by LUCY CHESTERTON AND JANE CARO
Jane: I was lucky enough to get to meet Lucy in person on a panel about feminism on Mornings on Channel 9 recently. I was able to apologise –again – but this time on television for hitting “send” in anger, in response to Lucy’s piece about feminism on Mamamia.
We also found that while we differed in some ways, fundamentally our belief in the importance of feminism is the same. If you saw the program, you will know that Lucy and I agreed to co-write an article about feminism and what it means to both of us. Here it is.
Feminism seems to confuse many people. They seem to believe that wanting to be equal means wanting to be the same. It doesn’t, it never has. It simply means wanting equal opportunities, equal pay for the same work and an equal right to control and manage your own life and decisions. A feminist believes that a woman is of equal value to a man, not the same as one, but she is also someone who wants to be seen as a human being first and as a woman second.
As a feminist, I seek respect over love – though I also believe that without real respect there is no real love – and this means I have largely (but not entirely) freed myself from the need for approval.
Feminism is not an organization. There is no sisterhood, no hierarchy, no tabernacle. I believe that feminism is actually a point of view; a way of seeing the world that puts a woman at the centre of her own life, rather than on the periphery of someone elses, and does not then call her selfish for doing so.
Moreover, feminism is an entirely honourable movement. Since Mary Wollstonecraft penned “Vindication of the Rights of Women” in 1792, women have slowly made progress – at least in the West – to full human rights. Feminism gave us the right to an education, the right to vote, the right to higher education, the right to our own earnings and inheritance, the right to have custody of our children, the right to say no to sex in marriage and the right to say yes to it outside of marriage and the right to know about our own bodies and reproductive organs.
It has given us (at least on paper) equal pay, access to contraception, abortion and no-fault divorce. Nobody gave us these rights. Women, brave enough to call themselves feminists (which has always attracted abuse), fought for them in the face of trenchant opposition and withering scorn and ridicule. I am always saddened when women of any age disavow feminism and so the courage and self-sacrifice of all the feminists who went before them.
Yet feminists have never killed anyone in pursuit of their goals. They have never fought wars or threatened human life. The suffragettes smashed some windows, chained themselves to railings and went on hunger strikes in their campaign for votes for women. One killed herself by throwing herself under the hooves of George V’s racehorse to draw attention to her cause. But feminists have never killed anyone else. How many liberation movements can claim the same?
And feminism isn’t just about the freedom of women. It has also liberated many men from the stiff, rigid and stern emotional straightjacket of masculinity so prevalent in the past. Men carrying pouches with tiny newborns to a coffee shop on a Saturday morning to give their wives a morning off are direct beneficiaries of feminism. They are being given the precious opportunity to build a real relationship with their children in the only way anyone actually can – by doing the hard work of caring.
Feminism has already changed the world and it will continue to do so. If you look back over its achievements so far, despite all the furious opposition to its progress every step of the way, it has unquestionably made the world a better place for both men and women.
So, next time you are tempted to say I am not a feminist but… or even just stay silent when you hear it scorned or misrepresented, ask yourself; what would your life be like today if it wasn’t for feminism? I’m not asking you to call yourself a feminist, necessarily, but simply to respect it and it’s undoubted achievements.
Young women have rarely identified as feminists, by the way, in any era. It is marriage, motherhood and, particularly, the process of aging that radicalizes women. It always has been. And it isn’t ‘starting’ to be shameful to identify as a feminist, as Lucy eloquently puts it. It has always been shameful to declare your feminism. Always. It has always been used as an insult. Maybe that’s why some of us older feminists get so weary as we watch the next generation of young women having to fight the same battles we fought and thought we’d won.
Nevertheless, perhaps the most liberating thing about feminism is its staunch belief in every woman’s right to be wrong, behave badly and make their own mistakes and learn from them; to forgive ourselves and one another. (Something I have been particularly grateful for recently.)
Lucy: I am a feminist. But I am also Generation Y.
In my experience, when talking about feminism, my age can be a red flag for criticism. People are prone to writing off my opinions as ill-informed. And I’m sure, sometimes, they are. Far more insulting though, I’m thought of as ungrateful.
So let me say this:
I understand feminism does not mean wanting to be the same as men, or better.
I understand the feminist movement strives for equal rights for women.
And I understand the huge debt we owe to the women who went before us, and I am thankful for it.
Jane recently disagreed with me about my thoughts on feeling pressured to keep up with the big boys, – (as I put it)- something I experience as a by product of feminism being roundly misunderstood to mean being the same as men, instead of being equal. I said then, and I say again, I know this is not what feminism is about. I KNOW. That’s why I wanted to articulate those feelings. To explore the ways feminism can be twisted to make us feel certain ways, the way it can be misrepresented and misinterpreted, and the way my generation raises these points and are often told That’s NOT what feminism is about.
What we’re trying to say is: we know. WE KNOW. But hey, this is one of the many new things it’s coming to mean- so let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about how the battle lines are changing. Let’s talk about how feminism is starting to be seen as shameful because it’s so often mislabelled.
How it can be used as an insult against those who don’t understand it. Let’s remind ourselves of what it is, and what it stands for. If we keep fighting the same fight we always have, instead of recognizing the changing nature of the beast, we’ll be blindsided by a battle we didn’t even know was there.
Yes, we have a responsibility to the next generation. To refine and then redefine what feminism is, and what it means for us, our daughters, and their daughters again. To change according to the new freedoms we have, recognise the next steps, and push on so we don’t end up with a feminist doctrine as outdated as the Bible’s old testament, stoning each other in the village square.
When I wrote about feeling pressure to renovate and embarrassed about one day being a stay at home mum, it was Gretel Killeen who asked me the key question. Instead of trying to point out that feminism isn’t about being the same, it’s about having equal rights to choose whichever path you prefer, she asked: “Who is making you feel that way?” And that’s at the heart of it.
Not – “That’s not what feminism is about,” – but rather “Why is feminism becoming about that?” Recognising its changing face and finding out who is changing it.
To the women who are ahead of us on life’s path, you have fought bravely, but your duty is still to listen to us about what is happening to the shining thing you fought for, how it is being dulled, and to help us understand what we have inherited. Be quick to listen and slow to judge, and if we don’t understand, teach us. Or your efforts until now will have been wasted.
We know what you fought for, we also know the fight isn’t over. Let’s make sure we’re always fighting together. And make sure it’s the same fight.
This is what feminism means to me: it is not wanting to be the same as men, or better, but for the genders to enjoy equal rights in all areas. I understand the feminist movement strives for equal rights for women. And I understand the huge debt we owe to the women who went before us, I am thankful for it, and I want to protect that.
It means something else too: it’s not the dictionary definition in this case, but it holds true for me. It means instead of Jane and I abusing each other, it means coming together, writing together, talking together, closing the gaps in our knowledge, and our generations, and fighting on. Together.
Jane Caro is a novelist, Just a Girl author of The Stupid Country and The F Word, writer, feminist, atheist, Gruen Chick, speaker, media tart, wife, mother and stirrer. You can follow her on Twitter here.
Lucy Chesterton is the entertainment reporter for Mornings on the Nine Network and starts work at a ridiculously early hour. You can find her on Twitter here.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? Whose viewpoint better reflects your particular brand of feminism, Jane or Lucy (or neither)?