Feminist: An advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women. This simple dictionary definition may be what many feminists want this label to mean. However, this title has been imbued with so many different connotations from those both claiming to be ‘”feminists” and those who oppose them, that this clear-cut definition is now far from the true reality of the word.
This is not to say that feminists are not, in the vast majority, simply supporters of the rights and equality of women. Where this gets complicated, however, is when taking into account the sheer volume of peoples and cultures these ideas of rights and equality have to apply to. The problems surrounding a single feminist agenda stem from the undeniable fact that feminism is a political and social movement incomparable to any other. The feminist movement is unique not only in the sheer number of people in the world it concerns, but also in the inescapable problem that similarities between the experiences of women in the world are overshadowed by the inevitable differences fifty-percent of the world’s population will have from each other. The concept of a “sisterhood” can be hard for people to associate themselves with, when they have little or no understanding and perhaps no interest of others, simply because they share a gender and the issues that may arise from it.
“The concept of a “sisterhood” can be hard for people to associate themselves with when they have no interest in others’
The conception of Slutwalks is a perfect example of when feminists with many different focuses and interests come together to show solidarity to one cause, in this case the blame placed upon rape victims for what has happened to them. At Slutwalk London in September this year, the sheer variety of those who attended demonstrated the variety of views under the feminism umbrella, with a crowd of both men and women of all ages. However, it also symbolised the fragmented nature of the feminist movement. Amongst the crowd were the English Collective of Prostitutes, calling for greater protection from the police in cases of sexual assault. Socialist Worker also produced posters with anti-rape sentiments upon them, eager not only to support the cause but also to publicise their own agendas. Queer Strike showed their support, as did the Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Jewish anti-Zionist Network, along with SUSU’s own Feminist Society. In many senses the camaraderie shown by all these different groups on an issue close to every feminist’s heart – sexual assault and attitudes towards it – is highly encouraging. Nevertheless, the presence of groups such as Black Women’s Rape Action Project shows that there are still divides within movement(s) such as this, and specific social groups working together for their of women’s rights. Furthermore, there was very little mention of male victims of rape, and criticism over this lack of attention given to male victims is something both Slutwalk and other similar organisations continue to face.
Whether the term “feminism” can ever hold one pure meaning seems a far-away prospect, but whether creating one is actually an ideal ambition is questionable. New branches of feminism are forming all the time, showing that the problems feminism aims to tackle are so wide ranging that it would be impossible to form just one agenda. Take for example Transfeminism, a relatively new concept in the feminist pool. Transfeminism may garner support from outside the Trans* community, yet the problems transwomen face, perhaps because of transphobia, or simply due to lack of awareness, would not automatically find favour with all those who currently call themselves feminists.
Can all of these causes really remain under the same umbrella? Ageism faced by women in the BBC is not the same as The Democratic Republic of Congo being the so-called ‘rape capital’ of the world, and body image issues of the Western world is not the same as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) that women face in places such as sub-Sahara Africa and Indonesia. Although none of these issues should be dismissed, it is clear that the problems faced by women across the world are vastly different. Can the movement really claim to be united when FGM is happening in the UK to young girls, yet the preoccupation of many is the portrayal of a woman as a housewife in Morrison’s Christmas advert this year?
Many may ask themselves if dampening the “everyday” arguments, such as those against the Morrison’s advert, would do good for feminism. In focusing on more serious issues, the branding of feminism may be able to unite against the most serious causes. However, in ignoring those “everyday” examples of sexism this could be let these become more acceptable.
Does feminism need a PR face-lift and one agenda? This question needs to be debated within all the different feminist communities to work out what is effective in bringing more people into the cause, as well as working out what needs to be understood and changed in the world.