‘This isn’t going to be one of those ‘new feminist’ books that reiterate negative stereotypes about 1970s’ feminism and position younger feminists in opposition to it. We’re not interested in pushing forward a hip, ‘fashionable’ kind of feminism. Whilst recognising that second-wave feminism wasn’t perfect, in our experience younger feminists are quick to acknowledge their debt to older feminists’.
Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today, Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune, Pg.xi
Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune’s Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today was first published in 2010 under the name, Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement, but was republished a second time in 2013 to encapsulate possibly the worst economic crises the world has ever faced. The aim of this collaborative piece of work is to highlight the need for, and the resurgence of, feminism in today’s society. Feminism is not a taboo subject that can be applied to the past. It is a living, breathing, relevant aspect of everyday life. Based on a survey of over a thousand feminists (the results of which can be found in the appendix at the back of the book), Reclaiming the F Word reveals what feminists are fighting for, our reasoning behind it and how we are going about (and can go about) actively fighting for equality.
‘As Germaine Greer wrote in The Whole Woman, it is the job of each generation to ‘produce its own statement of problems and priorities’’.
Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today, Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune, Pg.16
Split into seven chapters, Reclaiming the F Word focuses on the main issues or areas affecting women and inequality between the sexes. From Liberated bodies, Sexual freedom and choice, An end to violence against women, Equality at work and home, Politics and religion transformed, Popular culture free from sexism to Feminism reclaimed, Redfern and Aune have drawn inspiration from the seven demands of the 1970s’ women’s liberation movement. It is amazing how little women’s lives have changed since feminists in the seventies campaigned for equal status to men. As Redfern and Aune highlight, some of these demands, such as equal pay for equal work, has been partially achieved through legal means and women’s right to free contraception and abortion have been achieved in the majority of places in the UK. However, some aspects, such as free childcare, continues to remain elusive within a government that is concerned with cutting public services and welfare. In effect, women, particularly working-class women and women from ethnic minorities, are most likely to be hit by these financial cutbacks and rising childcare costs.
‘Women today have figures like Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Sojourner Truth, and the suffragists and suffragettes to thank for this [the right to vote]. Rather than fighting for women’s right to enter politics, today’s feminist struggles are about challenging the (often invisible or unacknowledged) barriers that make equal participation difficult to attain, as well as transforming the political system itself. […] Women are half of the population, but worldwide form on average only around 18 per cent of members of parliaments. Other factors such as race and class further disadvantage some people’.
Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today, Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune, Pg.138
Women are also grossly misrepresented in politics, as the above quote states. It is a shocking statistic that women only make up 18% (and I doubt that figure has changed much since the writing of this book) of parliaments worldwide. It is, therefore, not so shocking to see that in times of financial austerity, cuts will affect those who aren’t, or are barely, represented in politics.
There are even more shocking statistics in Reclaiming the F Word. In the chapter headed ‘An end to violence against women’ it is horrendous to think that, worldwide, ‘at least one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime’ (pg.77). It is estimated that in the UK, around 80,000 women are raped every year and, yet, only 15% of these are reported to the police. Again, this is not so surprising if you consider that the conviction rate for reported rape in the UK is only 6%.
From serious topics, such as male violence, rape, work inequality and political inequality, Redfern and Aune move to what some may consider ‘trivial’ subjects. The chapter ‘Popular culture free from sexism’, challenges this seeming triviality, which is ‘an unavoidable part of people’s lives today and is inextricably linked to material forms of social injustice’ (pg.172). For example, advertising is an unavoidable aspect of everyday life. From an early age we are conditioned to believe in separate gender roles. Girls’ toys are inevitably pink and linked to the domestic sphere, boys’ toys are more varied, reflecting the unhindered choices of the public sphere (generally reserved for men). Redfern and Aune also touched on the ‘Neurotrash’ that was mentioned at the WOW talk I attended last weekend.
‘[…] when John Gray came along with Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, his books became bestsellers. Others followed, such as Anne and Bill Moir’s Why Men Don’t Iron and Allan and Barbara Pease’s series with increasingly improbable titles, Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, Why Men Lie and Women Cry, Why Men Don’t Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes, and … well, you get the idea. Based mainly on anecdotes about clients or friends (normally middle-class white people), these self-help books were touted as the answer to society’s gender problems. Drawing on ‘evolutionary psychology’ and sociobiology, a branch of biology that claimed to ‘monitor the genetic basis of social bahviour’, these books maintain that gender differences are hard-wired into us as a product of evolution’.
Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today, Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune, Pg.183
What is so damaging about modern, popular culture is its rigid separateness of gender. From adverts that position women to be domestic or desired goddesses, books that reinforce heterosexism proclaiming to be based on scientific truth, films that fail the Bechdel Test to the sexist and misogynist representations of women that abound in the music industry, there is no escaping culture and its affects. However, what I loved about this chapter was the ways in which people are creatively interacting and challenging the images of women in popular culture. As a young woman who grew up during the ‘Twilight’ phase I was particularly fond of Jonathan McIntosh’s feminist re-telling of Edward and Bella’s (disturbing) relationship by substituting Bella’s reactions with those of (the more appropriate) Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Although much of what Redfern and Aune highlight in Reclaiming the F Word can leave you feeling angry, it is fascinating and empowering to read about the ways women (and men) are actively campaigning against such inequalities. It is the perfect, all-encompassing book to teach you about the state of feminism today and what battles we still have left to fight.