Why are we trying to make feminism seem so complicated?
This is a guest post by Sirena Bergman, a journalist and editor based in London, she tweets @sirenabergman and blogs at sirenabergman.com.
Being a feminist means believing in equality. It’s that straightforward. If you believe that women are just as able, deserving and entitled to be heard as men, you are a feminist. If you have ever met a person with a vagina, you have no excuse to not be a feminist. If you are a human inhabiting this planet, you have to be a feminist. This is because equality amongst people of all genders, race, nationality and social backgrounds is crucial to making the world a better place for us all.
Being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to represent every woman, or address every single possible aspect of the struggle every time you open your mouth.
Emma Watson decided to use her celebrity and social standing to push for men to get involved in feminism by giving a legendary speech at the UN headquarters. Her words would probably have faded into obscurity if they’d been spoken by someone non-headline-worthy, but she paved the way for both men and women to stand up and speak for the importance of equal rights. Well apparently that’s just not good enough.
In a Twitter Q&A she was asked whether she is a “white feminist”. Without going into a pedantic diatribe about the semantic flaws in this phrase, it’s basically the new version of “check your privilege”, which means that you should strive to be inclusive with your arguments, and recognise the fact that there are people who are at a disadvantage in comparison to your position. That sounds kind of like what she did when she visited Zambia and Bangladesh to promote education for girls, or travelled to Uruguay to discuss female participation in politics. That doesn’t strike me as someone who can’t see beyond her own luck in life.
You know who should be told to check their privilege? The bunch of middle-class white men we voted in, who are penalising women for having more children than they’ve deemed acceptable (intentionally or otherwise), who decided childcare and streetlights aren’t a big deal, and who refuse to properly fund organisations that are pushing for equality.
Emma Watson isn’t trying to speak for people whose position she’s not in. She acknowledged that their situation is important but focussed on the issues she feels attached to. Yet much like Lena Dunham, Caitlin Moran, Amy Schumer and countless others before them, all people can home in on is what she didn’t say. Even when she eloquently and patiently defended herself, she was still subject to unsubstantiated claims of racial unawareness. Concluding her response on Twitter, she said: “I want to hear as many voices as possible, I want to hear other people’s stories. This is a universal and global movement”.
Feminism isn’t a fight against each other. It’s not about silencing other feminists because they don’t look like you. Women gaining a platform to speak about the issues affecting them will pave the way for the rest of us to tell our stories; women rising to the top will yank the rest of us up with them. Bickering about a turn of phrase or a lack of inclusivity is legitimising arguments that feminism is difficult, complicated or for the educated few.
I’m white too, but Emma Watson doesn’t represent me. She’s from an incredibly privileged background, was privately educated, conforms to socially established beauty standards (she’s playing Belle, for God’s sake) and is worth an estimated $60 million. But it’s because of her privilege that she has the platform that she does and I just wish more women in her position would speak up for those of us they can’t reach an audience as easily. Perhaps more women would speak out if we didn’t make it our primary principle to persecute them for not being every single thing to every single person with a Twitter account.
*I am interested in publishing a wide range of opinions and voices. If you are interesting in contributing a guest post, email me at email@example.com.*
“In love with Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete. So funny & smart, and reminding me of some of my own cringe teen Internet exploits!”– Anna James, former literary editor of ELLE
"Funny, honest, and nostalgic!"– The Debrief
“Emma Gannon is a bright spark of light in the world. I seriously dig everything she makes”– Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Big Magic