It is interesting to watch the mainstream media wrestle with feminism and the backlash from the perceived violations of cultural norms.    The Guardian blogged a piece called Why is ‘feminism’ such a tough badge to  wear?‘  Then the Blogsphere reacted and some thoughtful writing took place and was captured by Slendermeans and thus appeared in my wordpress reader and is now coming to you here and now.

Echidne of the Snakes has broken down the arguments and responded quite succinctly to each in kind, however I think she does a particularly marvellous job of ferreting out some of the reasons why feminists are often negatively identified in our society.  I’ve added italics in the quoted material.

“This is the argument that the piece itself mentions:

As Siobhan Garrigan, who studies English at the University of Lincoln, puts it: “Young people don’t want to identify as feminists because there is this man-hating, frumpy, lesbian image forced on us.”

  […]

[…],  those three accusations don’t have anything to do with each other.  The first one states that anyone wanting gender equality must hate men.  That’s pretty weird.  The second one argues, that women who want gender equality cannot be attractive enough to get men in a system where women are second-class citizens.  Only unattractive women would want equality!

That’s illogical, too.  Finally, one’s sexuality has nothing to do with one’s desire for a gender-equal society.  All illogical, says Echidne.

But squint your eyes a bit, and you see the underlying pattern,  what all three of these things share:  These women do not try to please men.  Or that’s the suspicion of anyone using those accusations.  Wanting equality means not wanting to please men.  Therefore, women who want equality must hate men, be unattractive or prefer women in their sexuality.”

I’m thinking that the not pleasing men angle is the interesting notion brought up by Echidne (as I think more I realize she’s precisely on target – her observations parallel what I’ve read in Beauty and Misogyny by Sheila Jeffreys so far. Oh, go read B&M asap!).  What comes into play is the interference feminism brings to the cultural norms of society.  Women are supposed to perform to the expectations of men, those are the expectations in our society.  Feminists explicitly do not conform to what is expected of them, thus opprobrium results.  Hence we get the homosexual, ugly and frumpy characterizations.

Here lies the danger of letting ones opponents define who you are – women are beset by the misogyny implicit in society, like running a race with and just because of your two XX chromosomes you get a extra forty pound backpack to wear for the duration of the race.  Who would want to add to their already onerously full backpack by self identifying as a feminist?  The price of perofrming femininity is already so high and it is rewarded, such as it is, in the patriarchy for complying.  Choosing to go against patriarchal expectations (not to mention the social conditioning of being passive and accepting) is huge; not playing by the rules disqualifies one from the limited benefits afforded to women within the patriarchal system and exposes women to damaging patriarchal animadversion as mentioned in the quoted material.

Knowing and understanding the insidious effects of patriarchy is half the battle; then one can choose the battleground and know when to take to the field.  Unfortunately, patriarchy once seen, cannot be unseen.   We shouldn’t fault those who have struck their patriarchal bargain, but should know what it entails.

Tough choice to make, but I do agree with Socrates – “The unexamined life is not worth living.”