Feminism: It is still relevant, but what next?

You could cut the oestrogen with a nail file as you entered the Sydney Opera House Theatre two weeks ago. As a kick-start to International Women’s Week, the House put on a series of talks titled “The F-Word”. This day of feminist discussion saw Naomi Wolf and Germaine Greer give individual talks, and was rounded out by a Q&A style debate featuring these two prominent feminists joined by journalist Clem Bastow and war correspondent Eliza Griswold.

Waiting for the talks to begin I thought over all the reasons why I chose to come. I was here to be inspired about feminism. I have noticed many young women don’t consider themselves feminists. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the word ‘feminism’ is somewhat misunderstood. To some, it conjures up some strong negative connotations of extreme radical man-hating activists, which are rejected by young women.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, young women have not had to fight for the same labour rights and lifestyle choices like they did in the past. They take these options for granted, and rightly so. However, since they don’t consider being without this freedom, ‘feminism’ is not always something that is on their mind. That being said, anyone who wants equal opportunity for women around the world IS a feminist. Feminism is unequivocally still relevant and the movement needs to continue, but how can we keep it moving?

Over 1000 people (about 10% men) missed this stunning Sydney day to attend the talks. .

As I inched my way across to my seat in the Opera Theatre that inevitable question flashed across my mind; arse or crotch in their face? (I usually choose arse, but today went for the crotch, it seemed apt.) I found my seat and got my feminist nerd on with notebook, pen and enthusiasm to learn. It was like being back at uni, but with more shawls and people listening, and less Ugg boots and hangovers.

Naomi Wolf was up first with her topic ‘Next Steps for Feminism’. She coined the next movement in feminism as “Enlightenment Feminism”. By this she refers to being free; free to speak, free to worship and free to govern. Wolf described a return to the matrix of universal human rights. While I appreciated what she had to say, I also felt she was missing something. Her topic was ‘next steps’ yet she merely introduced her new theory. While it was great to hear I, and maybe a lot of the other people there, were keen for more practical ideas and solutions.

Germaine Greer utterly owned the stage next to discuss feminism in the global context. You could feel the energy in the room as women clapped and even gave her a standing ovation with anticipation at what she had to say. And she delivered.

Greer’s lecture focussed on different situations women face around the world and the fact we can’t judge their value systems until we totally understand them; something which cannot be done until you connect with women living in these countries and witness their daily life. Greer’s key message was that all women, no matter your situation, have veils. And that veil, be it lipstick or a burqa, is “1000 different things to 1000 different women”.

Inspiring panel at The F-Word Forum

By the third session the crowd was buzzing. I’m sure the $10 glasses of chandon they were serving at the bar may have played some role in getting tongues wagging. Throughout the Q&A session a whole range of issues were touched on. I couldn’t possibly do justice to try and explain them all in this post but they included: abortion, pornography, sexual double standards, domestic abuse, female cutting/circumcision, and female misogyny and insecurities. And the important thing about these issues is that while they are related to situation’s women face, they affect everyone and are the responsibility of the community. Improving them improves life for all, which means anyone who wants to make the world a better place this way is a feminist.

Western feminism was discussed as well as feminism around the world. As Greer said, in some countries, feminism is a life or death situation. Eliza Griswold made some very interesting points about women in Afghanistan and pleaded with us to listen to these women and not let them be closed off for another 50 years.

When questioned by a 20 year old member of the audience on how to navigate being feminine while also being successful Bastow commented: “being feminine is not an anti-feminist stance”. Which I think is a great reminder and reassurance to young people. You don’t have to give up your feminity to be a feminist. Greer followed this up with the suggestion to, when looking for a partner, “be less needy… be challenging and difficult” while at the same time being yourself.

As it neared towards the end of the discussion it was clear the audience was craving a bit more practical direction as to what’s next for feminism. What can we do, what should we do, and how do we do it. Bastow noted that there is a lot happening online through blogs and social media; they are a great place to start. And Greer suggested we all join the Country Women’s Association as “they are ripe for change”.

These two practical things are great suggestions, but I still felt something further was missing. All these enthusiastic and intelligent people in one room we were keen for more direction on how to ‘do feminism’. I realise it is up to every individual to make the difference they can, but I have no idea where to start myself. Feminism appears to be floundering with people theorising it and bemoaning its downfalls and shortcomings. We know there are challenges and people’s mindsets need to change in order to resolve some of these issues. But what is next?

