An open letter to Lucy Sherriff

// 22 November 2012

'I HEART FEMINISM' spray-painted in black on a wall.jpg Guest blogger Sasha Rocket tells us why – unlike Lucy Sherriff in the Huffington Post – she calls herself a feminist. Sasha Rocket is a member of the queer feminist collective Lashings of Ginger Beer Time and can be found blogging here or getting confused about twitter here.

Dear Lucy Sherriff,

You recently posted this article explaining why, even though it is a “man’s world”, you don’t want anything to do with the movement that aims to change that.

It seems pretty fashionable these days for women to say they aren’t feminists. People say we’re bra-burning man-haters with no sense of humour and hairy legs (as if the hirsuteness of one’s limbs somehow carried moral implications?) and deride us for allegedly being overly concerned with the fact that the word ‘semester’ sounds slightly like it has the word ‘semen’ in it.

From your article, it seems fairly clear that you’ve never actually tried to question this media stereotype, but have simply added to it. You appear to have defined a feminist as ‘someone who goes on marches’, which seems like an odd description. One of the main points of your argument is that “protests don’t do much for women”, but that isn’t what being a feminist means. Regardless of the effectiveness (or otherwise) of ‘marching for the cause’, this kind of activism is a tiny part of feminism. Personally, I’m not a big fan of marches, either. Like you, I question their effectiveness, plus they’re cold and I don’t like the chanting, but I can certainly appreciate the work of the many women have fought for rights I now enjoy (and, often, for rights I would still like to have, such as the right to not be blamed for sexual abuse because of my clothing). Amazingly, I can even still engage with the principles of feminism.

You mention the Everyday Sexism Project, as well as your part in the campaign against UniLad. These are things that feminists do – they call people on misogyny, inform people about sexism, write about gender equality, provide support for survivors of sexual and domestic abuse and, yes, sometimes go on marches. To write off all of feminism as simply ineffective protesting is not only uninformed, it’s also terribly insulting.

What’s more, you say that feminist protests only serve to “alienate men”. Frankly, if a man feels “alienated” by women fighting for equal pay, I struggle to see that as a problem with feminism. If you’d actually taken the time to engage with the movement itself rather than simply perpetuate stereotypes, however, you may have seen that there is nothing inherent in the claim that women should be treated equally that should alienate men. As many feminists have pointed out, patriarchy hurts men too. On top of that, men are just as able as women to be feminists (and for that matter, so are non-binary or genderqueer people). I’m not saying men never feel uncomfortable around feminism; people tend to dislike it when they are asked to give up some of their privilege. But that’s not a problem with the feminist movement as a whole.

Finally, you claim that feminism (which, as I’ve pointed out, you wrongly assume to be simply ‘protesting’) cannot combat sexism, as “politics won’t, and can’t change [unpleasant experiences with men].” This seems like a strange statement to make, given the advances that the feminist movement has made through political action over the last hundred years. The fact that you, as a woman, are able to write for a publication and get paid is down to the political actions of feminists before you. Perhaps you mean that the advances that need to be made today cannot be made by political action. You reference the “atrocious way women are treated by men” and yet say you think that this is not sexism. You suggest that, if we call objectification of women and rape culture sexist then there was no sexism in the Victorian age, because that was a time when men were chivalrous and gentlemanly. I struggle to believe this is a genuine misunderstanding. The definition of ‘sexism’ is simply treating someone differently because of their gender. There’s no reason why this can’t include both sexual harassment in clubs today and women being denied the vote in the past. In fact, it was when I realised that these were not separate matters, but part of the same issue, that I realised just what a need there still is for feminism, whether that means marching and protesting, writing, campaigning or simply challenging people who express misogynist attitudes.

It’s your prerogative, of course, to self-identify however you like; and if you say you are not a feminist, I won’t tell you that the fact that you “believe women should be equal [to men]” means you must be one. But then please give me the same respect and don’t tell me to “ditch the f-word”, especially not when you clearly haven’t done much research as to what a feminist actually does.

Image courtesy of Jay Morrison, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Lucy // Posted 22 November 2012 at 6:03 pm

Thanks for this piece, I wholeheartedly agree. I read the original post which sparked your open letter, and I was really disappointed – a very strange view of what feminism is, which plays right into the media stereotype.

Also, why be so preoccupied with not alienating men? And if some men are alienated by the fact that women march against victim blaming and rape culture, that they fight for equal pay and equal rights, then are those really the kind of men you would be sorry to alienate?

Feminism describes such a vast range of things, and comes in all ways, shapes and sizes.

Simply saying that trying to change things, fighting for this change in the way you see fit – be it marches or something like the everyday sexism project – is a futile effort because it ‘doesn’t work’ is a dangerous attitude in my opinion. Why not sit and do nothing, if things aren’t going to change anyways?

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