A guide to living in bubbles, de-vilifying feminism, and seeing through new lenses
We all live in bubbles. We often and inevitably surround ourselves with people like us. And then, our online worlds work to cement these offline communities further, as well as the common mindsets that accompany them.
It is human nature - arguably, it is a part of our mode of survival - to find social groups where we find acceptance and understanding.
As such, there is no better opportunity than, say, a visit home for the holidays - to small towns, old friends, and family members - to confirm this hunch and to realize just how insulating our lives often become.
My bubble is a big glittery casing of gays, dancers, artists, activists, environmentalists, and feminists. I reside in a large world metropolis with significant rebel political history, and I study and work in the field of gender politics. All of this is not to say that I am fancy or cool or elite - I was none of those things in high school, and that has never changed. But rather to say that I recognise the large degree to which I am out of touch with a good proportion of the population and the views they have on the world.
For me, feminism is so fundamental and naturally assumed- it’s like breathing air. I could not fathom how distasteful it could be to others until I went back home, a good 15,000 kilometres, and conversation after conversation shed light on the bad coverage this stellar political concept has had. Many a smart, educated folk I talked to had an uncomfortable time with the idea that they could be feminists. Despite their overall commitment to social justice, they felt feminism was a dirty word and, to varying degrees, a negative thing for society - nothing they wanted to self-identify as.
For me, this was a worrying conclusion for a movement that seeks equality and equity at its core - whose purpose is to question structures of power and domination, and to support those disenfranchised based on intersecting identities.
It’s like an Aperol spritz on a hot summer’s day- what’s not to like about it?
Firstly, feminism seeks freedom of (authentic) choice:
The choice for women to work if they want to, perform care work if they want to, have kids or not have kids if they want to, marry who they want to, be single if they want to, be educated to the extent they want to, to be heard if they want to and everything in between and outside of these choices. Whilst choice can sometimes be a fickle thing, feminism seeks to shed light and expose how "real" our choices actually are. It seeks to challenge the social structures often framing and dictating our lives. It does so by revealing the ways in which these structures of power serve to narrow our choices, and condition and reinforce what is esteemed by society as the "right", "good" and "nice" choices. As such, enabling women to make authentic choices which serve them best- as opposed to supporting the prevailing status quo- is a concept and perk that feminism should proudly boast.
A key foundational block of choice is that whatever decisions women make - they are weighted and valued equally across the board for all (another good accolade and laudable unique selling point for feminism- whoop whoop)
i.e., You choose to stay at home as a mother/carer? That is work and should be valued and governed accordingly.
You choose to work in the greater economy? You should be compensated the same and given the same opportunities to succeed as everyone else.
You choose to marry? Great, your decisions and needs are weighted equally, and your ability to live free of abuse, violence, and coercion is a given.
And the list goes on…..
One valid complaint is that feminism has produced a society of women overwhelmed by the need to ‘do it all.’ However, scapegoating feminism for this ‘crazed superwomen’ phenomenon ends up emptying feminism of its political potential to critique and transform capitalism.
Capitalism and its current version 2.0 - Neoliberalism - conveniently cherry-picks the parts of feminism that serve its purposes whilst retaining the traditional conservative expectations of women at the same time. These economic systems rely on vast amounts of unpaid labour for their continuation and profit from half of the world entering into the global economy - often as underpaid workers.
This heady mix and development of political concepts leave a kind of superwoman/supermom expectation that many acknowledge is a widespread and unsustainable phenomenon. This idea that women need to “lean in” - to do it all - is hugely unsettling, as studies show that the average woman has 17 minutes to herself in her day. Moreover, the pandemic is a prime example of the ways in which these triple shifts performed by women (i.e., care labour, paid labour and emotional labour) are overwhelming and increasing, but an inevitable product of the current system geared towards growth at any cost.
Feminism is not about unrealistic expectations of women to now be mothers, carers, workers, CEOs, bakers, cleaners, fitness gurus, Etsy retailers, podcasters, and everything else all at once, but the choice to decide which things they want to do and be, without judgment or criticism that it doesn’t meet society's expectations of them.
A second complaint is that feminism has devalued women’s unique role in society as child bearers and mothers. This is once again laden with misdirected blame and false assumptions. Feminism fights for women to be valued as their person, not what they can do for others, whether it is to bear them, raise them, care for them, etc.
The development of western industrialisation is a key moment in modern history which can be better situated to explain the devaluation (or instrumentalization) of women, which saw women as second-class citizens well before the first wave of feminism ever came about. Women were wombs first and foremost for the continuation and securement of property ownership (i.e., the male bloodline).
And whilst women were likened to property/chattel well before industrialisation in certain pre-modern societies, the underlying point remains the same: controlling the reproductive ability of women to secure bloodlines results in the instrumentation, rather than the valuation and esteem of women.
This misdirected blame on feminism for women not getting special treatment for their reproductive role in society falsely assumes that they had this at one point. Rather feminism should better be understood and celebrated in its power to liberate women by valuing them authentically and fully. It fights for women to be esteemed as they are, not reductively as walking wombs, or in what society can glean from them.
To come full circle on this new comms strategy for women, let me ask for you to see feminism instead as a lens through which to see the world. A transformative, challenging, and much-needed lens to see and achieve a vision of a better future. A lens that makes plain how some people are privileged - having a social bias head start - based on the colour of their skin, their downstairs construction, their sexual orientation, gender identification, religious affiliation, geographic location, and socio-economic status.
To transform domination, exploitation, and inequality, we need to call these things out for what they indeed are and critique the power structures which perpetuate them. Feminism is your lens to do this - a common thread and fundamental building block for those committed to a world more equitable for all.
Simple. As. That.