The F-word

People easily confess to being lots of things (alcoholics, shopaholics, Celine Dion fans), but based on experience I must conclude that for many it appears to be very difficult to say aloud that they’re feminists. The usual excuse is that we first need to define what feminism means. It might be, of course, that these people really do not identify themselves as feminists, but in most cases it’s rather that they do not wish to be labelled as such (occurs frequently among politicians). Then follows a long rant about how they are totally for gender equality and women’s empowerment, but they’re just not into isms. 

This was again confirmed as I finished journalist and news anchor Megyn Kelly’s biography “Settle for More”, which came out just after the US presidential election (Kelly ended up being one of America’s most talked about figures after having challenged the then presidential candidate Trump on air) (Oh, weren’t those the days of hope!). It was an interesting read, as far as “from rags to riches” biographies get. As Kelly’s riches got more plentiful and her celebrity status sky-rocketed, the book got increasingly defensive about her as a mother and her being a “new archetype for women: multidimensional”. 

Obviously the excitement mounted as pages got fewer: when is this (then) Republican icon finally going to announce her stance on feminism? On page 194 it finally happened. “My problem with the word feminist is that it’s exclusionary and alienating. I look at a lot of the self-titled feminists in this country and think, If that’s the club we’re talking about, I don’t want in. Feminism has become associated, de facto, with liberal politics.” Kelly elaborates further: “I also reject the feminist messaging that treats gender issues as a zero-sum game – that assumes that to empower women, we must castrate men.”

It is very interesting that anyone would think like this in 2017. I recently read Jessa Crispin’s new feminist manifesto, “Why I’m not a feminist”, which is about feminism having become so mainstream that it’s not really a serious thing anymore. Even Crispin wasn’t talking about castrating men, as fiery as she is with many other aspects. Where’s Kelly getting this idea from? For goodness sake, feminism took over fashion catwalks, thus far considered being just about the most sexists arenas ever, when Christian Dior introduced a little something to help out all those who had trouble saying the word out loud. Anyone too timid to admit to being a feminist could make the statement with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay title “We Should All Be Feminists” plastered all over a €600 t-shirt*. 

Kelly also gives career advice, which is always good to have. “​My feeling on the subject of women’s equality is that it’s better to show than tell. “Be so good they can’t ignore you… the less time talking about our gender, the better.”  This is all fair enough, but also very selfish. “I don’t feel valued a co-worker once said to me. – That’s because you’re not, I said, you should go somewhere else. I saw no reason to sugarcoat it. Kelly family values in their purest form. Settle for more.” Boom. Obviously I read her as a European. I guess our mentalities are still that little bit different when it comes to carving one’s own destiny. But there is something about her argumentation that does not fly.

If being so good that people cannot ignore you would be the only qualifying measure for women to get places, we would have more women in leadership positions both on private and public sectors (just one example to illustrate the point: Trump vs. Clinton). Structures and traditions are built by men and it takes time to change them. Admittedly Kelly said herself that she’s not a feminist, but it is so interesting that she puts the burden of double proof on women rather than workplaces as regards not discriminating their workers based on gender. Why should women be twice as good as men to get promoted? Shouldn’t equal qualifications be enough? Contrary to the Kelly-style individualistic, self serving me-first empowerment, feminism was always about inclusive empowerment. 

Being a feminist has become trendy (there’s a t-shirt for every budget – even if you do not have €600 to spend on a t-shirt to manifest your cause there are feminist high street spin-offs), which surely can be a positive thing for the movement. At best it should give us the opportunity to explain what is meant by equality of sexes and why it is so important. But do we need people to call themselves feminists, something that so smacks of the 60s and Gloria Steinem? I found an old dictionary that defines the word feminist as “a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes“. This begs the question, if this is what feminism stands for, who in their right mind would have a problem with it? 

*Spring/Summer 2017 collection. 86% cotton, 14% linen. Otherwise your bog-standard t-shirt. But there’s more! The designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri,  just presented a new set of feminist slogan t-shirts at Christian Dior Spring/Summer 2018 show. So in case you missed your 2017-catwalk statement t-shirt, fear not, there’s another chance to blow your month’s rent on a t-shirt in just a few months’ time.

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