The inevitability of attaching negative connotation to socio-political ideologies

Kim Piffy 2018

I’m inclined to summarise life in general as ‘oxymoronic’, so when I was asked to write about my attitude towards the term ‘Feminist’, and how connotation has affected this, I was simultaneously itching to get started, and also a bit worried that my metaphysical focus would over-explain the mechanisms of language, thus overshadowing this very important, grounded, sociological problem. 

In conversations with my peers, and through my own experiences, I have discovered that identifying as a feminist elicits complicated, confusing and often disturbing responses: 

One of my friends [Sophia Barnes – Bristol, 22] highlighted the fact that only between one in twenty and one in thirty rape cases end up going to trial. The media could be called up for accusing women of ‘crying rape’, which actively discourages women and men from reporting incidences of rape, and therefore actively makes rape more of an escapable offence, increasing the risk to the general population. 

She also mentioned that she has noticed when men in particular associate with/stick up for feminists, they are usually belittled by other males in the group. We started to talk about how males segregate specific things to instil a sense of concrete sexuality in particular activities and even objects e.g [lad bible/yorkies]. 

‘Feminazi’ is a perfect example of how the term “feminist” has been reconstructed to outline radicals.

‘I unfollowed lab bible years ago because of the comments section. But if you were to try and make a point about any of these examples of inequality/patriarchy, you’d get told that “it’s just a joke/calm down”, or you’d get a derogatory answer specifically to piss you off more, like “make me a sandwich”, “get back to the kitchen, feminazi”.’

Harriett Speed – Oxford, 22


’People slag off feminism because they’re scared of the word feminine. They think there’s some secret agenda.  They think it runs deeper than just gender equality. That it’s about one gender becoming more important than the other, when really it’s raising awareness to the fact that gender inequality exists on all sides but women get the worst of it.’

Rhiannon Kagoe – Bristol, 23

‘There’s been loads of times where I’ve had people explain that they think that the term feminism focuses on women’s issues, as if they don’t happen to men, and that by discussing them, the fact that they happen to men also is brushed under the carpet. I have also had someone, for similar reasons, say they think it’s slightly paradoxical because it tackles gender discrimination by focusing on one gender.’

Peggy Hughes – Oxford, 21 

‘Feminist’ has a toxic connotation because a lot of men, and therefore women on their behalf, are resistant to the inevitable loss in relative power to men that results from achieving a more equal society. I don’t think it’s about the name, really.’

Violet Carey – Bristol, 26

The biggest annoyance to me is the fact that when someone asks me if I’m a feminist, or I say that I’m a feminist, I automatically feel as though I have to follow up and define the term as ‘equality’ rather than ‘I hate all men’ immediately. I’ve been told I ‘don’t look like a feminist’ more than I can count. I think that is belittling… also, in drawing a mirror to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ thing and how people were all like “Actually, all lives matter.” which wasn’t the point, if that makes sense? It’s not like a fight for one-sided hostility, it’s a fight for equal rights in both cases… males have always guided every culture and it protrudes all over the world.

Georgia Vocé – Cirencester, 23

The problem, it seems, is that as soon as we define intangible things, such as the sociopolitical standpoint that is being a ‘Feminist’, it becomes, as a noun, associated to specific individuals. These individuals, who all possess very different intrinsic wants and needs, collectively stand for the ‘idea’ that is being a feminist – and then the idea itself becomes represented by a menagerie of contrasting individual ideals. 

In a somewhat ironic attempt at preserving the wholesome idea of what constitutes a feminist, we divide it into different subsections; you have cultural feminists, liberal feminists, radicals & socialists. The poor average Joe[anna], then meets members of these different subdivisions via their own personal encounters, and either agrees with their association and becomes a feminist by association, or is somewhat put off by the whole idea (because they may not necessarily share the same passion for a contrasting world view as their hypothetical peer). Unfortunately, pretty much every individual has different wants, needs and ideas, so most ladies don’t want to associate with extremities or particulars that may conflict with their own viewpoint or experiences. 

