As a follower of the amazing Feminist Frequency site, I recently became aware of the All About Women Festival 2015 held at the Sydney Opera House (Australia) last month. Luckily for all of us who missed it, many of the panel sessions were recorded and are available on YouTube (channel here). While I would recommend viewing all the videos, I particularly recommend the “What I Couldn’t Say” and the “How to Be a Feminist” segments.
While I cannot begin to summarize all the fascinating discussion, the discourse drastically changed my view of feminism and its goals, particularly in relation to “gender equality.”
When discussing the definition and goals of “feminism,” several panelists in the How to Be a Feminist discussion pushed back against the idea of gender equality as the primary or ultimate goal of their movement.
First, several of the women argued that equality is a slippery term. Equal to what or whom? Affluent white males? Is that really the best objective? The more I thought about it, the more I agreed.
Second, the women argued that equality goals have not gotten us (women, minorities, the LGBT community, the disabled) very far over the last few decades since they continue to operate within a system that benefits affluent (heterosexual) white males. This made a lot of sense in relation to my love-hate relationship with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In campaign, which tells women how to operate within the patriarchal system despite mounting evidence that this does not work (see my previous post). Speaking up as a woman does not pay — see the heartbreaking “What I Couldn’t Say” videos — and it never will if we continue to operate within a system that does not respect us.
Ultimately, the panelists argued that we should change the feminist narrative from one of equality to one of liberation. We should stop trying to succeed within the patriarchal system and instead aim to dismantle systems of oppression and replace them with more supportive systems. “Liberation” sounded dangerously radical to me at first, but I have concluded that these women are correct. Why should I strive to claw tiny bits of respect from an oppressive system when I can build my own environment that meets my needs and goals? This is exactly what I proposed in my critique of Sandberg’s Lean In!
“In the end, the real answer seems to be locate a supportive environment. In Sandberg’s case, the supportive environment came from good workplaces, mentors, and life partners. Others have succeeded after building their own supportive environments . . . Finding or developing a supportive environment is not easy by any means, but it is much more likely to pay off than fretting over your communication strategies. It does involve personal initiative, but initiative that focuses on your needs (not someone else’s “role model” path) and your environment . . .”
So now I’m a “radical” feminist. Come Comrades! Down with Patriarchy!! Equality is Dead!!! Long Live the Liberation!!!!
All kidding aside, I am hopeful that this perspective can succeed. In a post-9-11 and post-Great Recession world, many people are realizing that “the system” doesn’t work anymore. Many groups (Millennials especially) are turning to alternative lifestyles that meet their needs and goals, rather than ascribing to the patriarchal “ideal” of the 1950s. They might not know it, but they are liberating themselves from oppression, little by little, and maybe the tide will turn.