Feminism is such a dirty word.
The truth of the matter is its a filthy word that stirs up a beast in common people (myself included) who are either scared, threatened, intimated or unknowledgeable about the term and the meaning behind it. I discovered this over the last week when researching this theme, so much so it had me entangled between floods of tears, an enraged frenzy and fits of laughter.
So what is feminism?
“Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”
It all started when a post popped up on my news feed that made me look twice, at first I burst out laughing and then a furious wave of anger crept over me, the remark evoked frustration and I had to leave a comment – ‘Do you actually know what the term feminist means?’ It transpires that even in 2014 few people do, it’s still considered a taboo subject that most neglect and little want to approach and I honestly cannot understand why? Equality should be celebrated not scrutinised, discussed not brushed under the carpet and shared not hidden away, if only it was as elementary as equality, that would be manageable but I can’t overlook that this may just be the tip of the iceberg.
We are living in a generation of ‘lad culture’ where Kim Kardashian’s photoshopped buttocks fill our news feed and Dapper Laughs bombards our TV with sexist opinions and views promoting sexual abuse and rape. Women are oppressed in a predominately male world, girls more so than ever forced to relate and mimic celebrity icons, adding false hair, nails, lashes, enhancing body parts to become accepted not just by the opposite sex but by other women who are fundamentally de mode of any individuality, conditioned and programmed to look pretty, like the colour pink or become void of intellect, growing up to believe looks conquer all and fighting to achieve the label of footballers wife, It girl or reality TV star. A negative light still shines on the label feminist as men hating, bra burning, ball breaking, hairy legged aggravators but there should be no labels at all, no one should be stereotyped, pigeon holed or criticised especially for standing up for what isn’t just their beliefs but what should be a natural way of life. I’m not blaming the boys either, our society has major gender related issues that need to be pushed to the forefront. We need to open our eyes and understand the unfavourable manipulation.
The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
late 19th century: from French féminisme .]
Throughout the week I’ve used social media as the basis of my research, predominately Facebook and Instagram, most people use these on a daily basis, sharing depictions of their lives through photography, writing thoughts and feelings or reposting videos, pictures and quotes. I did exactly this, using feminism as the under current and sat back and watched the response. To my delight there was little criticism at first, a few sarcastic remarks which are easy to brush off. I was then confronted with a situation, I should have seen it coming but it hit me hard nonetheless. I was contacted by someone close to me, of male gender, airing his opinion on what he deemed to be a stupid, idiotic and belittling photo. There was mention of my daughter and could I really be considered as a good role model whilst uploading nude photos of myself? I instantly broke down, wept uncontrollably, removed all photos and posts regarding my research and planned to boycott the whole idea of raising this topic. Once again anger consumed me, under no circumstance were my photos sexual or offensive, if anything they were artistic and strategically thought out to provoke response whilst being unobjectionable and harmless. I thought of the umpteen uncompromising photos I’ve posted in the past where I’m incoherently drunk or raising my middle finger in an anti establishment stance, looking to create a notion of anarchy, no such response was ever given to these photographs so whats the problem now?Intimidation?
“Civilized Man says: I am Self, I am Master, all the rest is other–outside, below, underneath, subservient. I own, I use, I explore, I exploit, I control. What I do is what matters. What I want is what matter is for. I am that I am, and the rest is women & wilderness, to be used as I see fit.”
So where are all the revolutionists, instigators and non conformists prepared to put things right? To stand up to our over the counter culture and to educate our peers and future generations. Don’t worry they are here and they are putting women’s rights on the frontline, giving the term ‘Girl Power’ a new lease of life and these feminist protesters are making waves in your city in a peaceful, respectful, comforting and tender manner. There are no signs of smouldering lingerie, no one is being arrested and no men are harmed at these events.
SLAP TACK BANG!
Meet Caitlin Miller and Shauna McGregor, two punchy art students in their final year at Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art. Challengingly they have taken on board the task of producing a magazine as part of their studies and have combined fashion, art and social issues in what looks to be an exciting publication. The jubilant pair invited me along to a night of research aptly named ‘SLAP TACK BANG’. Amongst neon paint, glitter, gold foil, massive pants and a pink flamingo we shared discussions of current affairs including the Ferguson shooting and the recent ban of sex acts in the UK Porn industry. The girls encouraged visitors to write opinions and stick them on a wall to create a collage of ideas and points of view. A topic hugely discussed at the event was feminism which i delved deeper into with the pair and local artist Titi Finlay, it was enlightening to hear different thoughts on the controversial subject.
