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Why is feminism still so afraid to focus on its flaws?

Feminists meeting in Bristol, some wearing the Fawcett Society's 'This is what a feminist looks like' T-shirt. Photograph: Stephen Shepherd


by Deborah Orr

June 15, 2011

Feminism forbids women from admitting too many self-evident truths for fear that the utterance of them will encourage discrimination

What exasperates feminists? No, it’s not men. It’s women who can’t choke out the F-word in reference to themselves, even though they have reaped so many rewards from the achievements of the movement, and would be horrified to find themselves living in a culture that had never benefited from feminism‘s influence. A new report launching the website TrustLaw Women, and highlighting the continuing degradation and abuse of millions of women worldwide, offers a sobering reminder of how vital feminism remains. But as hope rises in the feminist breast that a new generation of British women will be less chary of the label, it’s probably worth asking exactly why such stubborn reluctance has been so widespread.

The lazy answer is that feminists have a lingering bad image – as man-hating, crop-haired harridans in ill-fitting dungarees. A T-shirt campaign launched a couple of years back by the women’s lobbying group the Fawcett Society urged people to display the slogan: “This is what a feminist looks like”. The campaign’s very existence confirmed that feminism is still worried about “branding”. But it’s a lot more complex than that. The very fact that some feminists are so willing to accept that women don’t want the label for such superficial reasons, rather than crediting women with more profound intellectual discomfort, is an indication that even feminist attitudes can sometimes be dismissive of women and their legitimate concerns.

Feminists (and I’m generalising here) tend towards the conclusion that women who don’t sign up are simply hostages to the tyranny of the patriarchy, whose feeble personal consciousnesses have refused to be raised. But there is a lot more to it than that. Feminism has its own troubling flaws, and they are too little addressed. The fundamental and rather serious problem is the blunt and somewhat stubborn emphasis on “equality“, difficult enough in a society deeply divided by economic inequality generally, even without the added complication that it’s the people with care of children, whatever their sex, whose economic freedom is most compromised the world over.  > Read more

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