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Fiona Snyckers

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Why I am Still a Militant, Ball-breaking, Jackbooted, Skinhead Lesbian Feminist

The blogosphere was rocked recently by a Thought Leader post by Beverley Merriman entitled “I’m not a Feminist”. To say that it left ructions in its wake would be to be guilty of pale and tepid understatement. It certainly provoked me to some fierce cogitation.

However, not wanting to be guilty of what Debby Edelstein calls PhD – or Pull Her Down – syndrome, and having an intense dislike for ad hominem attacks, I have decided not to engage with the post itself, but rather to use it as a jumping-off point for a discussion about post-Feminism. I think most of us are familiar with the argument that feminism is a movement that has had its day and served its purpose, and that it is now time for us all to move forward into a new era of harmonious gender relations. Indeed, the argument goes, we are already IN that era of glorious gender equality, and anyone who is still bleating on about women’s rights is living in the past.

There is a very simple way to test how real this gender-tastic Age of Aquarius actually is, and that is to look at whether women’s lives have actually improved in the last fifty years or so. Are there really couples out there where the guy does the dishes and changes the kid’s nappies, while simultaneously bringing home the bacon and making tender, sensitive, monogamous love to his wife all night, with lots of cunnilingus? The wife meanwhile does the cooking, takes the kid to Baby Einstein classes, runs a multinational corporation, and never EVER has a headache at bedtime?

Yes, there probably are. In New York City perhaps … somewhere in Greenwich Village possibly … in a brownstone walk-up that reeks of lentils and good intentions. And also, apparently, in a little corner of South Africa that is forever wealthy East Coast America.

For the rest of the world, however … meh … not so much.

The percentage of the world’s women who live a middle class life is tiny. And the percentage of that number who never have to battle unequal pay scales, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and plain old patronising attitudes is even tinier. For the rest of the planet, life as a woman is anything but pleasant. Just taking our own country as an example will expose you to rape and domestic violence statistics that will make you want to weep. In most places in South Africa, the phrase “single, working mother” can conveniently be shortened to “mother” because there is no other kind.

These are not women who go back to work in a quest for personal fulfilment or to “find themselves”. They go back to work so that they and their children will not starve to death in the streets. There’s no stay-at-home-mom versus working-mom angst for them. No wondering whether their children will still get into Yale or Princeton if they’re not there to cart them off to Kindermusik classes three times a week. They work to survive – it’s as simple as that.

The vast majority of South African women don’t have much in the way of daycare options either. These often take the form of leaving the four-year-old in charge of the two-year-old and asking a neighbour to check in on them every once in a while. For other South African women to agitate earnestly and repeatedly for better daycare facilities in informal settlements seems to me an activity well worthy of the label “feminism”. And to suggest that such activism is no longer necessary in our “post-feminist world” is frankly ludicrous.

There are innumerable other forms of activism that are made in the name of feminism. Campaigning against sexual harassment in the workplace, for example, and against the increasingly widespread use of rape as a weapon of war, against domestic violence, unequal payscales, genital mutilation, honour killings, and the condemnation of women as witches. There are too many to list, but they are all the serious day-to-day business of feminism. If you honestly believe that these things don’t happen, or are simply the product of “poverty” and “ignorance” you are guilty of a worldview that is quite breathtaking in its blinkered and bourgeois narrowness.

So until all these ills have been put right, I remain delighted to associate myself with the most militant, ball-breaking and aggressive of my feminist sisters. I have never been ashamed to call myself a feminist. I will shout it from the rooftops. I am a feminist. I believe in feminism. I do my best to live a feminist life. And I will try to bring my daughters up as feminists too so that they can carry on the struggle for women’s rights into the next generation. A luta continua.

 

Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    October 22nd, 2010 @15:25 #
     
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    As I said on Twitter, Hell yeah!

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    October 22nd, 2010 @15:26 #
     
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    Feminism is a class issue.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    October 22nd, 2010 @15:32 #
     
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    Indeed, Rustum.

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    October 22nd, 2010 @15:38 #
     
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    classy

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  • <a href="http://ingridandersen.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Ingrid Andersen</a>
    Ingrid Andersen
    October 22nd, 2010 @15:40 #
     
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    I grew up with the Greer and Steinem discourse in the household, and with some slightly scary strident, newly emancipated women around. And I defined myself as 'other', a generation after the bra-burners, and therefore not a feminist (yes, you lot who know me set me straight).

    I stand for equality for each individual - and gender is only one of the many aspects that makes up an individual.

    Turns out there's a name for that: poststructuralist feminism.

    Fiona - I've got your back, girl. The fight for justice is only just beginning.

