Emerging from the Wilderness: Feminism 2012

15 / 11 / 2012

Feminism is back! Clementine Ford discusses the movement’s dormant decade and the fortuitous events leading up to a 2012 revival – including, of course, that speech.


 

“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever.”

Sexism and misogyny. It used to be that the mere mention of these words would have you painted as some kind of hysterical throwback to the 1970s, a hairy shrew with a wardrobe full of boiler suits and a poster on your wall loudly declaring I HATE MEN. If you happened to casually drop into conversation the fact that you were a feminist, the people around you might recoil in horror and quickly excuse themselves to do a nasal bath lest the fervent belief in gender equality prove to be contagious.

If the 1990s characterised devil-may-care womanhood and Riot Grrl, the early 2000s could best be described as round zillion of what Susan Faludi so famously referred to as ‘the backlash’. It was a three-pronged conservative attack against women’s liberation that first tried to reassure women that all their feminist battles had been won, then not-so-subtly suggested that perhaps all that freedom made women unhappy, before finally convincing the majority that feminists existed as a radical fringe group who hated everything and everyone that was decent and good. They told us we could have it all, but this turned out to be a lie that trapped women in a prison of their own aspirations.

In fact, it was the media that perpetuated the idea that feminism told women they could ‘have it all’. But because this is a logical impossibility, it was then repackaged and branded as the problem child of feminism. Not once has the conversation acknowledged that the reason women can’t have it all is because men currently do – and a large proportion of society seems to be focused on ensuring that liberation doesn’t put them out in any way whatsoever. It is a sad irony that women’s instructed animosity towards feminism has always, at its most insidious level, been about ensuring men retain the power society is so frightened of them having to give up. For a feminist coming of age at the start of this millenium, my political arena could have been a lonely place.

But it seems that these topics have been getting more of an airing recently. Perhaps it’s the accumulated effect of hearing United States male Republicans talk about things like ‘legitimate rape’ and abortion laws, or shock jocks accusing women of being ‘fat slags’ who are ‘destroying the joint’, or still more women being held to account for their own sexual assaults because they happened to be wearing skirts while drinking. Whatever the cause, the words ‘sexism’ and ‘misogyny’ have entered the zeitgeist once more. And with Julia Gillard’s recent evisceration of Tony Abbott in Parliament Question Time, it seems there are more women willing to stand up and declare their Network moment: we’re mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take it anymore.

In a blistering 15 minute oration that has since been watched over 2 million times on YouTube, Gillard crucified the Opposition Leader by detailing what she saw as his litany of offences: his view that women might be physiologically different from men and therefore less suited to leadership; his belief that abortion is used as ‘the easy way out’; his attempts to explain the impact of the carbon tax to women by referring to their ironing; and his complicity in standing next to protest signs that described Gillard as being another man’s ‘bitch’.

Apart from any political point-scoring (recent polls show that Gillard enjoyed a surge in popularity in the weeks following her speech), something in the Prime Minister’s steely determination spoke to women that day. Feminist writer and activist Karen Pickering put it thus: “We all recognised that look in her eye. It was the look of someone who’s had enough”. American feminist pop culture website Jezebel memorably described Gillard as a ‘badass motherfu**er’. And British author Caitlin Moran, author of the wildly popular feminist handbook How To Be A Woman, tweeted the video to her followers – some 300,000 of them. Women around the country rushed to social media to share their own tales of everyday sexism, confessing that they had had similar fantasies of annihilating a colleague or boss for persistently undermining them. Although there are cries of hysteria and overreaction, tellingly none of them seem to be coming from young women.

Instead, they’re voraciously gobbling up articles on pop-feminist websites, starting their own feminist art projects, participating in feminist marches and activist movements like Reclaim the Night and Slutwalk. The CW, an American TV network with a solid demographic of young women and teens, is even creating a drama about the second wave of feminism, with Mila Kunis as executive producer of the show. We have politicians clamouring to claim the title of feminist in order to appeal to the masses – a fact that would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago. The groundswell of support for feminism in 2012 is in part due to our inability to continue ignoring deeply entrenched sexism but it is also because we understand that every voice added to the outrage increases our sense of a safety net below us.

After a decade in the wilderness, it seems that feminism is finally becoming popular again. Halle-fuc*ing-lujah!

 

FacebookTwitter