Strolling through Lewes Road on a gloomy Brightonian afternoon making my way to my two o’clock cultural studies lecture at the old courtroom, accompanied by the sun beckoning sounds of the immortal Bobby Dylan. The lecture was entitled: ‘The Ideology Of Femininity And The Rise Of The Women’s Liberation Movement’.
I consider myself a Feminist; so naturally I have been eagerly awaiting the event that has been viciously circled with red marker in my course reader. Here was a chance for me to continue to widen the scope of my social consciousness, a never-ending process of which I greatly enjoy; alongside my studious peers who I thought would share a similar perspective on the subject. Alas! the naivety.
The lecturer began by asking four questions: 1) Who believes that men and women should be paid equally for the same job? Predictably, the whole class raised their hand. 2) Who believes that men and women should receive the same educational opportunities? Again, everybody raised their hand. 3) Who believes that a woman holds more responsibility towards bringing up a child than a man? Only three people raised their hand. 4) Who would comfortably call himself or herself a Feminist? Me and only one other person that I could see had raised our hand. I turned my head hoping to see a few more comrades seated behind me; unfortunately, I came face to face with my wretched naivety. Out of 80+ students, it was just myself and a young woman at the end of my row.
I noticed that the lecturer was also surprised whilst trying ever so hard to maintain an objective facial expression. In a lecture theater filled with budding wisdom seekers, only two people were aware of the importance and relevance of Feminism. When the lecturer inquired why people did not feel comfortable donning the dreaded Feminist title soaked in historically negative connotations, the responses were as follows…
“I don’t consider myself a feminist because I like men”
“I’ve met feminists before and they just seem very aggressive”
“It just shouldn’t be called feminism, it should be called anti-chauvinism or anti-sexism”
My classmates failed to quantify their response, or lack of, to the preceding questions posed by my lecturer. They had separated our consensus for equality from a word that does nothing but preach it.
Amidst this dissatisfying collective misunderstanding amongst my incredibly bright peers, I saw the real fight. If my learned classmates were unable to make the link between their unwavering belief in equality and the word ‘Feminism’, then where does the rest of our society stand? This was a defining moment for me as a black male Feminist; I finally got a minuscule glimpse into the vertical challenges concerned with raising consciousness. Challenges that all women of all ethnicities, of all sexual orientations, of all religious beliefs, of all nationalities striving for change have to face everyday in this the ironically eurocentiricly dubbed ‘third wave of feminism’.
The lack of knowledge was not the source of my frustration it was the fearlessly careless assumptions that were made. However, make no mistake this unfavourable attitude towards the word ‘Feminism’ is not a crisis of intelligence, it is instead a crisis of Hegemony. A term coined by Marxist; Vladimir Lenin and then greatly expanded upon by Italian writer and political theorist, Antonio Gramsci during Mussolini’s Fascist Regime. According to Gramsci, hegemony is:
“The ability of the state and the ruling class to regulate beliefs within civil society. Hegemonic beliefs are dominant cultural motifs which reinforce inequality and short circuits attempts at critical thinking.”
Members of contemporary civil society have been conditioned to accept and to conform to traditional representations of gender enforced by single naritivized media portrayles and long-standing historically oppressive structures and state apparatus which have normalized this, our patriarchal society. Leaving the dominant social class fearful of the very idea of women’s liberation. Donna Przybylowicz author of ‘Toward a Feminist Cultural Criticism: Hegemony and Modes of Social Division’ explains that…
“by naturalising sexual identity and mystifying the cultural formation of the feminine, patriarchal power has been able to subordinate and devalue women, a situation that is evident both transculturally and transhistorically.”
If my lecturer had asked, ‘how many people here are anti-racism?’ the majority would have raised their hand with absolute self-riotous abandon while scanning the room for any ‘ignorant sole’ who had the audacity not to raise their hand and oppose racism. Why is that the case? This is because outright racism has become a social taboo in what has been so very wrongly deemed ‘the post-racial age’ disabling ones wider understanding of how contemporary racism opperates. In many ethnically diverse locations in the UK, Brighton being one of them, it is socially unacceptable for one to openly express their distain for those of different ethnicities, which is not necessarily a positive step towards an egalitarian society as this has members of our generation considering themselves anti-racism when that sadly (whether they are aware of it or not) may not be the truth. Being anti-racism is not simply about ‘tolerance’ or ‘association’ it is about gaining knowledge in order to achieve a true understanding of people’s cultural and ethnic differences [see article: Acknowledging Priviledge].
If my lecturer had asked us ‘who here is anti-prejudice?’ again, I expect hands would have instinctively risen, because generation Y have been socialised into falsely believing that we live in an all-inclusive society. An all-inclusive society that only happens to have 27 MPs representing ethnic minorities in the House of Commons, a minuscule 4.2% of the total members of parliament. All that aside, ask us, a diverse group of students, if we consider ourselves feminists and all you will receive are faint giggles, rejecting facial expression and awkward blank stares.
To recognise yourself as a feminist is to understand that you, the consumer of ideology, cannot allow yourself to be passively exposed to archetypical representations without critically questioning and analysing the social myths that are being placed before you every minute of every day – Looking at you, lad culture.
To recognise yourself as a Feminist is to oppose all forms of gender inequality; and you would be wrong to think that women are the only ones victimised by archetypical representations of gender. As a black man, I am sick of being pigeon holed. I am done with feeling that I need to act and be a certain way in order to fit the stereotypical, black patriarchal roll society has intended for me. As a Feminist I am free to define my masculinity and ethnicity in unlimited ways; not just through the limits of the already existing model which would have me acting ‘more black’ and ‘more like a man’ so that I am easily categorised and thus easier to understand.
Let us get to the crux of this misunderstanding and dispel every myth in this imaginary, hegemonic, bra-burning criterion concerned with considering yourself to be a Feminist; if you are anti-inequality on every spectrum, if you believe in a truly all-inclusive society no matter your race, your sexual orientation, class or religion, you are a Feminist and that is something to be proud of. Can you imagine living in a society where every mind is utilised and nourished for the betterment of the human race, without the aforementioned variables being grounds for discrimination? I can, and I am finally taking a step forward.
I would like to close this article with the words of English philosopher, political economist and civil servant, John Stewart Mill and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s inspiringly influential Ted talk, ‘We Should All Be Feminists’:
“The inequality of the sexes has deprived society of a vast pool of talent. If women had the free use of their faculties along with the same prizes and encouragements as men, there would be a doubling of the mass of mental faculties available for the higher service of humanity.”