James Plunkett believes that progress takes focus, and he asks men not to confuse egalitarianism with feminism.
Vancouver journalist Meghan Murphy recently wrote a fascinating article for Aljazeera’s Opinion section entitled “Feminism: Unpopular Because of Bad Marketing?” In the piece Murphy suggests that the current movement to re-brand feminism under a more palatable aesthetic or ideology, exemplified by the campaigns of VITAMIN W and Elle magazine, is the exact wrong direction that the feminist movement needs to move towards. She argues that radical social movements like feminism should not be packaged and sold to an audience so that they may be easier to swallow; making feminism popular or easy reduces the entire point of the movement. Although Ms. Murphy’s points are many I thought it would be especially useful to bring to the Good Men Project her suggestion that this re-branding trend is greatly emboldened by the myth of a post-feminist society.
The post-feminism myth is basically what it sounds like: the false belief that we live in a society where feminism is no longer useful or needed, ergo that sexism is dead and relative gender equality reigns supreme. It is difficult to decide exactly how to tackle this naïve sentiment. First of all, it is not my intention to define feminism or attempt to make some absurd statement about who can be a feminist or what kind of actions are feminist. These type of grandiose statements have only served to minimize discourse concerning feminist movement and even if they did not, to be quite frank, as a white American male I think it would be grossly inappropriate for me to define what feminism is or isn’t.
I do agree quite immensely with Ms. Murphy’s point that regardless of what feminism means to individuals there has been a noticeable shift, at least in popular culture, that it should be taken on as a personal identity choice rather than a radical social movement. This may be due in part to some kind of mythologized notion of a dream achieved — ideas that we live in a modern age where misogyny is a relic of the past. We have Facebook. I mean, how could we possibly live in an age of sexism, right? Wrong. The assumption that as humanity grows older we become somehow more humanist only serves to bury notions of inequality and prejudice further into our psyches. Equality does not evolve concurrently with modernity.
I would like to point out, though, that the concepts of feminism as radical social movement and personal identity choice do not have to be mutually exclusive. Indeed, as the power of individuals to create self-images increases rapidly we cannot afford to divorce individual identity from campaigns or causes. Quite the contrary, the ability for individuals to embody a cause or ideology in their individual aesthetic (in this case, so-called ‘lifestyle feminism’) can make a movement all the more potent. Murphy’s point remains, however, that taking on the identity of feminism is much easier than taking on the radical standpoint and that this ease may in fact dilute its power.
Although the reasons for this are complex and varied, I think one especially relevant to this forum is the concept of feminist allies. Male feminist allies or so-called pro-feminist men too often speak to what they think feminism should be defined as, or, worse, attempt to speak for the feminist movement in general. While I will never slight anyone for contributing to the discourse of a pertinent subject, as I hope this article has done to some degree, I do think it is incredibly problematic for individuals to take up the moniker of a movement without fully understanding its meaning or relevance.
Too often in online forums or casual conversations men confuse egalitarianism with feminism and further defuse an incredibly important social, political, and personal force for women. I would ask men to not become enablers of the post-feminist myth for the betterment of self-image or to ease some kind of patriarchal-guilt. Recognizing that sexism still exists, especially in the most hidden and dangerous of ways, is a critical step in the realization that feminism, both as a personal identity and a radical social movement, is necessary for the eradication of inequality.
–Photo Jay Morrison/Flickr