The feminist trap question

A few people got very excited that Bill English said he wouldn’t describe himself as a feminist and further doesn’t quite know what it means.

This question is always a trap. If you answer yes then you will be given a long list of ways in which you don’t live up to feminist ideals, and if you answer no you will be condemned as not believing in equality.

Many people (including myself) define a feminist as someone who believes in equality for women. On that definition around 98% of the population is a feminist, which probably makes it not a particular meaningful definition.

Most people differentiate the two though. Danyl McL blogs on a poll from the UK:

When split out by gender, women were more likely to identify as feminist, with nine per cent using the label compared to four per cent of men.

But men were more supportive generally of equality between the sexes – 86 per cent wanted it for the women in their lives – compared to 74 per cent of women.

Sam Smethers, the charity’s chief executive, said: “The overwhelming majority of the public share our feminist values but don’t identify with the label. However the simple truth is if you want a more equal society for women and men then you are in fact a feminist.

So over 80% of people in the UK support equality for women but only 8% of women (and 4% of men) identify as a feminist. So Bill English falls into that category.

If your only criteria for being a feminist is supporting sexual equality, then Gareth Wilson points out:

My thought experiment when this comes up is the feminist trio Leni, Alice, and Tammy. Leni is proudly racist, and believes only white people are capable of civilisation. Alice is a radical libertarian who would let half the population starve if it would motivate the other half to work harder. Tammy is a devout Christian who sincerely believes you’ll go to Hell for having an abortion, or teaching evolution. But they all genuinely believe that women are equal to men, and deserve all the opportunities and privileges that men have. If you don’t believe all three are feminists, then your broad definition that you use to bully people into describing themselves as feminists isn’t actually what you think a feminist is.

Matthew Hooton also points out:

Anyone who thinks feminism is simply about equality should have a quick re-read of, say, The Whole Woman by Greer. It is a far richer doctrine than mere equality and quite understandable for a Catholic conservative like Bill English – and many other people besides him – to be cautious about wholehearted identification with the term.

So even though I’m happy to say I’m a feminist as I support equality for women, most people don’t see a feminist as just being about equality – but about a wider political ideology. so holding it up as a litmus test for fitness to not very enlightening.

Comments (114)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment