Pick ‘n’ Mix Feminism

So many viewpoints, so many arguments! I think I'll just pick 'n' mix. Catherine Redfern shows just how indecisive she really is.

, 16 May 2001

My problem is, I can’t commit. I’m pulled in too many directions. I’m

useless at making decisions – always have been. I’ve always been a ‘on the one

hand, on the other hand’, kind of girl. A ‘but then again…’ kind of girl.

I’m a ‘I can see where you’re coming from’ person.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s not just one

feminist ‘rule book’[pulloutbox]

It’s worse with feminism. The more I read, the more I see the many different

ways there are of looking at something. So many people with different

views call themselves feminists. Contrary to popular belief, there’s not just

one feminist ‘rule book’. There’s different types of feminism, all springing

from the one idea that men and women are equal and deserve equal rights. And I’m

slowly learning about them, deciding where I stand… or not deciding, as the

case may be. What follows is a personal look at what the different ‘types’ of

feminism mean to me and how I’m trying to decide what I think. Please

bear in mind that it’s difficult to summarise them and there’s no way I could

ever hope to encapsulate all the differing opinions in one article.

First you have your Radical feminists. Fans of Andrea

Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, Mary Daly, Germaine Greer. Tend to see men as the

enemy… believe we are victims oppressed by the patriarchy… and they’re damn

well angry about it! Some of them may even be seperatists – they think women

should withdraw from men altogether and create their own societies. Eeek! They

may scare a lot of people off with their radical statements but a lot of what

they say is true and it does make you think. Next!

Heroines: Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon, Mary Daly, Germaine

Greer

Keywords: Patriarchy. Liberation. Oppression.

Relax, people, next are the Goddess feminists. Spiritual,

peaceful women at ease with their femaleness. They worship the goddess (which

may be another word for mother nature) and celebrate nature and the holiness of

the female body. May be interested in paganism, wicca, or special rituals. I can

sure see where they’re coming from, but it does seem a little remote from

everyday life in the UK. So on we go…

Heroines: Mother nature.

Keywords: Cycles. Moon. Goddess.

Yay, lets hear it for the Second-wave feminists. Those

women who in the 1960’s and 70’s paved the way for us young ‘uns and forged a

true revolution in behaviour, society, and politics. I’ve always been a little

fascinated by this era, so I have to confess to a soft spot for the second-wave.

This group of women are the image that the general public normally has of

feminists, mainly because they were so visible – marching to reclaim the night,

raising their consciousness, protesting at Miss World contests, and rejecting

the traditional stay at home role and other aspects of traditional femininity.

Radical feminism developed during this manic, revolutionary time.

So are

they still around? Of course. It’s just that feminism has become so much part of

everyday society (although of course we have a long way to go) that today there

is no one ‘movement’ that you can see. Although perhaps there never really was:

there were always differences and disputes within the movement. But nowadays

there’s apparently a feeling that the second wave are disappointed with younger

women; looking down and asking themselves, is this what we fought for? (see

article linked above) Meanwhile younger women are looking backwards thinking, I

don’t relate to that at all. Enter the Third Wave.

Heroines: Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Susan Brownmiller, and lots

lots more

Keywords: Ms.

Third-wave feminism. This is difficult to pin down and

explain, and I’m still learning. It enables a wide-variety of viewpoints

under the one umbrella, including the riot grrl phenomenon of the early 90’s,

but the basic differential from the second-wave seems to be age (even then,

it’s not that simple; some young women consider themselves third wave by birth

but second wave by choice). Third wavers are from Generation X, women who grew

up with feminism and never experienced a world without it. They live in a

radically different world from the one their feminist mothers grew up in, and

consequently, see things differently. They are grateful for their second wave

predecessors but refuse to blindly apply second wave theories to their own

situation. Amongst other things, they are less likely to oppose pornography, and

less likely to think that the personal is political.

Sometimes they seem

quite angry at the second wave, saying that although they consider themselves

feminists they are fed up of being told how to think and behave. Having never

experienced this, I find their anger bemusing, but I can relate to many of the

third wave concerns. After all, they’re my peers. Third wave feminism seems

to be evident in magazines like BUST.

The continuing debate between younger and older feminists should be

interesting. Some would even disagree with the existence of a ‘third wave’,

saying, as Germaine Greer does, that the second wave hasn’t run its course yet,

not by a long shot.

Heroines: Marcelle Karp, Debbie Stoller, Courtney Love, riot

grrls
Keywords: Cunt. Bitch. Bust. Chick.

[pulloutbox]second-wavers are seen as holding Victorian values

A similar strain of feminist thought is the New / Power

feminist. They also criticise certain aspects of second wave feminism

and put forward an alternative way of seeing things. Mainly they criticise

traditional feminists as concentrating on women as victims instead of seeing

where women have power and how they can improve their lives. Second wavers

are seen as holding Victorian values (anti-porn, etc) which are out-dated

and passive instead of active. They seek to disassociate themselves from

the media’s traditional idea of the raging strident feminist. There’s too much

sitting around moaning, they say. Let’s just get on with it!

Heroines: Naomi Wolf, Natasha Walter

Keywords: Power!

