I spend a lot of time in what you might call ‘feminist space’ online. And I keep seeing these cute little comics and the like around the place. I’m sure you’ve seen them too. They espouse the notion that, “not all feminists are hairy, man hating lesbians”.
Now, I understand why these exist. And I understand the motive behind them. Feminism really gets a bad press. The right wing like to tell everyone that we are responsible for the breakdown of western civilisation. We break up families, steal jobs, ruin lives. This is not even close to a full rundown of what we are blamed for. But it is a part of what we might term the ‘Backlash’.
(For a better explanation of the Backlash, I recommend Susan Faludi’s excellent book on the subject.)
Not only does the backlash turn men against feminism (which I guess can be understood), it turns women against feminism. And that is really sad. I’ve lost count of the women I know who have said to me, oh I’m not a feminist, whilst having opinions that should align them very clearly with the feminist movement. Feminism at it’s heart is a movement by women, for women. The fact that women can be turned against it shows us clearly how far we have to go.
But I digress. There is a backlash. And we need to fight that. I get that. I’m all on board with that. But.
One of the stereotypes of feminists that we see most often is that of the (previously mentioned) hairy man hating lesbian. We see it all the time. Apparently intelligent people ask me if I hate men when I say I’m a feminist (which I do a lot). And so, we rail against that. We say, oh, we’re not all like that. And I honestly think that by doing so, we are handing ourselves over as an easy weapon against ourselves.
Let’s take a look at what (I think) we are saying when we disavow the hairy man hating lesbian stereotype.
1) ‘Hairy’. This is the one that is easiest for me to complain about. ‘We’re not all hairy’ tells the men (and most of the time, the relative hirsuteness of our bodies is of interest to men) that it’s ok, we still conform to their beauty standards. By calling us hairy, they are trying to put us down in one of the most base ways they can manage. By implying that our bodies are not attractive to them, and also by reminding us that our most important role, is how we conform to their desires. By saying we aren’t, we validate that. Chosing to remove or not body hair is a personal decision. If you still want to shave, wax, pluck, or otherwise depilate some part or all parts of your body, grand! Go forth, have fun. Choosing not to do so can be a politically motivated decision, it can be a time based decision, it can be a laziness based decision. But these are our bodies, it is our decision to make. By othering women who choose not to remove hair (and our denial that we are like them is surely a type of othering) we tell society that it isn’t our decision, that society/the patriarchy/whatever gets to tell us what to do. And I’m not ok with that.
2) Lesbian (yeah, I know, I’ve skipped a step. I’ll get to that!). Really? That’s what we are doing? I mean, other than reaffirming that our bodies are sexually available to the menz (which is what we are doing when we vehemently deny that we are lesbians), we are also saying that women who are lesbians belong to the ‘bad feminists’, the ones we put over there, away from us. Now, don’t get me wrong. If someone says you’re a lesbian, and you’re not, then it’s perfectly fine to correct them, should you choose to do so. But these blanket statements make me really uncomfortable. The ‘all feminists are lesbians’ insult is about reminding us (again!) that women’s primary role is to be sexually available to men. And to an extent, we reaffirm that with our vehement denials.
3) Man hating. Yeah, this is the big one. I guess a lot of you can get on board with the other things I have said. They are easy really. So what about the man hating. What about the feminists who ‘hate men’. Well, maybe they have good reasons for hating men. And I am not saying, aww, those poor women, they have obviously been abused or harmed by men. I mean, look at men. As a sociological group. As the patriarchy. Look. Men rape women. Men beat women. Men murder women. Men are in political power. Women are 50 % of the population. And yet we have next to no political power. We are not the lawmakers. We are not the policy makers. We don’t make the decisions that directly affect our lives, our families, our bodies. Men do. So yeah, feminists that are angry at men, that criticise men, that ‘hate’ men. They’ve probably got a point. The term ‘man hating’ is used to personalise these issues and criticisms. It’s used to make it look like an individual feminist hates all men on a personal level, thus diminishing anything they have to say. It distracts us from the issues. It’s reductive arguing. Everytime we can say ‘men’ do this, we are told, but what about this man, or this man, or this man. And we spend so much time saying yes, that man is nice, and that man, and that man, that the patriarchy just trundles along.
So yeah, I’m won’t be saying I’m not a hairy, man-hating lesbian. Because, to me, it feels like by doing so, I am throwing my sisters under the patriarchal bus. And I’m not ok with that.
Thanks for reading.