Why do you think feminism is necessary
INTERVIEW // With author Laurie Penny
"Feminism is not just about women!"
"Feminism is not just about women!"
The British author Laurie Penny has with her new book Ineffable things wrote an inspiring and provocative guide to modern feminism. We talked to the 28-year-old, who is currently considered one of the most important feminists of our time, about activism and gender roles - and about how men can get involved in feminism.
Laurie, there seems to be a backlash among young women today: Many want to marry young, have children and stay at home instead of pursuing a career. In your book you describe these women as “50ies cupcake moms” - what's wrong with that decision?
It is important to make a distinction between criticizing trends and insulting individuals. It is not my place to judge the lives of other people - as long as they do not hurt other people with their decisions. But I have the feeling that the decision between job and family is overwhelming for many young women. For many this is still an impossible dilemma, it is just too tiring. In addition, the traditional “work of women” - that is, the household, childcare, and so on - has always not been sufficiently recognized and valued. It is seen as easy just because it is made by women. This is work that is vital for all of us, for society! I think that housework and childcare should be valued and, above all, paid to the same extent as gainful employment. Perhaps more men would then consider giving the woman a hand at home.
Many people are bothered by the expression “feminism”. They think it should mean humanism, that would be more appropriate. What do you think about it?
I don't care if people call themselves feminist or feminist or not. It depends on what you fight for and what you stand up for. Feminism is not an identity, it is a movement, a way of life. And above all: Feminism is not just about women - it is about freeing all people from the stereotypes of imposed gender roles. But because women suffer more from these clichés and laws, and also because the movement has always been primarily driven by women, “feminism” is an appropriate name. Sometimes it almost seems to me that men can't stand being part of a movement that suggests that women have the lead here.
Many people today still think feminism is the fight against men.
At least it's not always just about that. But I'm not in favor of making my politics nice and pleasant just so that it doesn't seem threatening to men. In the end, feminism fights the congestion quo and that is that men have greater social power than women. Feminism is about justice, the redistribution of wealth, power and influence. It's about breaking and rethinking the old order in which men owned all of these things by themselves for most of human history. You can only weaken the message of a movement to a certain extent, make it nice and fluffy, before the point is completely lost. And even if that happens, even if you make the message of feminism as pleasant as possible, you will still be attacked for it. Whatever politics you say in public as a woman, you run the risk of being attacked for it. So you can just as easily say what you think - and how you think it. Feminism is too strong to start the fight with excuses.
The truth is, not all men are against feminism.
Of course that's true. I get so much positive, affirmative messages from men and boys. I think feminism today appeals to men and boys who really want to listen - that was probably just not the case a generation ago.
What's different today?
I think more and more men are realizing that patriarchy oppresses them too. That they too are affected by imposed gender roles - and that they too can benefit if we shake up and redefine this age-old system.
What can men do to support feminism?
The best way is to listen to the women. Just listen. Reading and analyzing the writings of women and trying to question and improve one's own relationship with women. Because the personal is political. The most important thing is to get active. Theory is great, to find out more and to react accordingly is great - but give me a call if you really do the washing up and take over half of the childcare. Many men tell me that they love and respect women - and then add how much they love their mother because she is a "strong woman". I don't want to hear that anymore! It's easy to respect your own mother, she raised you. It is more difficult to learn that you have to respect all women and people in general. In addition, it is important to reinforce women's voices to stand up against sexism when you experience it. All of this is very powerful and can pull other men along with it. Because non-feminist men still tend to listen to other men rather than women.
I hear frighteningly often from women, here in one of the most privileged Western countries, that feminism is no longer necessary.
I find it very insulting to think that the worries and concerns of women in non-western countries are so much different from ours here. In fact, the oppression of women and rigid gender roles are global problems that manifest themselves in different ways in different social societies. Every day people tell me to finally shut up about my feminism gossip, because after all, we are not in Afghanistan here. Well, then you might as well tell the people of Europe not to complain about austerity policies in poorer countries or not to worry about the famine in Africa. Such an attitude is lazy, ignorant and insulting - and it makes the affected people feel that their social problems are not important.
Women - especially young, beautiful women - who publicly advocate feminism are often accused of drooling for attention. Have you already experienced that yourself?
Basically, all women are threatened and embarrassed when they speak out for feminism. And yes, every single day people accuse me of being too old and ugly to appear in public and that I am just jealous. But I am also accused of the opposite: I am too young and pretty and that my mouth is more suitable for giving blow jobs than for speaking. It's all driven by hatred of women who dare to speak about politics in public. Many men judge women solely on their demeanor - and call us superficial and attention-getting. How hypocritical! I've never heard of a man being condemned for being attention-grabbing. When men seek attention, whether for their work or for the things they believe in, it is automatically assumed that their cause is important.
You write that the word “bitch” is a powerful word - and that you want to recapture it.
I think that for many girls and women, the admission of one's own sexuality, one's own lust, one's own desire, one's own sexual power to control and act out is almost a bit like a coming out. Every time I march on slut walks, it feels like a huge Pride parade. Women and girls with all kinds of sexual orientations stand up for each other and say, “I can do anything with my body except to hurt another person. And you have no right to punish me for it or to abuse me! ”If we speak publicly about sexual violence, harassment and Slut shaming want to discuss, then we have to talk about the female power over our own sexuality and the female body - and positively!
Laurie Penny, born 1986 in London, currently lives in England and the USA. She studied English literature at Oxford. Her blog, Penny Red, was nominated for a 2010 George Orwell Award for Political Writing. She writes regularly for “New Statesman” and “New Inquiry” as well as on Twitter, where she now has over 100,000 followers. Most recently, Edition Nautilus published: “Fleischmarkt. Female Bodies in Capitalism ”(2012).
Book: Ineffable Things (Edition Nautilus), Fr.23.90
On June 18, Laurie Penny will read and discuss in the Literaturhaus Zürich, moderation: Noëmi Landolt. Tickets at literaturhaus.ch
From Miriam Suter.
Miriam Suter lives in Switzerland and works as a freelance journalist for various cultural magazines. Her short stories appear on zeitnah.ch and in the Swiss author magazine “NaRr”. She is 27, likes cats and is also a press girl for the coolest underground record label in Switzerland.
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