Originally published in qmunicate magazine, issue 124
In the last few years feminism has been enjoying another moment in the sun. Journalists can’t get through an interview with a female celebrity without asking her whether she considers herself a feminist, but as we fawn over Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, do we ever consider what that feminism really means? I’m not the only young woman to have asked myself this question. In a recent interview for Vice, Maisie Williams bucked the trend by admitting that she doesn’t identify as a feminist. She believes there is no need to label ourselves in order to prove that we support equality. Rather than viewing herself as a feminist, Williams prefers to call non feminists out for what they are; sexists.
As shocking as it is to see a young woman in the public eye reject the feminist label, Williams does have a point. If we truly want equality, maybe it is time to stop explaining ourselves? It’s hard to disagree with calling out sexism for what it is. This becomes clearer when even self-professed feminists are guilty of displays of sexism. I recently discovered this for myself when turning down a sexual advance from a boy who has identified as a feminist for as long as I have known him. After kindly telling him that it wasn’t going to happen, he told me he had misread the signals from discussions he had heard about my sexual history. When asked if he had thought I was some kind of slut, he said yes. Despite his vocal support of feminism over the years, when given a chance to put this into action he failed spectacularly. If even so called feminists can be guilty of sexism, then what is the point of labelling ourselves at all?
Game of Thrones is often lauded for its feminism. Strong female characters grace our screens every week, from Daenerys Stormont to Williams own character Arya Stark. But Maisie doesn’t need to look far from home to see sexism in action. Game of Thrones is rife with sexism, from the use of rape for shock factor to the publics belittling of characters such as Sansa Stark who do not meet the narrative of masculine strength. Female nudity is often gratuitous, leading to Emilia Clarke negotiating a no nudity clause in her contract since season three. Twitter has not been a pretty sight after the last two episodes; full of men bemoaning the lack of boobs amongst the deaths, dragons, resurrections and mortal peril. The show can’t even get through a homosexual sex scene without surrounding the two men with naked women, yet somehow there was not a penis in sight. Where is the feminism in that?
The feminist label certainly has lost some of its meaning on its journey into mainstream consciousness, but does this make it redundant? If anything, surely we need feminism more than ever? Feminism is about more than just calling out sexism. It should be about collective action. As a movement, feminism has more power than anyone in authority is willing to admit. It should be about women helping each other, not dragging each other down. Fighting to bring an end to rape culture, and justice for its victims. An end to violence against women, discrimination in the workplace, street harassment, FGM and rape as a weapon of war. Feminism is so much bigger than just calling out sexism.
Reducing feminism to simply calling out overt acts of sexism is a simplification of the issue. There was nothing overtly sexist in Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to appoint four men to the great offices of state in his shadow cabinet. Nor is it undeniably misogynist to choose a man over a woman for a promotion in the workplace. The tendency for women to choose arts and humanities over the STEM subjects is not a clear act of sexism. However all of these things are major barriers to women’s progression. We need feminism now more than ever.
Williams does have a point. Feminism is not doing the job it is supposed to do. In order to make it more palatable to the masses, we’ve lost the activism. Radicalism has become a dirty word. Big businesses have harnessed the popularity of feminism to sell everything from sports clothing to
shampoo to shaving products. However this doesn’t discount the need for feminism. It shows that we need it more than ever. We do need to call out sexism when we see it. That applies to our own movement as well. Calling a woman a slut or bemoaning the lack of female nipples on last week’s Game of Thrones is not acceptable behaviour for a self-defined feminist. Feminism is a label that must be earnt. It is a privilege, not a right. Of course we are all shaped by the society we have grown up in, and we all deserve the chance to learn from our mistakes. However if feminism has become so diluted that young women such as Maisie Williams no longer feel able to identify with its aims, it is probably time to rethink our approach. Let’s make feminism a movement again.