Keep Calm: F is for Feminism

Morwenna Jones 20 May 2014

I spend lot of time doing BuzzFeed quizzes.  From “How French are you?” (‘pretty French’) to “What George Bush painting of a world leader are you?” (his self-portrait), I’ve done an indecent amount.  I’ll admit that I squirmed too much to be able to complete “How metal is your period?” but the answer to this excluded, I know an array of useless facts about myself, courtesy of viral media websites.

Until now, I’ve considered my addiction just another instance of me putting the ‘pro’ in procrastination, and irrelevant to my day-to-day life.  But that changed last month when “How privileged are you?”, “Are you a bad feminist?” and “Are you a feminist?” all appeared on the site.  Only the last quiz does not involve completely unneccessary over-complication.

It simply asks “Do you believe in complete equality for women?” 
I ticked yes and got the answer “Yes you are a feminist”. 

Well done me.

The other two quizzes were less simple.  I am apparently a ‘bad feminist’ because I listen to Miley Cyrus, shave my legs and haven’t memorised ‘How to be a Woman’ off my heart.

Miley: every feminist's worst nightmare?                                                             Credit: StarblindKing

When I took ‘Check your privilege’ I was deliberately trying to get a low score.  I was subsequently told that ‘it’s not your job to educate the world about its injustices’.  Really?  So, if I did have a score of only 1%, it would really be ok for me to just yell ‘Check your privilege’ at someone, and have the last word on everything?  Don’t get me wrong, I know the ‘check your privilege’ argument is a powerful one, but only when used in a correct, constructive, non-hostile way.  Never seen it used like that?  Me neither.

Yet what concerns me most about ‘privilege’ is how we students perceive it.  If you go on the Facebook group for the CUSU Women’s Campaign, the first thing you read in the posting guidelines is ‘please keep your male privilege in check’.  Flick through posts and discussions and you’ll find some excellent, high quality debates, not least the one occurring at the moment on the ‘pro-choice’ argument.  Dispersed throughout these, however, there are also occasions when female members ‘attack’ male members without ever engaging with what the ‘offender’ is saying and, even on one occasion, patronisingly accusing a member of ‘learning feminism’.

Admittedly, these occasions are rare and I’ll stress again that the CUSU Women’s Campaign and it’s Oxford counterpart ‘Cuntry Living’ are, in general, excellent platforms for discussion.  But both need to relax their policies on engaging in debate.  Of course, ‘CUSU Women’s Campaign’ upholds a ‘no platform’ policy to protect a ‘safe space for women’, but that doesn’t give members the right to dismiss arguments within this policy as ‘Men’s Rights Activism’ (MRA), ‘talking bollocks’ or to post sarcastic comments like ‘*head explodes*’.  Uphold a ‘safe space’ by all means, but that space needs to be safe for everyone, even the people who disagree with you

MRAs can be infuriating, but reasoned argument is more likely to triumph than rage.     Credit: JG-NF

If we do decide to accuse people of ‘talking crap’, then we need to ask ourselves how beneficial that is to society's perception of feminism.  When it comes to ‘Cuntry Living’, an article of mine was recently discussed in the group under the caption ‘this is crap’.  Did the person who posted the article have the courtesy to critique the points she felt were ‘crap? No.  Did the person who posted the article have the courtesy to check whether I was a member and could engage with her or not?  No.  Did the person who posted the article respond to my reaction to her comment that I later posted in the group myself?  No. 

Did the person who posted the article help change my mind from my original view in any way?  Absolutely not.

Thanks to BuzzFeed, you may now know how privileged, or how bad at feminism you are.  On the one hand, we can use this information to justify us telling the person ranting about stuff we don’t believe in to go drown in a sea of vapid Wikipedia articles that they won’t read, or we can get angry and shout at them for being a stupid MRA.  On the other, we can explain our own argument to them. 

It’s time for us to calm down and for the stereotype of the ‘angry ranting feminist’ to come to an end.  By all means, get as angry as you like, but instead of shouting from your soapbox, hop off and engage in some reasonable, rational discussion.  You never know, you might even make some MRAs change their mind.