Feminism Friday: Reinforcing stereotypes

Yesterday, The Telegraph published some interesting survey results regarding current opinion on feminism. Problem is, they reported their findings in such a lazy way that it would be extremely easy for readers to get the wrong idea. The article, topped with an image of Germaine Greer, claims that just one in seven women describes themselves as ‘feminist’, but further reading reveals that this was actually one in seven of the 1,300 Netmums users that they surveyed. How can this possibly be applied to all women? As @sianushka pointed out, “perhaps we should do a survey of all the women we know online & declare that 10/10 women call themselves feminist!” If I’ve learnt anything from Dr Brooke Magnanti (who actually writes for The Telegraph herself these days), it’s that you really need to read between the lines of reports like this.

If you ask women who use a website aimed at mothers what their priorities are, of course the top answer is going to be “reinstating the value of motherhood”. If you ask them about feminism using phrases like “old fashioned”, “natural roles of men and women” or “gone too far” and then add in some questions about hair dye, fake eyelashes and breast implants, of course they’re going to think that being feminist somehow stops you from doing these modern feminine things. And the readers are going to assume that too, which I guess is what The Telegraph wanted. I would love to see the survey that these women responded to. Something tells me that the questions it contained may have been rather leading.

The paper reports that “28 per cent think traditional radical feminism is ‘too aggressive’ towards men”, but what they fail to mention is that many women who call themselves feminist also agree with this. We’re not all the same, you know. That shouldn’t mean we can’t all stand up together and fight for the big stuff. Perhaps the most worrying part of the survey is that 36 per cent of the younger women they surveyed “cannot imagine a time when men and women were not equal.” So, we’re all equal these days? Really?! If so, then why are so many of the world’s low paid workers and providers of childcare women? And why are most of the top jobs filled by men? And why are women still scared to walk the streets at night? I suspect the women they spoke to live in an even shinier bubble of privilege than I do.

Can we all just stop with the tired old stereotypes now? Can we stop saying that feminists are all man-hating lesbians who talk about hating patriarchy and forbid others from depilation or using make-up? It’s simply untrue. There are some feminists who sleep with women, some who have hairy pits and some who wear comfy shoes, but there are also others who sleep with men, shave and wear lipstick. Sometimes these are even the same women! Yes, there are still some feminists who view all cis men as the enemy, but that doesn’t meant that these women are wrong about everything they believe simply because the rest of us don’t agree with that one thing.

The Telegraph article also claims that “social commentators have dubbed this new movement ‘FeMEnism’ as it gives women the right to live very varied lives without judgment from their peers – rather than be dictated to by the 70’s-style ‘sisterhood’ with a solitary viewpoint.” Er, not all feminist are stuck in a finger-pointing accusatory time warp. Just the same way not all newspapers patronise women by claiming to know exactly what we’re all thinking. If you ditched the lazy journalism, bad attitude and stereotypes, we might start reading your (badly named) Wonder Women section intentionally, rather than accidentally clicking a link on Twitter.

Images via ruminatrix and K Sawyer Photography‘s Flickr photostreams.

UPDATE: Rather reassuringly, many other bloggers feel the same way about this “research”. Check out what Tricialo, Zeeblebum, Salt & Caramel, You Are Feminist, and Hannah over on BitchBuzz have to say on the matter.

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Image of Stephanie Yeboah via nerdabouttown.com