I can’t really answer that at the moment. Maybe just being more aware of the issues is a start and the next steps will reveal themselves in time. Will this attention and awareness bring about change? I don’t know. But what I will remember for next time is to get to the toilets quickly afterwards because wow the queue for the ladies was long!

Are you a feminist? Do you have any ideas of how to ‘do feminism’? What would you like to see changed the most? What’s next for feminism?

Further information:

  • You can view all the talks in full here.
  • Eva Cox has discussed some interesting points in this article on The Drum. She describes that perhaps the very act of calling feminist issues ‘women’s issues’ creates a sidelined affect. These issues should be issues of the wellbeing of the community.
  • Laurie Penny on why women should rise up and be angry as seen on The Independent.
  • If you are looking for a good charity to support you could check out UN Women. It focuses on gender equality and empowering women around the world starting with providing them basic needs.
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26 thoughts on “Feminism: It is still relevant, but what next?

  1. I think this was a very good article. The part that got me the most was And that veil, be it lipstick or a burqa which confirmed what I always thought except not exactly in that way. Women are always expected to look their best. They’re expected to have their hair perfect, make-up perfect, clothes perfect and our heels 8 inches tall and that is all just a cover up for what’s underneath. And then we’re supposed to do what men do without messing anything up and then we’re supposed to come home and clean the house and take care of the kids. At least that’s what it’s like in America. It seems almost like the only reason they keep around in the workplace is so they can have something nice to look at and something that is also practical. I could go on and on about women in the workplace. I’ve worked in the office with a bunch of men and two particularly annoying women. They would wear super tight, flimsy, short dresses (I’m pretty sure shorter than the ‘rules’ should have allowed, but no one said anything) they wore high heels so the dress where you could see everything all ready now jiggled when they walked. They had desperation written all over them and it was horrible. I had to look at them every day while they walked past my desk and I always thought ‘some see them as representations for women.’ There are women like everywhere. I wonder how many people see them and dismiss the rest of us as desperate and pathetic. Honestly I’m one of those man hating types, so to me the ultimate feminist is unmarried with no kids and who doesn’t adapt to the other stereotypes of what a woman should be. I really could go on, but I’ve written too much already. I don’t know what the next step would be except to get more women in leadership positions, but I don’t how to get there. Sorry again for using so much space.

    • Thanks for your comments. No need to apologise for taking up space! All views are welcome.

      You touched on some interesting points, I was really taken by Greer’s comments about ‘every woman’s veil’ as well.

      Oppression occurs in different ways across different cultures and it was interesting to think outside of my own experience on this one.

        • Being married and having kids and wearing tight clothes doesn’t degrade a woman or make a woman less of a feminist…you should really think things over, woman!

          • It’s all a matter of how you see things. Being married and having kids doesn’t degrade a woman, but it’s a matter of conforming. It’s expected and most women play into it. Independence to me is the ultimate form of feminism. As for the clothes, it’s all a matter of balance. To me it looks pathetic and like they’re trying to hard. And again it’s conforming. I know what I believe which means there is nothing for me to think over. It’s an opinion and it’s mine. What you think of it makes no difference to me and if you have confidence in what you think then mine shouldn’t matter to you.

            • Yes, I have confidence in what I think, but that doesn’t means your opinion doesn’t matter to me! And mine should matter to you. If it’s all a question of thinking X or thinking Y, and not hearing what other people have to say, well…why are you going to people’s blogs and reading what they have to say and writing comments?? The purpose of blogs and internet forums and all sorts of HUMAN INTERACTION – live or “virtual” – is to get in touch with people and see how they are, how they think, share thoughts, experiences and opinions and EVENTUALLY become a better person. But hey, if it’s a matter of dogma…let’s go to church.

              • errata: *doesn’t mean

                And people like you are the reason why I deny I’m a feminist, by the way! I feel ashamed in calling myself a label that is too broad and that includes simple-minded people who don’t even want to use arguments (I know simple-minded people are everywhere, but the less I’m seen as them, the better!).

                And I know you haven’t asked (because what I think doesn’t matter to you…), but humanity has been around for a while now, way before male and female roles even existed, and they were having sex and having kids – doesn’t matter if you call that “getting married” or “sleeping around”, it’s a basic almost organic thing that goes well beyond discussions of gender power. It’s instinct of survival or whatever you call it. Sexual impulses are there and they cannot be denied. Human beings are social, and it’s because we cannot survive without each other. Read Freud, read Marcuse, read Susan Willis, read ANYTHING GOOD and improve your mind on that subject or on questions related to that, please.

