Here’s a bit of smart-arsery I wrote for Edith Cowan University’s student magazine, GSM.
It has been out of vogue for a while, but we think the feminist movement might be poised for a come-back. So, GSM reviews feminism: hot, or not?
Feminism burst onto social scene in the 1700s, with the women’s suffrage movement. Oppressive patriarchy was hugely fashionable back then, but two tres chic Frenchwomen came up with a provocative new idea: women should be allowed to vote. Oh, la la! This new French trend started turning heads all over the world, until suffrage finally exploded in Britain.
Then feminism got really exciting. Not to be outdone by the French, the British suffragettes took extravagance to new levels. In London, 1907, the big look for Winter was ‘mud’ as over 3,000 chilly damsels marching through the sludgy streets. They were showing the British public their determination to be recognised as equal citizens, and they did it with breathtaking flair. Colours were dark, muted tones, with splashes of red and white. Protesters accessorised with matching red and white posies, bound with cute vintage hankerchiefs. And the girls really made a statement with their white banners and scarlet slogans. Feminism was hip; it was edgy. It was haute.
Of all the stylish ladies (and gents, John Stuart Mill!) who supported votes for women, none was hotter than suffrage it-girl Mrs Pankhurst. This gutsy goddess inspired countless women to starve themselves in the name of fabulousness. In the middle of one hunger strike, prison officials tried to barge into Mrs Pankhurst’s cell and force carbs down her throat. Our heroine raised a clay jug over her head and cried, “I shall defend myself!” The woman was fierce. Making civil rights fashionable was her lasting legacy – because, as she famously declared, freedom is to die for.
When women won the right to vote, the heady days of feminist militance and red posies seemed over. Feminism disappeared from view, only to return more fabulous than ever in the 60s. Feminist theory was back, and it was sexed-up. Fearless females were burning their bras (not designer, we hope!) and upping their erotic IQs. They were saying, ‘What if I don’t just want to be a wife and mother? What if I want to be a career girl, or a sex bunny, or a princess?’ YES. We loved the movement’s new mystique, and The Female Eunuch was a real page-turner, but sadly this new wave of feminism left us a little dissatisfied. After all those decades of fab fems working hard to get equal rights, it was still super hard for a girl to get ahead at work, and her bum was still getting pinched. By the time Y2K came around, we were pretty glum about the whole thing.
But all is not lost. Feminism may not be as exciting or as glamorous as it was last century, but it certainly has the classic appeal of self-righteousness. The movement’s central tenet – that life is way suckier for women than men – is hard to deny. A lot of the super un-fun stuff that women have to deal with (like childbirth, yuk!) is unique to the female sex. Men can never, ever understand what ladies go through, which is great for feminists – it gives them an edge in debates.
If you’re a white, middle-class woman living in a Western democracy, then feminism is a good fit for you. (If you’re a lesbian too, then bravo for going the extra mile!) For you, being a feminist requires very little maintenance. Mostly, all you have to do is keep being female. While one hundred years ago the suffragette sisters were starving themselves and risking beatings to defend their rights, now you don’t need to go that extreme. It’s easy to defend your rights; you don’t have to be employed, get an education, or even vote – you can simply say you’re exercising your right not to. Hurrah!
As social movements go, feminism is sounding pretty foxy, right? But wait. A lot of feminists you meet seem to wear comfortable shoes and hate men. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you have to! Follow these easy steps, and you’ll be prepared to respond to any questions about your feminism. In case a non-feminist challenges you, memorise this classic fact: ‘In Australia, women earn on average 17% less than men.’ (This is always a safe statistic to quote because it hasn’t changed in thirty years – it isn’t going anywhere!) Should a militant feminist ask you why you’re wearing heels and a Playboy bunny tee, simply learn this adjective: ‘post-feminist’.
So now you know all you need to become a fully-fledged feminista. You’ll feel smarter for being politically active, with the added bonus of moral superiority. Enjoy your newfound sisterhood, but remember one thing: never laugh at feminism. There is nothing funny about it.