Wednesday, 13 June 2012

On Sisterhoods and Feminism.

Over the past two or three - perhaps even four - years, I have been increasingly involved with feminist/equality/humanist movements. Usually in the form of petitions, informing those around me, spreading the word.

I have taken part in marches for causes - before Sixth Form, I had been on at least 4 Anti-Iraq war marches (There were far more that took part than police or politicians at the time gave credit, as per usual).
I took part in the Lancaster Slutwalk (much good that did to such a small town) and I have done my best to educate those online who've asked me to - prod them in the right direction of articles or 'Feminism 101', inform them of female or minority perceptions of their behaviour, that sort of thing.

Today I filled in a (what should be a superfluous) form for the Home Office telling them that homosexual and trans* people should be allowed to marry in full, not just have a civil 'partnership'. I also said I think that civil partnerships should be open to heterosexual couples - not everyone wants a full marriage, but they damn well need and deserve the same benefits and safe guards.

I drive my chauvinist grandfather crazy with my latest news and incidents against minorities, or more frequently with American news, women.
I think that as much as she may feel tired about my chosen topics of conversation, my grandmother is in her own way pleased that I care that much about other people.

But I wanted to get active and to meet up with like-minded people. So I did a google and found that there's a local action group of feminists in my town. I joined the facebook group and I'm on the mailing list. Can't hurt to know what's going on more in my local area - a lot of crap happens everywhere after all.

And was I disappointed once I was reading through the facebook group postings! It isn't the issues, or the causes... it's the fact that (so far) one member has addressed us all as 'Sisters'.

'Sisters'. Maybe it's just me being funny about it, but I hate it when a community of like-minded people end up being called 'Sisters' or 'Brothers'. Perhaps it's the anti-dogma-and-religious-institution atheist in me, but it feels like cult behaviour to me.

This isn't the main reason I hate the term, but a good example of cult like behaviour is this: My grandmother got briefly entangled with a group of Colin Firth fanatics (Mr Firth, if you, or your publicist, are reading this, I'd advise you take out some restraining orders pre-emptively) on Youtube called "The Firth Sisters" or something ridiculous. And it IS like a cult. They rehash the same video clips, put it to music and talk about Colin Firth as 'Colin' all the time and go to every public appearance he does and worship every move.

Colin Firth is a top-notch guy. Great actor (Should have got the Oscar for A Single Man, more than The King's Speech but I like to think the Oscar was recognition for all his works) and a huge philanthropist. He and his wife practically own Oxfam, for example. (Slight exaggeration but they do actually own a famous charity shop in London and possibly a linked chain in New York?)

But he has done nothing to deserve the cult-worship of these women.

I digress.

I guess what I am saying is that I greatly wish that movements wouldn't start using such language. 'Feminist' is already considered a 'dirty word' full of negative connotations - we're bra-burning, ball-busting castraters who wish men would be taken down a notch - which is grossly untrue. But it doesn't help when a group of women (and men) go around calling each other Sister and Brother whilst doing feminist work or protesting.
I'm picturing them all with long dreadlocks, peace signs, marijuana joints and brightly coloured hemp clothing or sari-like shawls as I type the word 'sister'. Yes, it's a stereotype, but not a helpful one.

I can understand why they think of us all as a Sisterhood. I really can. We are a united community, sort of, as we fight for gender equality. After all, William Cobbett said,
Women are a sisterhood. They make common cause in behalf of the sex; and, indeed, this is natural enough, when we consider the vast power that the law gives us over them
But I can't help but feel that in order to be taken seriously by anyone, we should stop referring to ourselves in that sort of language - I'm picturing US University frat houses and Greek houses and stuff, you know, "the sisterhood of the omega" and whatnot.

And whilst the idea that feminists are a sisterhood can be uniting and communal, it also sounds selective. That only particular people can be part of the sisterhood. Preferably ones with ovaries and uteri. There are men in the facebook group, and I don't know how they feel about being referred to as Sisters - or, by singled out by omission.

Whilst feminism is about embracing all people and fighting for equality of everyone regardless of race, gender, sex or orientation - and perhaps this is very singular and abrasive of me - I just can not bring myself to refer to other members of the human race as "brother" or "sister" just because we share a common belief or interest.

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