With its mainstreaming in New Zealand, feminism has lost its radical and anti-Establishment edge. No longer is feminism decried as an unsavoury ideology for hairy-legged, braless angry young women, but now feminism is for everybody. In this guest blog, John Moore argues that the mainstreaming of feminism has reduced a complex and varied set of tools and theories - regarding women’s oppression - down to a simple catchphrase of “If you believe in equal rights for women, then you’re a feminist”. So, if everyone can be a feminist now, has the term really been emptied of all content? That is, has feminism been turned into feminism-lite – feminism without the critical analysis, without the radical spirit, and without the nuance?
Everyone must be a feminist now
Militant feminists of the 70s-era in New Zealand saw their battle for gender equality and women’s liberation as a fight against the old boy Establishment that ran New Zealand. For the women liberationists of the late 60’s and 1970s, the fight for women’s rights was one that necessitated radical societal change. Radical action was what was needed, and the bastions of patriarchal power needed to be totally dismantled. The state, organised religion, and the rugby establishment to boot, were the enemy.
For the feminists of this period of counterculture and transformation, their struggle was not about just getting a few elite women into the bastions of mainstream power. Their struggle was for a total transformation of society and a smashing of patriarchal power structures. Sexist culture in all its forms needed to be challenged.
But that’s all old hat now. Modern liberal-feminism is all about joining forces with the Establishment, mainstreaming watered-down feminist thought, and elevating elite women into elite positions of power. Now it’s all important to pressure elite political leaders to call themselves feminists, rather than to bring about radical systemic and societal change.
Now we have rightwing TV and radio presenter Mike Hosking declaring himself a feminist. A huge gain for women? And Establishment capitalist Theresa Gattung is apparently leading the feminist cause forward. God help us! If only our anti-abortion prime-minister would embrace the feminist label. Then full equal rights will be on the horizon. And so it seems we are all expected to be feminists now.
Feminism is more than about equal rights
Feminism - as a radical and emancipatory theory and praxis - has been collapsed into a set of easily digestible catchphrases and slogans. When everyone is expected to be a feminist now – regardless of one’s political views, social position, or general belief system – then the term seems almost meaningless. Liberal feminists have reduced the term to a feel-good identity, and a means for liberal virtual signalling. But this modern day liberal projection of feminism buries a rich and diverse feminist tradition.
Feminism’s diverse traditions
To reduce feminism down to simplistic slogans such as “women are humans too” defies the diversity, contradictions and fullness of the living history of modern feminism. Whereas trendy commenters tell us we can all be feminist now, feminism is in fact not one single idea, but a range of believes, theories and approaches to questions around the position of women.
Rather than there being a single, easily digestible feminism, there are in fact a range of feminisms - from liberal feminism to socialist feminism, from lesbian feminism to Muslim feminism. And along with this diverse range of feminisms, comes a variety of approaches to political action, organisation and theory.
It time to put aside the lib-splaining that goes for feminism these days. Those of us who identify with women’s liberation need to delve into the rich and diverse history of the women’s movement. We need to talk to a few old hands from the women liberationist days. And we need to reject the idea that women’s liberation and feminism is for everyone. Let’s make women’s liberation radical and anti-Establishment again.
John Moore is a blogger and student radio political pundit – post-gender and anti-Establishment: Jaz Moore (@jazmoore)