GG -There seems to be a surge of girl power here in Dundee right now and you amongst others are involved. I want to explore this movement and discuss how this wave of feminism has an impact on ourselves, our community and the future generation.
What are your views on feminism? Do you consider yourself as a feminist?
TT-Yes I’m a feminist and proud! Gender inequality does effect me from time to time, but i always put it right and stick up for myself. Im openly a feminist, and for me i think it just means that I support women and I am prepared to represent women. Misogynistic men are a huge problem – women and men always moan about each other and make fun of each other – its in our nature. but there are some men who still genuinely believe that women are sex objects, or things they can use and that is not right.
CM- I definitely consider myself a feminist, why shouldn’t men and women be equal? Feminism isn’t just about equality between men and women; I want to promote equality between different races and religions too. Gender is the main thing that comes under the heading of feminism but even that is really broad, it’s not just male and female, there is trans, cis, queer and so on. All of these people deserve the same, equal treatment.
SMc-Yes I am 100% feminist. What’s not to love about equality and peace on Earth? No two people share the same definitions of feminism, that’s a given. However, if we all share the same fundamental values we’re practically on the same boat. Because of online trolls, extremist etc it’s a shame that women have become less reluctant to speak out about their views on feminism and that’s what ‘SLAPTACKBANG!’ was really all about, getting people to be open and honest about the subject without discrimination.
GG-Although women of our generation are much more outspoken than previous, gender inequality is still a huge social issue within the workplace and in home lives. In my eyes equality should not be an issue at all, wether it be gender, race or religion. How can we shift the divide in a peaceful, modern manner?
TT-I think we need a leader. We need a Martin Luther King or a Malcom X but the leader for feminism should be like a rad icon who everyone respects. We just need someone to get through to the people who won’t listen and then it will all fall into place – it definitely needs to be brought into pop culture because thats what people listen to.
CM-Women need to stick up for each other, we should celebrate each other’s achievements, encourage each other and compliment each other. Like what parents always say ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’ that is spot on. What is the point of whispering about how bad someone’s outfit is in the bathroom at a club? It has literally no affect on you? Complimenting someone is so easy to do and it can completely change the kind of day someone is having. If you see something you like, maybe a pair of shoes or a lipstick colour, let the person wearing it know. Imagine how happy everyone would be if all that positivity was being shared. Making someone feel good about his or her self is great. Everyone should try to do it at least once a week.
SMc-Recently an old friend accused me of ‘taking the piss out of feminists’ and ‘being counter-productive towards what I am trying to achieve’ simply by quoting bra burning. I feel it is diabolical and completely naive to question the ideology of others with condescension. Where’s the girl-power in that? Revoke feminist card pronto.
Nowadays, feminism has no blueprint. We needn’t focus on the nitty-gritty definition of feminism and instead we should purely strive for equality and champion kick-ass, 21st century feminist vibes: neon, glitter, gold and ma-hoosive briefs with ‘feminist’ emblazoned across them.
GG-How do you feel about the growing girl power scene that’s happening in Dundee? Do you think it brings a positive or negative approach?
TT- Dundee is a very cool feminist city, and whats even cooler is that we all know each other. we can actually work together and collaborate and join the movement. we all support each other – especially in the art world. There are so many negative people in the world but it is because they are closed minded and brainwashed by conformity. its our job to open their eyes and promote peace and support.
CM-What has been happening in Dundee has been really inclusive, we want men to be involved in what we are doing, we want to teach them what it’s all about. This ‘girl power’ movement isn’t about having more power than anyone else, it’s just about feeling powerful, and feeling like you can achieve anything.
I love everything that has been happening in Dundee of late. It’s all very exciting.
SMc- Dundee is at the heart of creativity and girl power at the moment and by all means I want to be part of it. The results are completely positive. We are taking a stand for what we believe in. People catch on, people stop to look and think, what’s that, what are they up to, you know? You’re always going to have people disagree with you, so it’s cool to express how you truly feel. It’s better than sitting on your arse and doing nothing about it.
“FEMINISM is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a ‘bitch’ or ‘dyke’, it means you believe in equality”
I was overwhelmed with the positive outcome from the three powerful young women and my own thoughts and feelings ultimately mirror those above but I can’t help but yield the thought that by shouting out about femininity or gender equality we are creating more of a divide between female and male counterparts. I feels as though i have only just scratched the surface of this tender issue and each and every one of us will have our own personal reaction. My main objective is to create response, to get people thinking on what is one of the oldest and most powerful social debates. I discussed my feelings with performer and feminist Pauline Hynde, she has beyond no considerable doubt opened my eyes on the term feminism and explored avenues which I had little knowledge or previous consideration for.
