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.

Catherine Redfern, 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'

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.

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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