A recent survey conducted by Netmums has done the rounds on the internet this week, as a resounding rejection of feminism and its values. A collective sigh went around the Women’s Resource Centre offices as we read that the conclusions of the survey cited feminism as being ‘divisive’ and ‘aggressive’.
The methodology of the survey and thus the results themselves are flawed and based in a deep misunderstanding of feminism: what it has historically stood for and what it currently represents. The first wave of feminism focused on universal suffrage – without which we would not be allowed to vote! The second wave focused on de-facto inequalities – without which we would be consigned to baby making (and consequent raising), cooking and cleaning. I say ‘consigned’ very specifically because the absolute heart of feminism, in all its forms, is of personal choice. Feminism is fundamentally a fight to have the same opportunities as men to make choices about our own lives.
However, when feminism is presented as a militant stereotype, some women will staunchly declare ‘I’m not a feminist’, seeing only a militant stereotype. The degradation of the feminist movement is at the core of reproducing the patriarchal status quo in a society which is ‘still a man’s world’ (41% of respondents to the survey agreed with this statement). Feminism is portrayed as a militant, lesbian, bra-burning, dungaree-wearing, man-hating sect, not a ‘positive label for women’. In taking on this inaccurate portrayal, the women who responded to this survey have very effectively been drawn into the fallacy. This is what I like to call ‘Patriarchy 2.0’; the appropriation of women into the demonisation of the fight for women’s equality (equality meaning having the same choices as men, not being treated as exactly the same, as the survey wrongly asserted).
In fact, the way that the survey was positioned throughout was absolutely emblematic of ‘Patriarchy 2.0’. It forced respondents to choose between a number of constructed negative stereotypes; ‘It’s a bit aggressive towards men’, ‘Feminism has gone to far, oppressing men’ and ‘Don’t want to be equal – women are different to men and we should celebrate the differences’. The conflation of ‘equal’ and ‘the same’ misleadingly pushes women away from the fight for equality in opportunities and choices, polarising them with the feminist movement.
Ironically, in demonstrating what the modern woman wants in ‘opposition’ to feminism, respondents appropriated feminist language; “free to make decisions to suit their own personal beliefs…to live very varied lives without judgement from their peers”. Many respondents backed salary disclosure in the fight for equal pay, a ban on airbrushed adverts and restrictions on internet porn. Thus, many women believe in feminist issues, but are taken in by the ‘feminist fallacy’ that keeps us divided and prevents us from achieving success on those issues.
400,000 women are raped in the UK every year, only 22% of our MPs are female, and women are paid, on average, almost 15% less than men for doing exactly the same job. These are only a few statistics which are indicative of the wider sexism which continues to pervade our society, our culture, our institutions and our politics. Whether you are a man or a woman; unless you are absolutely fine with all of this, what are you if not a feminist? That younger women stated that they “cannot imagine a time when men and women were not equal” shows how effectively the wool has been pulled over their eyes!
Movement will not be made on any of these issues without feminist mobilisation. A recent research piece in the American Political Science Review (as well as many numerous other studies) found that it is not women in government, or economic factors such as an increase in national wealth, or any leftist party, which can bring about change on the issue of violence against women (sexual assault, stalking, trafficking, violence in intimate relationships). Rather it is the mobilisation of autonomous feminist movements which originate changes in policy and reshape the normative and social understanding of violence against women. Feminism is absolutely fundamental to advancing women’s equality at all levels.
Netmums has taken a specific political stance with this survey on feminism, to perpetuate a negative and harmful stereotype. Their unscientific and misleading survey, plus their assertion that they are best placed to ‘work out what young women want now’, is insulting to women throughout the UK who fight for equality, in all its forms. Netmums is, of course, not well positioned to gauge the thoughts and needs of women in theUK, their readership is made up of mothers who have the time to sit at home and fill in online questionnaires. This is not the reality for all mothers, or all women in the UK. Luckily, the feminist movement fights for the equality of a diverse and inclusive range of women. The Women’s Resource Centre fights for all types women, whether mothers or not. Netmums should take responsibility for their role in their perpetuation of ‘Patriarchy 2.0’ and in stigmatising the important work that we, and other organisations in the women’s sector, continue to do.
Head of Communications
Women’s Resource Centre