify myself as a part of it. You won't hear me saying "Don't get me wrong, I'm not a feminist."

This has been a public service announcement from Deborah "feminist babe" 909

"And all the while everyone who uses his brain knows that Socialism, as a world-system and wholeheartedly applied, is a way out [of the Great Depression]. [...] What I am concerned with is the fact that Socialism is losing ground exactly where it ought to be gaining it. [...] It means that Socialism, in the form of which it is now presented to us, has about it something inherently distasteful - something that drives away the very people who ought to be flocking to its support."

George Orwell: The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937 (emphasis mine)

Of course in the long run socialism was ultimately accepted as the only moral system of governance - so much so that the join, these days, is difficult to see. Western European countries are more or less "socialist" in terms of how they describe themselves, but all have imbued the values of socialism to such a degree that those values now seem inalienable from democracy itself. That is why we all enjoy universal access to education, state sponsored or subsidised healthcare, pension and disability pay, the minimum wage, a less than 7 day working week, holiday allowances etc.

Very much in the same vein, in many countries women today enjoy access to education, universal suffrage, a degree at least of reproductive freedom, the right to seek divorce etc., all thanks to the zealous and active efforts of generations of feminists. And yet the very people who one would expect to be most alive to these advantages are often those who seek to distance and disassociate themselves from feminism, Feminism and everything in between, citing variously vague notions such as "man-hating feminazis" or taking a denialist position on discrimination because they don't perceive it to have touched them.

Such people often argue that feminism is itself to blame for creating this antagonism, and that the roots of this opprobrium are firmly planted in the fertile soil of some, invariably apocryphal, feminist excesses. The reality is, however, that the majority of people have very rarely been exposed to anything but third- and fourth-hand "quotations" from actual feminist scholarship, and yet some find it convenient to accept hostile interpretations as being the thing and the whole of the thing. Both sides of the resulting debate can then go on to use the sketchiest of thinking and the most inflammatory of arguments; indeed there is no IQ requirement to being a feminist.

As with any complex topic, expecting the lay person to separate fact from fiction is an unprofitable and perhaps unfair exercise; but it becomes a necessity when said lay people begin to think they know what they're talking about when they denounce "radical feminism", "the feminist fringe" and "those hysterical feminists who have given feminism a bad name". Indeed there has been much ink spilled and much air time wasted in an effort to make the general public understand what it doesn't care to understand, be rationally informed about what it would rather have conveniently caricatured, and seriously debate what it would prefer to address by shouting slogans across a familiar line in the sand, so well-worn as to have become a chasm.

In order not to seem to be dismissing the general public as fundamentally stupid, it is useful to draw on the work of another great thinker. In his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea philosopher Daniel Dennett engages, very generously and feelingly, with the various objections to and reservations about the theory of evolution by natural selection. His basic thesis is that Darwin's insight has such far-reaching implications that even today some people are wary of accepting the full breadth of it unreservedly, because somewhere down the line they foresee a cherished notion being challenged: not only the truth of the Bible, but the idea of free will, the theory of human conciousness and many of our moral precepts are all undermined by the idea of dumb trial and error as the only motive force behind the world as we know it.

Similarly the notion of feminism, while superficially simple ("the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men"), could have such dramatic consequences to the ordering of society that it must be disorienting and intimidating. A lot of these consequences are not the things people argue about (e.g. equal pay), but ones they instinctively feel looming ahead. After all, clinical psychology, the economics of marriage, the structure of work remuneration, religion, fairy tales, mother-in-law jokes - all would need re-defining in a world where real equality between the sexes is the universal norm. The resistance created by these dimly perceived anxieties translates into a (seemingly obtuse, but actually understandable) refusal to accept the obvious logic and justice of the feminist position.

The natural consequence of people seeing feminism as a threat in this way is that they vehemently resist subscribing to its ideals. So far as the purely political goes, it is possible for our society to grow and develop through a fertile dialectic between feminism and other, complementary philosophies such as environmentalism, existentialism etc., and every person must choose for themselves the prism through which they think it is important to view the world in order to make it better.

What is ethically repugnant and logically unacceptable, however, is the craven hubris of enjoying the gains of a movement - any movement - while smugly alienating oneself from its supporters and remaining fearful of full identification with its causes. To take the gains of 150 years of feminism with both hands and then sneer at the people who have struggled to make them is as morally indefensible as to say "enough - we should have such benefits as I have been lucky enough to enjoy, and no more" .

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