There’s an article in this week’s Student, Edinburgh Uni’s weekly newspaper, entitled “Musings of a Closet Feminist”, by Claire Stancliffe. It’ll probably be on their website in a couple of days, but at time of going to web, it’s not yet.
I’ve got to say I agree with her on the vast majority of what she says. As a former A Level English Language student, I’m all too aware that feminist issues DO still exist, contrary to popular belief, not least in language (although it’s certainly not the most important manifestation of sexism). I’m always confused when I hear words like ‘actress’, ‘waitress’, ‘manageress’ etc. Why do we need a female alternative to the word ‘actor’ (ie. someone who acts), ‘waiter’ (someone who waits on people) or ‘manager’ (someone who manages things). And there’s still the issue arising of how we should avoid the ‘generic he’ in situations like “a police officer should not wear his uniform while off duty”. The majority of readers would not realise that the police officer in this sentence is not necessarily male, because in the English language, when the sex of the subject is not specified, the generic ‘he’ can be used to refer to either a male or a female, since we have no neuter pronoun to refer to people. In any case such a usage of the word contributes to what is commonly known as the ‘invisible female’. What people prefer instead is to use what is being called ‘the singular they’, ie. “a police officer should not wear their uniform while off duty”, which avoids the awkward “his/her”. But it’s grammatically incorrect to refer to a singular subject with a plural noun. Recently I’ve noticed that a small number of my lecturers are using a ‘generic she’, which could be an alternative, just use both terms equally. Just one of the many boring controversies in contemporary English Language studies.
In any case there were a couple of parts that I had very minor objections to. Firstly she appears to imply that men encourage women to objectify themselves as proof that they’re sexually liberated, when in my experience that’s not exactly true. Frequently when women are going out they themselves choose to wear an inch of makeup and less than an inch of clothing, as well as a pair of heels that would cripple even the most balanced of mountain goats. When you ask them why wear such impractical and over-revealing clothing, the usual response is that ‘they have to’. I’m not telling them to, and I’d prefer if they didn’t, so where’s this pressure coming from? I suspect it’s from other women, that if you’re not showing off loads of skin then you’re not dressed up enough.
Secondly, when she describes her discussion with her friends about her musings, she says “unsurprisingly the boys responded with the usual witticisms involving bra-burning lesbians”. I wonder whether this conversation actually took place, because I can’t think of many men who would actually do this. Maybe Claire should get some better friends. I know that if one of my female friends came to me and wanted to talk about a feminist issue, I’d be 100% behind her, particularly if she felt I’d done something to offend her.
But going along with all this is the misconception that feminism is all about women. It affects men almost as much. Sexual prejudice and discrimination tells me that I should be being macho all the time, wearing blue instead of pink, and changing car tyres in my spare time, just as much as it tells women to stay at home and do the housework. Maybe it’s not such a big deal for men as for women, but feminism isn’t just the fight for women’s liberation, it is a more general fight against sexual discrimination and prejudice, which affects men too. I feel this fact has been neglected in writers of feminist literature.