Fighting for Equal Rights is Not Extreme!

Towards the end of the Q&A session at “BERLIN’S MEDIA ART COMMUNITY: A FEMALE PERSPECTIVE” the inevitable question whether the panel members considered themselves feminists was asked. The panel’s reaction was predictable: No one wants to be seen as the cliché feminist. The organizer points out that the they used “female” in the title of the event instead of “feminist”, because they thought not every participant would see herself as a feminist. Everybody seems to agree that feminism has negative associations. It is obligatory to distance oneself from those uncool bitter and unsexy feminists form the seventies.

No one, not even the women who point out the historic achievements of the grandmothers of the movement seems to see the pattern. No one gets angry when this ritual of self humiliation is demanded. Often one sees predisposed obedience.

I agree that the word “feminism” shouldn’t be used to label the movement. My reasoning is entirely different though: It is unwise to use it, not because of negative associations, and because it reminds of the early activists whose public image was largely shaped by sexist propaganda. But using an ism-word for activists who fight for what can only be seen as the natural way of organizing society suggests that they are the extremists. Ism-words should be used for the true extremists: Sexists and racists. People who fight for equality and an inclusive society are equality activists.

The pioneers of the movement deserve respect for taking risks and thinking outside of the accepted frame of their times. Their ideas and concepts must be challenged like all concepts, but no one should feel embarrassed about the history of the movement. That only sabotages a project that is far from being completed.

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  1. One reason this language problem persists is because there is a disconnect between the fight fought by feminist pioneers and the topics today’s women discuss (sometimes clumsily) at ‘Women in _X_’ events. Because we, today’s women, aren’t fully awakened to the status of this fight. Many of us are only recently admitting to ourselves that we are not happy with how ‘our cause’ (the fight for equality) has progressed. I believe this is because we have a hard time reconciling the world of feminine opportunity promised and prophesied when we were in grade school and the real world of the workforce we now battle with.

    Many women (in the Western world), below – let’s say, on average – the age of 45, grew up thinking that the fight was won. During school, teachers, parents and guidance counselors constantly ferried us off to career days for ‘Talented Girls,’ ‘Women in Science’ symposiums, ‘Take Your Daughter to Work Day’. Sure, we knew that it hadn’t always been so easy, but that fight was hard to even imagine. Many of our mothers worked and worked hard to give us the opportunities they didn’t have. We developed the impression that things were different now. We could be scientists, writers, doctors, business people, politicians… the world was waiting eagerly for the day we would funnel our brainpower into the economic engine. Most of us didn’t even know much about real feminism. We didn’t really care because we didn’t see the relevance. Things just weren’t so bad. We had opportunities. What’s this about bra burning? I like Victoria’s Secret, thanks very much.

    … and then we started working, started to grow up, started to realize that men don’t do half the work at home and that the workplace is far from the smiley day it seemed on Take Your Daughter to Work Day (where you spent most of the day playing with the office hover craft, anyway) and that it is largely male-dominated. There are huge gaps between how men and women are treated and perceived. Suddenly, but subtly, sexism creeped out of corners, saturated political discussions and corroded our conceptualization of, ‘how things are supposed to work’. This was, and is, a shock to many of us.

    To me, to many of my peers and to many of the people who sit on discussion panels or groups for women – this is an issue we haven’t fully acknowledged. Yes, we know there are issues women face, but no, it’s nothing to make so much noise about. We’ve been given opportunity.. so we think we can just use it to demonstrate how great and equal we are with our actions. We get nervous. We want everyone to be cool because we want to make a name for ourselves based on our skills and abilities and keep the whole XX chromosome thing on the DL (unless it’s useful or fun..). We are operating under the misguided pretense that if we just do a good job…

    I believe we feel alienated from the word ‘feminism’ because we were so damn lucky. How can we compare ourselves to those brave and courageous women when we got our names printed on special, ‘Take Your Daughter to Work’ circuit boards, waltzed into elite universities, and out with good grades? The system… was nice to us… how can we complain?

    The reality is that we can and should continue to fight for the simple and obvious cause that the revolutionary feminists fought for – simple equality (and so should ethnic minorities, homosexuals, etc. who all deserve it). We should be clear about what we want. It’s not just about discussing women in our industries. It’s about equality on the whole.

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