                Women who dress tight clothes, or short clothes, may be wearing large jeans or sweat pants all the time, but at that specific time maybe they’re trying to attract looks their way, or feel powerful through showing off their bodies (yeah, it’s simplistic, it’s retarded, but it’s efficient), or they simply bought new clothes a long time ago and are now dressing them for the first time and oops, now they’re fatter and therefore the clothes are obscenely tight and/or short (it’s happened to me before, trust me :P). But ok, for argument’s sake, let’s suppose the women who’s wearing tight/short/sexy clothes are doing that because they want to please their husband. Or because they want to get a boyfriend. Or because they want to dress like that at their job and get a promotion. Does that mean that they’re stupid, or conformist, or that they don’t know EXACTLY what they want and how to obtain it? Oh hell no. I used to think those hot blonde models were all stupid, no brains, just like you think. And then I got in touch with one or two, and got really surprised (yeah, you don’t expect that kind of woman to even know how to talk, right? :P) to see that. That some of them are extremely intelligent, and some of them are way more ambitious than I, and some of them use their bodies allied to their brains to get where and what and who they want. I’m not saying they are right, I’m not saying manipulation of any kind is good, I’m not saying that they’re all Einstein (some ARE INDEED pretty stupid and have no talent at all except having great boobs LOL!), I’m not saying I’ll do the same as they do, or wish every woman would do the same, I’m no saying anything like that. I’m just saying it’s a really chauvinist way of thinking. We women reproduce what men think and expect of us INCLUDING when we go against things like that. Labelling women sluts and such. THAT has got to go right now…

                If for you being independent is the ultimate form of feminism (which I also happen to think!), then you need to understand that being independent is being free to do whatever the hell you want, including having kids or not, including getting married (or not), and wearing sexy clothes just because you can (and showing your value DESPITE of that). Dressing this or dressing that, remaining single or getting married, having sex with a billion guys, or remaining a virgin – that’s each women’s business! We should not be labelled saints or perfect housewives or whores by anyone – male or female.

              • Very good point. I thought your first comment was about telling me that I was wrong and not about HUMAN INTERACTION. I do like to know what people think. Whether I believe or think the same way they do. I consider others’ opinions, sometimes for longer periods than others, and if they say something convincing then I may change my mind. But after I have considered and made up my mind or after I’ve pointed out whatever I felt like pointing out and someone still disagrees with me then there is nothing else I can say. It’s fine and I move on. If the other person I’m conversating with still feels they need to say something then I still listen to that anyway. So, I’ve said what I need to say and I’m happy to keep listening to you, if you have something else you feel is important and we can continue with our HUMAN INTERACTION.

              • Ah, sorry about my mistakes, my mother language isn’t English and when I get carried over by something I make stupid mistakes like that 😛

                I’ve just visited your blog and I have to say I love your cats 😀

                Sorry if I sounded rude, that was not my intention. No, my point was not telling you you were wrong, I never think anyone is wrong in fact! LOL The fact that I disagree doesn’t mean anyone is wrong – I think people are always right but what’s lacking is argumentation.

              • Well thank you very much. A couple of them are sitting with me right, so I’ll tell them you said so…they’re very pleased.

                I will admit that I do oftentimes think people are wrong, but much less so now. I appreciate that you don’t do that. I have come to realize that everybody’s perception is just different, but it’s hard to draw the line between thinking someone is wrong and just disagreeing with them.

                Anyone who knows me in real life knows I can argue all day even with a wall, so if your ever interested in a debate, on any topic that I know anything about then look me up because most people that know me in real life hate that about me. I only assumed that you weren’t arguing because that’s just how my life goes and because I’ve never met anybody who just argued to learn something. So thanks.

              • “A couple of them are sitting with me right, so I’ll tell them you said so…they’re very pleased.”

                Sorry, what are you referring to? Are you talking about my comment on how I deny and feel ashamed to be called a feminist? 🙂 It’s true, I won’t deny it! And you can tell those two sitting with you that I said so, no problem, I’ve already said that to the only true feminist I know in “real life” (and when I say “true feminist” I mean she’s a feminist activist – I believe every woman is a feminist, just like Miranda said “anyone who wants equal opportunity for women around the world IS a feminist”). I told her that soon after having spent hours and hours listening to *soooooo much pseudo-feminist crap* in a feminist congress, and she had to agree with me, because really…you should have been there! No words to describe it! LOL If being a feminist is being identified with those women filled with prejudices and hatred and non-arguments, I’d rather be called anything else, seriously 😛

                I don’t remember in detail to tell you right now, but it was something along these lines…

