“No, I’m not a feminist”
One of the joys from my job as a student ambassador is to work closely with younger students. My interactions with these students range from subject choices, through to career development, and on special occasions, feminism. Even though the conversation has no mention of the actual word “feminism”, I categorise it as such as it touches on what I believe are to be the values of feminism: equality in the social, economic and cultural spheres. The feminist movement may have started in the early 1920s, but it still remains relevant today. The reasons for why this is so is quite clear: the gender pay gap still exists, we have an over-represented Indigenous Australian population in our criminal justice system, and there is a scary prevalence of racism, especially when considering Australia to be a multicultural nation. I have heard many stories that touch on the everyday politics of our modern society; it is that story where a male colleague ‘glances’ below his female counterpart’s collarbones, or the story where there is the “border-line” racial slur that came out during coffee. Whatever the situation, it seems that there is a clear inequality that persists in our society.
I was speaking to a first year uni student one afternoon, over coffee, catching up on how her first couple of weeks had been. As the conversation went on, it led to the troubles she was facing with her parents and the expectations on her as female. I enquired as to whether she would call herself a feminist, to which she replied, “No, I’m not a feminist.” I told her that I was a bit surprised to hear her say that, as from the conversations we have had, I thought she had a lot of feminist values. She told me that she did not like the label of “feminist” because there were negative connotations attached to it: that it represented some men-hating, bra-burning, childless female. Of course, I empathise with the student. It is difficult nowadays to see a “feminist” as anything else, given how both mainstream and social media has portrayed feminism. For the student, she said it was the militant feminists on Tumblr that really deterred her from labelling herself from the label. Let us recall the recent #IAmNotAFeminist social movemnt, where hundreds upon hundrews of teenage Tumblr users held up signs denouncing their alliance to the movement that have allowed them to so freely express themselves.
I had my own phase where I did not wholly embrace the term ‘feminist’. I too had preconceived notions that feminism involved hating men, that the Western feminist movement (which I grew up learning about in my high school) was the only type of feminism around, and that this did not pertain to me as an Asian Australian female. Of course, through many conversations with others, and engaging in gender studies, I have grown to better understand what feminism is, and now I comfortably embrace the identity of a feminist. However, now that I think about it, does it really matter whether one labels themselves a feminist? If said person carry some feminist values in their action, what is the function of a label? Take for example our Deputy Leader and Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop. She does not call herself a feminist, but judging from her actions, she does advocate feminist values through her work and efforts in Parliament. You only need to see her performance on the 2015 International Women’s Day episode of ABC’s Q&A to come to this conclusion. She does feminism her way, without any baggage from the label “feminist”.
Personally, I still choose to call myself a ‘feminist’. This is because I truly feel a need to change the current connotations the term ‘feminist’ has copped over the past decade, as well as an imperative to forge a new narrative to reflect how feminism has evolved from its men-hating, bra-burning days. To me, feminism is a movement towards equality through inclusiveness, compassion and empowerment. Feminism, as it stands today, has new manifestations and more voices than ever before. This is why the baggage needs to be removed. DAWN is the start of this change in the narrative of diversity in Australia. Diversity is inherently a feminist value – it is about achieving equality not merely amongst the genders, but also classes and races (and other forms of oppression). I am a feminist, I am a member of DAWN, and I am working to redefine what a modern Australian feminist looks like.