My uncomfortable relationship with feminism

 

I was chatting with someone recently about the idea of feminism. I’ve forgotten how we got on the topic, given that I usually avoid discussing the topic with men, for obvious reasons being that it’s one of those topics that has a high potential for turning into a heated debate, much like politics, or religion.

On this occasion, I was really struck by what this person said to me: “I think that most people are feminists. You’d be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t support equal pay for men and women.”

His comment really stayed with me because of the nature of what he said. In actuality, I didn’t agree with it. I thought it was a simplistic argument, based on the fact that feminism is more than just about wanting equal pay for everyone. I then said that I didn’t really agree with this. I may have misguided/confused ideas about what feminism means, but I also believed that it was about more than just equal pay.

I’m more than a little ashamed to say that feminism has never really been a topic close to my heart. But aren’t all women feminists? To be completely honest, I didn’t know what defined feminism. My idea of a feminist was a Docs wearing, slightly overweight, butch looking woman who quotes Plath, drinks beer and generally hates men. I think that feminism gets a bad rap in the media occasionally because there are so many vitriolic feminists who seem to hate men.

Dictionary.Reference.com defines feminism as: the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. Of course I want equal rights for women. But my discomfort with being branded as a feminist lies with this: can you be a feminist and still support traditional gender roles? To be honest, I’m not even sure if I support traditional gender roles. My best friend has said that I support traditional gender roles “when it suits me”.

I’m not sure if I could consider myself a feminist just in this respect. For almost 5 years, I was in a relationship where my ex-boyfriend and I were the exact embodiment of traditional gender roles. I used to cook, clean, wash up, do the laundry, fold the clothes. I was basically your 1950’s style housewife. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. Not because I had to do housework, but because I thought it was unfair that I did everything.

Of course, that relationship came to an end. Often, our formative experiences have the effect of rubbing off on us, of changing us completely. I don’t think I would ever like to be in that kind of relationship again, where there was such a complete and obvious power imbalance and lack of equality. This by definition, should make me a feminist. But it’s a little more complicated than that.

Of course, I get enraged when I see articles like this.

The movement #bringbackthepatriarchy is quite troubling. I first discovered the site Return of Kings when I was doing a Google search, and couldn’t believe that something like that existed. After reading one article, I was troubled, which naturally led to me reading 20 more. The views on the site were misogynistic, to say the least. I didn’t support it one bit.

But then the idea of gender roles came back again. I kept wondering, can I be a feminist if I’m not the first one to grab the check on dates? If I like doing cooking for men?

This idea comes back again and again. I was having a drink with a friend once, who said that he preferred dating Asian women because he thought they were more ‘feminine’. I didn’t ask him what he meant by this. I assumed that he meant submissive, docile, willing to do house work. Asian women have that stereotype, because in Asian countries, it’s very much still a patriarchy, more so than in Western countries. I’ve heard that in parts of Vietnam, the women in the household eat after the men, In Japan, it’s still very much a cultural norm for women to quit work when they get married and become a full time housewife.

After some thought, I realised that I’m usually more attracted to masculine men as well. Our culture is governed by ideas about what makes a woman ‘feminine’ and what makes a man ‘masculine’. We’re stuck in these roles because we grow up with them, see them in the media, and inadvertantly perform them on a daily basis. I assume that most women don’t want to be perceived as masculine, and vice versa for men. Often, a man or a woman seen as embodying too many characteristics of the opposite sex will also be shunned by the opposite sex. I’ve heard my friends discuss men saying things like, so and so ‘has a girl’s body’. I get where traditional gender roles lead to obvious constraints, such as men not being able to discuss their feelings, to live in fear of being perceived as feminine, for women to live in fear of being seen as masculine, to be expected to do housework. Do these roles really make anyone happy?

I think that Emma Watson really embodied many of my own views on feminism with her ‘He for She’ speech. But how can we move past gender roles, when they are so ingrained in our culture, and also, as part of something that constitutes our biological makeup?

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