                My friend’s point was something like “I’m studying a female artist. Her teacher was a guy and she was very much influenced by him. Then she shared a house with 3 guys and her work was very influenced by him as well.” (of course, I’m summarizing and over-simplifying all she said, she spoke for 40 minutes!) – and ALL the women in the room were riotous, shouting out things like “HOW COME you’re telling us she was influenced by that guy, and that guy and that guy and that guy???? How about the women she was influenced by??????” – and my friend afterwards commented: “Well, you know…I’m not to blame if the artist I’m studying is a woman, and is a feminist, and her works were influenced by men!!! What the fuck was I supposed to say??? Should I have invented a couple of female names, or mentioned Frida Cahlo, even if they have nothing to do with each other, just because we’re in a feminist congress?!?”

                …that is just one simple example out of that dumbass feminist congress I attended. After that, and after having read and heard some feminists, I prefer to define myself as a human being instead of as a woman. I guess that’s also part of being a feminist – recognizing we’re stronger together than fighting each other, and that guys are also like us in soooo many ways, and that, as much as we hate to recognize, it is STILL up to women to raise their kids, both male and female, and yet guys are still mistreating women, still trying to keep their roles by doing this and doing that, and by not doing this and not doing that, and expecting women to do and to be this and that, and not do and not to behave and not to dress this and that….which means women continue spreading chauvinism themselves…as mothers, as sisters, as daughters, as co-workers, as teachers, as *put any profession here* and as wives. We have to realize that and change this situation. It’s hard, and exhaustive, and it’s going to take so damn long, but we’re already changing…

              • I meant that my cats were sitting next to me. I’m a feminist in the sense that we should be more independent and we should take more control over our lives instead of letting men make all our decisions and depending on them for everything. I also think that women, as a general rule can be weak and they are okay with letting men take care of everything. I have some negative experience in how guys take advantage of that which makes me not so found of them. Judgmental as it sounds, it just is what it is.. I could go on about that, but I think we’re running out of room here, so we could continue this over e-mail or something.

  2. Young women do not need to consider themselves feminists, because their older sisters carried the torch for them. My daughters will never march for the vote, or burn their bras in protest. No, the struggle is not over, but it has reached that stage where people do not think about it every day because they do not think they need to. It is the same with the civil rights struggle for African Americans. It is too easy for people to forget the struggle, to think that it is over and done with. But you still run into those other people who, like Southerners who didn’t want to admit the civil war was over, were still fighting in the name of an unjust cause. They are the people who we will ever change. We just have to wait for them to die off of old age.

    • Thanks for your comments.

      I agree with some of what you’re saying, however still feel in a lot of cases there is a loooooong way to go for women’s liberation. Therefore it is still important to be active in the feminist movement.

      I wasn’t able to do justice to all the issues feminism faces in my article. But will hopefully elaborate on them in future posts.

    • The problem are those who think the same and are young…what then, should we wait for them to die off of old age? 😛 Nah…our fight may not be burning bras and delivering “I have a dream” speeches, but we’re certainly constantly having to face these conflicts. I’ve seen so many people just shut up in the face of prejudice…they think it’s not worth it, that they won’t change anyone’s mind. Call me naïve, but I still believe in the power of the human brain — it DOES work when exposed to convincing, reasonable arguments and examples 😉

  3. Hi Miranda, I think that men and women could enter into role reversal for a specified purpose; you know, walk in the others shoes. Eg. being a stay at home or working Dad, doing all that is/was traditionally expected of the woman, especially with kids. But this is not even a scratch on the surface; the cycle of expectations of the roles of men and women continues. It is self perpetuating and enduring. Not a bad thing I guess if the participants are happy with their lot. As for me, I like men to be men and women to be women; but I like both to be genuinely happy with their lot. Maybe that’s feminism and menism. Had a good laugh when you almost pashed yourself too in the last post. Regards Bruce

    • That’s a great idea Bruce! I was thinking of something similar the other day when watching ‘Misfits’ (great TV show). If you haven’t seen it I’d recommend, but long story short one of the characters has supernatural powers to change from a man to a woman and it is really interesting to see how he reacts. I know it is fiction and one crazy example, but the character definitely understands women better by the end!

      I think better understanding and better communication between the sexes would be a great step forward for feminism (and menism) 😉

  4. Good post. Young chicks definitely need to remember … “be less needy… be challenging and difficult” while at the same time being yourself.. great quote. Hopefully young ladies out there reading your post get inspired. I’m not a young lady any more as store clerks call me ma’am sometimes when I’m with my kids, but this mid-thirties lady is always up for the cause. 😉

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