It’s no surprise that it can be tremendously difficult when we’re battling to find a middle ground for equality and diversity simultaneously. Fighting & battling – the verbs speak for the whole pavlova. Humankind has a tendency to fall very short when it comes to trying to group people together and getting everyone to agree on something. 

I personally admit a certain shyness in verbally expressing that I am a feminist, choosing rather to act in a particular manner over explaining my attitude through this term. This is because I identify an element of danger with the coining of terms in relation to socio-political movements, and I believe this is at the root of the toxicity that surrounds not just feminism but any identification with a religious, spiritual, social or political ideology. 

Religion, politics & spiritual movements have a tendency to attach horrible & painful dogmatic practices to their ideologies, such as female genital mutilation. This practice is deemed a ‘rite of passage,’ which is totally contradictory to the accompanying scripture which explicates that ‘harm should be removed.’ 

Abhorrence is one of the very few consistencies in which all the worldly religions converge. Even Buddhism is inherently misogynistic. In fact, it is incredibly difficult to pinpoint one collective religious group which is not responsible for excluding, devaluing, oppressing or enslaving women under the jurisdiction of a higher power, which is of course, masculine. 

Perhaps there is an innate element to the way in which human beings organise themselves collectively, which makes it near impossible to give reverence to femininity; as we have already explored, the individuals who collate themselves with the common consensus being a mutual respect for our fellow woman seem to face incredible difficulty in unifying their modus operandi. Are we capable and independent? Or vulnerable and need protection? Well, I would argue both, and this explains the innate essence of my self-identification. I am a woman, and I am innately contradictory and that is NOT a weakness. It is a fact which directly opposes the entire basis of western thought, logic and scientific methodology itself. I am art, creativity, and beauty, and without me, the world would not exist at all. 

That amount of lucidity and power is sure to make people feel uncomfortable! 

Feminism, although it may be striving for some sense of fairness, IS a sociological movement which has, in some instances, become dogmatic. I find all ideology extremely dangerous and worth avoiding, and believe the only way to alleviate the term ‘feminist’ from the toxicity that causes women to turn away from their sisters is to avoid any dogmatic, radical, or argumentative stance whatsoever. That does not mean we should not be angry or passionate, but there is a very important reason why we should be trying to keep women together, because alienation and segregation  fuel the patriarchy – everyone’s heard it: ‘divide and conquer.’ There is also the fact that everyone’s ideas of ‘power’ or ‘governance’ are fuelled by capitalism, so the equality we strive for may not necessarily be positive; women are becoming more equal to men in their daily activities, maybe, but is that true equality, and does that include any respect towards our individual capabilities and differences? 

Victimised women too often find ourselves isolated. I understand this too well. As someone who recently moved from a women’s shelter for domestic abuse, I have been a ‘victim’ of full-frontal toxic masculinity. It is therefore the job of the true feminist to unite women through safety in congregation. Women grouping together supersedes sociological and political ideology and is, in fact, a law of nature. It is naturally beneficial to us to have a group. Another old saying fits well here: safety in numbers. 

It is incredibly important for women to have a platform and a voice. I think it is really important for others to hear and to raise awareness to these kinds of issues which I have found to be terribly well disguised in the public sphere. If people can share their experiences of adversity, then it is less likely to happen. There is strength in numbers. The internet has been shown to have profound reverberations in this respect; examples such as the ‘Me Too’ campaign have had a massive effect and bring to attention the full scale of the issues we are trying to overcome – the internet provides the perfect environment for arranging events and meet-ups for women, but also gives us anonymity if we require it whilst still being able to reach out and form networks. 

It is simply not an excuse that the umbrella term ‘feminism’ discourages people from understanding the oppressive forces that work against, not only women as a sex, but that also force men into gender roles which, I believe, are the root cause of the divide. So where do we go from here? I can only hope that technology gives the general population access to new sources of information, that everyone has the courage to be themselves, that dialogues are opened up and that people are encouraged to learn and express their emotions, not just for the sake of us as a species but for Mother Earth herself. Here’s to evolution. 

Author: Anna Haydock-Wilson

Artist, Filmmaker and Community Project Manager

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