PH- So first of all, I think we need to agree that the term ‘feminism’ is problematic. What does it actually mean? if feminism just means men and women should be equal, why not just talk about equality?
But of course, feminism doesn’t simply mean ‘equality between men and women’ – like even that would be simple! Even if we could wave a magic wand and ensure all women and men had equal pay, equal opportunities and so on, we would probably only be scratching at the surface of the deep rooted oppression we see and feel in the world which we see being directed at women and girls, to be female is to be the lowest of the low in some cultures. From the terminating of girl babies to the tradition that Hindu wives commit sati after the death of their husbands, from the stoning of women in Iraq to the gang rape of girls in India, to the trafficking of girls from Eastern Europe to be used up by a wide range of male abusers, to the routine rape and killing of ethnic women by enemy soldiers, I could give hundreds of examples. Across two thirds of the world to be a woman or a girl is about as empowering as being locked in a cupboard, battered and starved. So being born a girl presents a problem, in some cases the problem is how to survive (being a girl) or in a western white more privileged version how can I thrive ( being a girl) how can I be equal?
So when people talk about girl power, I feel a little bit uncomfortable. Not because I don’t enjoy seeing and hearing about women and girls feeling empowered, I love it! But because I feel we are being given the power within a very small circle where we are allowed to believe we are powerful, but that the limits of that power are still circumscribed by a system that I still think is best described as ‘patriarchy. What is patriarchy?
a. a form of social organisation in which the father is the head of the family, clan, or tribe and descent is reckoned in the male line.
b. a society based on this social organisation
a. an institution or organisation in which power is held by and transferred through males.
b. the principles or philosophy upon which control by male authority is based.
And that pretty much describes the world as it is now if you look around nothing much has changed these past few thousand years.
We can feel empowered within the circle of permission, but step out of that circle and see what happens, Slut shaming, victim blaming perhaps? Our rape laws still don’t protect women, victims are still blamed for not taking responsibility for the male’s inability to self regulate. Girls have to change how they dress rather than expecting boys to change their behaviour.
Women still mysteriously don’t get promoted to higher positions in business and politics. Women’s career progress is affected by the decision to have children and women do most of the unpaid caring in society too. Women who do ‘make it to the top’ ( whatever that means) are working within a patriarchal system that priviliges white rich men who lack basic empathy and humanity and act without awareness of what their white male privilege entitles them to by accident of birth. Some of those women end up behaving like those men and actually take the performance to a whole new level as with Margaret Thatcher who to my mind set back the cause of feminism for a generation.
And that last point takes me closer to what I want to talk about – because for me this isn’t about women and men. The pitting of women against men is just boring and should be relegated to a 1970’s sit com along with jaundiced stereotypes around ‘women’s lib’ and bra burning man haters. Its also inaccurate. But guys have got to get on board with this. They have to see the part they play and understand it. They have to learn about this stuff and come out as feminist. But so do women. Male privilege is a reality. Patriarchy is a reality. But the abuses of patriarchy are not confined to women, but extend to people of colour, to the working class, to liberals and libertarians, to free thinkers, to artists, to people who identify as Queer, Gay, Lesbian, Trans or Intersex and this is where an ‘intersectional analysis’ is really needed to show the complexity of the situation. In patriarchy the female is the next one down, that might be an actual female or it might be a lesser male ie someone deemed as having less power or privilege, a child for example.
So thinking about gender, If it is ‘natural’ for gender to be determined by our sex organs at birth, then why is there so much energy and time and effort taken by religious and political leaders supported by the media to ensure that girls act like ‘girls’ and boys act like ‘boys’. Why are toys gendered? Why are girls pink? Why don’t boys get to play with dolls and learn to nurture? Why do we police children’s emotions – boys – don’t cry – girls – don’t shout. Why is it the biggest insult for a boy to be told he is behaving like a girl?
Within patriarchy, who is more oppressed? A black male or a white woman? A working class gay man or a middle class trans woman? The genius of patriarchy is to pit one section of society against another within a Darwinian narrative , within an illusion of hierarchy, or the idea that things are black and white or this and that and to perpetuate an illusion of male solidarity which doesn’t exist. Case ref the the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the choke hold death of Eric Garner in New York. Both men died at the hands of police. So much for male solidarity.