Oh my goodness. Then you have your Pop-feminist / Feminism

‘Lite’. This is spice-girls feminism: girl power! Feminism as a

fleeting fashion trend. Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a feminist icon. Madonna as

the women we all aspire to be. This is the feminism that has filtered down to

the girls who read Sugar and Just 17. Girls are so much better than boys, and

wearing a wonderbra is a statement of empowerment. Singing along to

Destiny’s Child songs is the nearest popular culture gets to presenting

feminist views.

Heroines: The Spice Girls, Madonna, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Keywords: Wonderbra. Girl power. Manolo Blahniks.

Whoops, almost forgot the Post (anti?) feminist. Here,

feminism is dead and gone. It had it’s time, now it’s over. There’s simply no

need for it anymore. We’ve gone beyond feminism now. All women need to get ahead

and be successful is their own determination! Why do women still experience

problems? Well they’re obviously NOT TRYING HARD ENOUGH!

Okay, I’m probably being a bit harsh on this. Apparently there is a rationale

behind postfeminism that does have a feminist basis. Something to do with

postmodernism… I dunno.

Heroines: Yourself, of course. Oh alright then, Margaret

Thatcher. And Camile Paglia.

Keywords: Not a clue. Obviously my knowledge is somewhat lacking in

this area!

Blimey. And I haven’t even mentioned Womanists, eco-feminists,

socialist-feminists

The Pick ‘n’ Mix feminist

That’s me. There’s bits in all the above I can relate to. But there’s none that

I feel totally committed to. On the other hand, I feel committed to them all; I

have great fondness for any and all types of feminism. So I browse and

peruse and pick and mix what I like for myself. This website is in part a

way for me to clarify and consider my opinions and feelings. To answer the

question: what does it mean to be a young woman and a feminist today?

Does it matter whether women call themselves feminists?

But when I read again and again that my peers think feminism is repulsive,

how does that make me feel? I’m mad when feminism is trashed, but I read Naomi

Wolf and Natasha Walter and listen with an open mind to the criticisms of

second-wave feminism. Then I read Susan Faludi and I wonder whether this

criticism is part of the backlash. Help! I think I’ve come to the conclusion

that it doesn’t matter whether women call themselves feminists or not – it’s

galling, but what matters more is their thoughts and actions.

I guess I’m third-wave by birth but I respect and admire the second-wave too,

and I believe many of the second wave theories and concerns are still valid. I

don’t have any anger towards them.

Hang on a minute, I haven’t debated them…

Lets see, what else… I think we can and should be political

and still have fun and a sense of humour. I’m more towards thinking that the

personal is political at the minute (sorry Natasha!). When I’m told

that young women aren’t interested in what feminism has to say about their

personal choices, I wave a timid hand (I am! I think!). Some dismiss some topics

and issues as ‘stuff our mothers debated in the 70’s’ – but hang on a minute;

I haven’t debated them, especially those which still present choices to

me. I wanna know what women think about what marriage means today; whether they

would change their name or call themselves Mrs; and yes, what the hell, what

they think about shaving their legs! (do I hear a chuckle from the BUST girls

over there?)

I think culture and the media is important; and is worth talking about and

debating. But of course I’m not saying we should focus on the superficial and

ignore women in real pain (honest, Germaine!). I’m told that young women are fed

up of being presented as victims. Well of course, no-one wants to be constantly

told that. But some of them still are and there’s nothing wrong with

pointing that out (okay, Naomi?).

I read that older feminists are disappointed

I read that older feminists are disappointed with younger ones, and I can’t

quite figue out why. But then again, no wonder they feel a sense of unease if

they read the same things I do about young women and how they feel about the

f-word, and the older women shaking their heads and sighing; “No, no,

that’s not what we meant…” Well hello out there! If you’re reading

this – we’re not all like that ya know! You think you’re the only ones thinking

feminist thoughts? But maybe the older feminists aren’t

even complaining that much. Perhaps its another thing that’s been exagerrated.

After all, the media love a cat fight.

Trust me, I’m not even sure what reaction I’ll get if I tell someone I’m

a f- f- (well, you know). We get blamed for everything and it seems

society isn’t impressed. We’re whiny, angry, strident, vicious, selfish,

superficial, not paying attention to ‘real’ women, too academic, not academic

enough, not to mention hariy and ugly, blah blah blah. Oh yeah. And you

feminists, you’re pathetic. Eveything comes down to a gender issue with you lot.

To which I reply, tongue-in-cheek: well you would say that, you’re a man.

The differences of opinion are things we should be proud

of

Is it any wonder I’m the pick ‘n’ mix feminist? It’s what I do. Grab a

handful from the bag and try the taste. Chew it over thoughtfully… and go back

for another. I guess the best thing about it is that it’s not just one tasteless

lump but many different brightly coloured sweets. This mixture of

different viewpoints, the continuing debate, the freshness of ideas, the

differences of opinion, are all things we should be proud of. Perhaps I’ve

finally found what being a young feminist in the 21st century is all about:

the freedom to choose what you belive, what you agree with. I know this

article is jumbled and mixed up: full of random thoughts and conflicting

ideas… but that’s where I am right now. I’m pickin’ and mixin’.

Oh – before I go – Naomi, Natasha, Germaine, Gloria, Andrea, Debbie,

Marcelle, Susan, Yasmin: we’re still friends, right?

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