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    October 22nd, 2010 @15:43 #
     
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    Fiona, your post gives me goosebumps it is so well-written and on the mark. And I'm totally Aluta Continua too. And I too am proud to call myself a feminist.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    October 22nd, 2010 @16:51 #
     
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    What Colleen said. My sincere thanks, Fifi: the original post made me so angry, I felt nauseous with the weight of words I wanted to say. You have spoken for me, with reason and intelligence.

    One of the most dangerous elements of the rosy myth of the post-feminist world is that once gains are made, they are made forever. Meanwhile, as just one e.g., in the US, Roe v. Wade came within a hair's breadth of being overturned during the latter years of the Dubya regime. We might yet see US women returning to backstreets and knitting needles in the 21st century, depending on the next few elections.

    I use this particular e.g. because I AM one of those strident feminist activists Merriman holds in such disdain, and among the MANY strident and offensive things I've done was to sit in front of a Parliamentary Committee, with a mandate from the SA Women's Health Project and my own conscience, and present a case for decriminalising abortion. I walked out to calls of how I was going to hell, I had gross and gory pictures waved in front of my face. I was a tiny cog in a huge political wheel, but thanks to the feminists she so deplores, Merriman has the legal right to a safe abortion, among countless other rights.

    I mention this incredibly contentious issue, because (a) it cost me (as a Catholic)to fight that battle; (b) it cost me as a woman who couldn't have her own children; (c) the legislation could be reversed (something for the Merrimans of this country to contemplate the next time they experience contraceptive failure) and (d) women (and men) like Merriman need to consider that the deplorable feminists are not driven by "whims", but by a commitment to basic human rights that is not always easy or comfortable to live with.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    October 22nd, 2010 @23:20 #
     
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    Thanks, Helen. That is a great coda to this blog, which I kept thinking you should really be writing and not me. This is your bailiwick, after all. (Am I using bailiwick correctly there? Hmm...)

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    October 22nd, 2010 @23:45 #
     
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    Fifi, I wanted to write a response. I may yet. But my academic background means I find it very hard to respond to stupidity, much less stupidity accompanied by arrogance and smugness, in less than 6000 words. (I knew I shoulda been a journalist instead.)

    The other problem is how incredibly angry I was and still am. I spent decade of my life fighting this effing battle -- the "I'm not a feminist" one -- and I cannot BELIEVE it is still necessary to defend those women (and men) who battle against human sex trafficking, honour killings, dowry murders, FMG, rape and other forms of sexual violence.

    If I'd written something immediately, it WOULD have involved an fair amount of attack. Which would have been counterproductive. Whereas you, my dear, have indeed been classy, as said above.

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  • Maire
    Maire
    October 22nd, 2010 @23:50 #
     
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    Many, many thanks Fiona, you say it all so well! I'm sorry in a way that I read her post. It means that I became the 1676th person to do so, and, methinks, that's pretty much all she's interested in. Well researched, constructive debate obviously isn't high on the agenda. If many hits are what it takes to become a Thought Leader (shuddersome thought in this case), then sadly all who read her post are contributing to her ranking. I hope you carry all comments here over to FB and vice versa Fiona - there's interesting debate going on in both places. Thanks again.

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  • <a href="http://ingridandersen.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Ingrid Andersen</a>
    Ingrid Andersen
    October 23rd, 2010 @10:54 #
     
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    Thursday was an eye-opener for me: I realised that I have been living in a progressive cocoon of gender-sensitivity at work and amongst family and friends.

    On Thursday, I was one of the guest speakers at a university event to foster future women leaders organised by the students themselves. I had been asked to share my perspective as a woman in leadership.

    The discussions between the students were eye-opening. As Helen said, progress in women's rights and in equality of treatment and of opportunity has been lost since I was a student, (well, at least at this university).

    Woman after woman told stories of how she was patronised, dismissed and disregarded because of her gender - by fellow students, academic and support staff.

    Most disturbing of all were the stories of student leaders who had been attacked by fellow-women: the 'bring her down' syndrome. One woman in student leadership was asked who she had slept with to get to her position.

    Thank you, Fiona, for articulating these issues so clearly. I should have been doing the same. This struggle has not been won.

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  • <a href="http://www.itsnotmytree.co.za" rel="nofollow">Annette</a>
    Annette
    October 25th, 2010 @10:47 #
     
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    Ah Fiona, you're brilliant! Thank you for that wake up call!

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  • <a href="http://tiahbeautement.typepad.com/quotidian/" rel="nofollow">tiah</a>
    tiah
    October 27th, 2010 @11:05 #
     
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    Oh, I missed this. I read Bev's piece and...oh my...I just couldn't reply without risking adding skylights to my house. You've said it so well. *applause*

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