Women don’t score too well on solidarity sometimes, we also believe we are better off as allies to men, or to the working class, or to some other sub section. We also turn on each other – women can be particularly judgemental when it comes to the policing of women’s bodies and choices and behavior in the name of ‘feminism’. The polarity of views around Beyonce is a good example – one set think she’s a role model, liberated, empowered, inspirational – another set think she should cover up and be more modest. But opinions about whether or not women should bear flesh or act sexy or express sexuality are missing the point. Freedom means it is up to the individual how they behave and what they choose to express, the last thing anyone needs is to be scrutinized to see if they meet the ‘feminist standard’ who calls these shots? And aren’t there more important things to focus on like war, poverty, child abuse, the destruction of the planet?
I identify on the Queer spectrum. I prefer not to use words like gay or straight as for me they suggest a binary, an either/ or, but I respect those who do. The term Queer for some LGBTI is problematic, as it was a word used historically to shame people with alternate sexualities. However, I find it empowering to reclaim it and use to encompass a more fluid and complex relationship to gender and sexuality. My Queerness is political it relates to my identity, my rights, the degree to which I am represented in society and feel empowered, feel equal.
For me, intersectional solidarity and the idea of allies is fundamental to future feminism. People need to consider what it means to be an Ally to someone who is female, who is Queer, who is disabled, who doesn’t have English as a first language, who is marginalized.
So where have we got to?
So its complex. But patriarchy exists and feminism is the response to it. The objection to it. Many men fail to see how patriarchy damages them and the world around them and buy into it. Many women also. There are many layers of prejudice, ignorance and fear.
A common thread is fear of other , fear of difference and our human tendency to project our shadow, our fears on to the ‘other’ the black person, the Queer person, that person acting strangely in the corner, that one who doesn’t look right. So we need to examine our own fears and our own prejudices. Our own shadow. That suggests we need to be engaging with consciousness and a more expanded view of what it means to be human.
Another thread is our inner conditioning, the ‘cop in the head’. Are we acting on our own beliefs and feelings or are we just triggered by our own conditioning to behave and act in different ways? I believe its each persons responsibility to crack the code of their own conditioning and to liberate themselves from that cop in the head by any means necessary.
Another one is knowledge – people need to educate themselves. Ignorance is not bliss. This is not a joke. People are dying. The earth is dying.
And essentially, patriarchy needs to be dismantled before we destroy ourselves.
This is not about women being in charge. I’ve had some shit female bosses believe me. But they weren’t feminists. Some believed they were. They embodied male mysognist competitive values. This is about men and women taking on feminine values. Co-operation. Nurture. Care of the planet. Child protection. Care of the elderly, the disabled and the vulnerable. Negotiation. Compromise. Self awareness. Self care. Not working ourselves into the ground, treating ourselves the way we treat our planet, our appliances, living more ethically. Giving priority to art, to culture, to the things of the soul. But its not all about being gentle. We need a ‘fierce feminism’ that says no more, that sheds light, that lights fires, that pricks consciences, that says enough, that names names and takes responsibility, but holds back from punitive expressions of power. That tells it like it is. We need a new way to be together, to share power, to make things happen, to create a space for the freedom we all should have.
As an artist, I’m interested in what lights that spark in the brain and what is it that’s getting switched on.
I don’t know if I’m too comfortable with the idea of being a feminist role model, but I do bring these ideas into my art and I can see those neurons firing around the room during a performance when its good. In men and women it happens. For one person it might be the moment they felt something emotional. For another it’s the way a particular idea or phrase hits home. For another it’s a visual metaphor. For another permission to make their own art. For another a connection to an event. When people feel solidarity and connection at a performance, it is as close as I have come to my ideal society. Diverse, equal, connected, all taking up space, all sharing in something greater than one person. I’m well aware of the power and privilege the platform of performance gives me and I try to use it well. As a 50 year old I no longer feel oppressed by patriarchy’s demands that I be young, pretty, skinny etc. I love that I’m up there in lingerie and a monkey mask satirising patriarchy with men trembling in the front row in case I decide to target them in my act. Now that is feminist or what I call FEMME power! Sexuality is such a commodity within patriarchy it is the main way that women are controlled and shamed and subjugated so for me it’s a political act, it’s a subversive act to take charge of that and use it within my performance. I am literally performing femininity. I’m performing gender. As Judith Butler outlines in ‘Gender Trouble’ we learn to become male or female. Biology isn’t destiny. And patriarchy isn’t destiny either, its held together by individuals and can be changed by individuals. Those individuals are called feminists. Ya bass.
“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
Long live the VEF and life is such a drag QUEEN!