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Feminism: The radical notion that women are people

February 5th, 2004 · post by natalie · Make a comment

‘Feminism – the radical notion that women are people’ screams the frontwoman from Antiproduct and they have a point. Feminism is not some threat to men, only those in unfair positions of patriarchal power and in our society that’s a lot of men. For this reason feminism has been trivialised, marginalized and excluded in much of popular culture and elsewhere. Historically this was even more the case. The fear of women finally gaining equality has often proved too much to bear on those who have profited both economically and politically on the subjugation and submission of women. The women’s movement has been diverse and varied. It is not just one homogenous unit, but like everything else has various opinions and stances when it came to certain issues but with the overriding aim of showing that women are people and gaining rights and recognition for them. The scope of feminism of ranged across a whole spectrum of areas. It has been so influential in modern thinking that it has infiltrated every topic of academia, the workplace, the home, society and culture as well as everywhere in between. But feminism is just that – the radical notion that women are people – and it is still as vital today as ever for whilst women might have been liberated on paper, everywhere else still the struggles go on.

Feminism offered a cultural critique of patriarchal systems of oppression and a deconstruction of the dominant meanings given to things in society. It also offered women an arena in which to voice their own concerns, to express themselves and to find empowerment. Feminism challenges the traditional understanding of women as sexualised and reproducer, as subordinate and object, as emotional and irrational, as dependent and passive, as belonging to nature rather culture, as existing only in the private rather the public and as the ultimate other. These were dichotomies to the traditionally male domains of sexual power and producer, dominant and subject, reason and logic, independence and active, as part of culture and society rather than nature, as a public figure not a private one and as the ultimate self and being. Women were viewed negatively in all the representations that they held in opposition to the ‘civilised’ and intelligent realm of man. Women have experienced misogyny, contempt, abuse and oppression and they still continue to do so. Feminism is about resisting, subverting, deconstructing, destroying, critiquing, challenging and changing these institutions.

Of course sexism is not the only form of oppression people can experience; it cuts across numerous boundaries such as age, class, race and sexuality for example. Older waves of feminism can also be criticised for there tendency to focus on middle class, white concerns but by learning from its lessons as all movements must do it has been able to continue to inspire feminists across the globe and across all divides. For example women in the West are able to profit and enjoy luxuries at the expense of exploitation of women in factories in other parts of the world or when women have employed female cleaners or nannies, whilst they have to spend time at work, has merely shifted the burdens of womanhood further down the line of economic hierarchy. Feminists have recognised this problem and sought to eliminate it since freedom for women means freedom for all. It is true though that it is also an example of the problem with the whole capitalist system we live within, which is one bent on constant struggle.

An understanding of this is needed but also of the specific problems that women face such as abuse, sexual harassment or violence and the very real fear of it for many women, pressures to conform to unattainable conceptions of beauty and weight, to fit into standardised roles as either wife and mother or sexual object, each offering little scope for non heterosexual realisations. Women’s specific role in the workplace has also frequently attempted to silence their voices and limit their views. Female labour is often considered to be secondary to that of males. Cases of pay discrimination based solely on sex and of more limited opportunities are alarmingly common. More generally, in part due to the inequalities of the welfare system and of woman’s tendency to be the main provider of childcare she is more likely to be employed either in a flexible or part-time arrangement and along with the commitments to that after works makes it harder for women to gain rights or recognition. When factory women in the Mexican American border town of Tijuana were attempting to unionise they had to allow babies and children to be present at meetings because otherwise they could not go ahead. Women are often employed in sectors concerning public serviture, domestic industry, as being a friendly and personal face or in repetitive factory tasks because these are considered better for them somehow. In reality it is because women are considered so unlikely to cause trouble that they are. Of course all work is exploitation whilst that fact sadly isn’t likely to be changing anytime soon it is important to raise consciousnesses and understandings of these matters so that women can begin to be treated as human beings rather than objects of usefulness.

Feminism then has been claimed by some as one fight that might come closest to the elimination of so much inequality. Interestingly feminism has often been seemingly omitted from the agendas of many social movements claiming that via their own methods sexism will be eliminated ‘come the revolution.’ I suspect that that many fundamental changes will have to occur in the very core of our being. It could be a long time before any revolution achieves that all in itself. If the structure that is in place at first do not support women then it is highly unlikely they will do anything different or attempt to counter the problem, especially if those in power can not see beyond the length of their own dicks.

Marxist analysis’s suggest that women’s consignment to the home as wife, cleaner and breeder is originally based on capitalism’s own needs, in affect subsidising the system with the unpaid work that women do and creating an acute divide between work and home through which stratification and power hierarchies have come out. However this ignores what happens to women that work, who often face the double shift of work and housework. How in so called socialist and post socialist countries women are still waiting for their liberation. How patriarchal systems with male heads of the household, mirroring the larger political scale have existed for so long and how women have been used as a form of trade and exchange in terms of marriage for political, social and economic gains sine man seems to have been in existence. By brushing off and dismissing these ideas reflects the patronising nature of many of the people involved highlighting that the way in which they make their arguments have no more substance to them than the pedantic macho styles arguments that go on everywhere else. Anarchism doesn’t offer much else relief at times with some groups stating that women, along with other minority groups organise amongst themselves. Whilst they may see this for its potentially more effective actions isn’t it to deny notions of solidarity and support? Just as anyone can be against-racism or homophobia regardless of their ethnic background or sexual persuasion so too can anyone be a feminist and not only can organise for its cause, can also conduct their lives in ways which are reflective of these ideologies.

After all when everything we do on a personal level can be understood on the political level, when such gendered relations have been so institutionalised into every facet of life it can be extremely hard to envisage a way to escape them or to go beyond them. Various psychological and sociological studies have suggested that from the earliest of ages young children learn to differential gender and their understandings of it such as in what the children consider to be the correct role assignments for men and women. Gender plays such a fundamental role to our understandings of our self then the crucial roles it can play later in life come as little surprise. Ways of being have been conditioned into us right from our very first breathes. With those breathes we can taste the human inequalities present but sadly we can become immune to them or unseeing because many will have been so far ingrained into our being. We have taken them on, exerting our own influences on how society should be, regulating our own behaviour in gendered way and therefore carrying on the relationship.

I refuse to believe, along with all the other feminists out there that this is the way it will always be and will always have to be. For so long gendered experiences have been understood as down to either ‘nature,’ ‘naturalism’ or ‘naturalisation.’ Something that is considered as natural and the processes through which they are internalised, such as the roles open to women in society are actually cultural instances as they are not universal and instances or contradictions that refute their logic can easily be found. We are so often bombarded with notions that this is natural, part of history, tradition and that this is the way it is but this view is wrong of course. The very fact that oppositions can exist, albeit if it marginalized and criticised shows that alternatives are viable. Change has been occurring throughout society either gradually or unnoticed or in spurts or in classifications such as the various feminist movements but it can be done, just that those with most at stake may attempt to weaken the beliefs and propagate negative sentiments about it so much so that many young women today feel troubled or anxious about using the f word. By fighting for equality everywhere though women are asserting their existence and reclaiming spaces. This is something that must be done in all avenues of life be it in music, school, work, the home or the street, or even in language. Until all forms of oppression are eliminated we will never be equal and until we are open to the aims of feminism the radical notion that women are people and until we all realise we are responsible for its actualisation itwill remain just that a notion and something to be achieved in all.

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