Feminism. Yawn. Yawn again. Eyeroll.
What a page-turner this word is. Without the cunnilingus reference in the headline, would you have lingered on this page long enough to be so abruptly confronted by the word cunnilingus? A safe bet says no; that upon first sight of the “f-word” you’d have pressed a saliva-primed finger to the crispy-corner of this page and swiftly departed to the more salacious columns of the Life and Style section.
The fact that an article on feminism has to seduce a readership through gratuitous innuendo, arguably undermining the very cause it champions, captures the essence of the issue. Feminism has an image problem. And women are partly to blame for it.
For many, feminism is equal parts irritating, distasteful and dull. It’s also as about sexy as Rupert Murdoch in a sequinned g-string after a ten hour sponge bath. As a label, it carries the stigma of bankrupting its wearer of social capital, and young women are dissociating themselves with the movement en mass less they be typecast as one of those “crazy feminist types”. But how did it come to this? How did a movement that galvanised generations of women in solidarity, a movement directly responsible for putting a textbook in our hands instead of an iron, create a generation of twenty-something, progressive and upwardly-mobile university types who find it so irksome?
The malaise can be attributed, in part, to the fact that feminism remains shackled by the stereotypes of its de-sexyfied past. Set against a backdrop of smouldering underwire brassieres, a historical montage of the feminist movement can’t help but pause, like a jammed black and white VCR, on the plethora of unattractive ways women chose to fuck the patriarchy in our parents’ generation. Armpits were cultivated to forest-density, makeup and high heels were rejected as tools of oppression, and Germaine Greer called upon women to make a tasting-plate of their menstruating vaginas. The glory days of grossness.
Twenty-first century feminism is beleaguered by the homage it feels duty-bound to pay to its past, whilst simultaneously trying to profess its relevance to an increasingly disinterested constituency. Since the radicalism of our mothers’ era, feminism has backlashed against itself, been reinvented and realigned. Today it remains nuanced, pluralist and diversified, which unfortunately also means that it is fractured, directionless and divided. It has lead to the perception that no life-choice is safe from the all-pervasive feminist whinge, and its unsolicited erudition on the numerous ways in which our skinny vanilla latte is undermining the sisterhood. Everything from porn, to career motherhood, the sculpting of pubes, to whether or not you wear pantsuits to work, you’re always falling short by some feminist standard. Exhausted, many of us dismiss the whole movement as being “not for us”.
But confusion alone cannot account for the discomfort women feel with modern feminism. Something much more sinister is at play here: the female misogynist. It’s a pernicious phenomenon that has become so endemic, that to be a young woman in the twenty-first century is to accept the notion that women are bitches. Few of us will reject this as a starting premise, and many will nod in agreement, recalling an incident of abhorrent mistreatment at the hands of another girl.
The savagery of the sisterhood is also being increasingly recognised in academic research. Earlier this month, Time Magazine published the results of a comprehensive study conducted by Washington University into female representation in the upper echelons of the corporate workplace. It revealed that one of the first tasks of women who crash through the glass ceiling is to weaponize with a glue gun and seal behind them the very path they trailblazed. This conclusion is bolstered by a 2009 US Workplace Bullying Institute report which showed that while men are egalitarian in their bullying, women target their attacks on other women more than 70 per cent of the time.
It’s easy to reach the despairing conclusion that the sisterhood is a fallacy. At best, its fragile existence hinges on one game of “never-have-I-ever”, which is a spectacularly reliable way to watch saccharine friendships dissolve into vicious hatred, while savouring a cup of goon. Disheartening, however, is its ability to sap life from the genuine feminist cause. The movement is desperately trying to reclaim words like “slut” and “whore”, but they remain part of women’s default artillery of slander. We deplore the stud versus slut dichotomy, but continue to perpetuate it when we arbitrarily decide that a girl has crossed the line from sexually empowered to that “slut that fucked the boy that we fancied”.
Feminism objectively takes a hit when the aftermath of a threesome sees the guy high-fived, and the girls shamed. It objectively takes a hit when an educated, beautiful young woman viciously attacks another on the dance floor of Mooseheads.
We have every reason to be envious of the brotherhood that defines men’s relationships, but how are we supposed to feel any claim of pride to being female when we actively perpetuate the stereotype of bitchiness which plagues our gender? Iconoclast feminist Madeleine Albright famously declared there to be “a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Well, it seems that special place is getting damn crowed.