Loughborough PhD Social & Support Network

#blog Dear Reader…What is Feminism REALLY About?

By Chidinma Okorie

I was recently invited to a workshop on Feminist foreign policy making – first time I’ll be speaking publicly on Feminism – and in preparation for the workshop, I made some notes with questions that I’d like to share in this blog and I am keen to hear from you (Dear Reader) what your thoughts on the questions are…

Chidinma at the Workshop on Feminism and Feminist Policy-making

The workshop was hosted by the Gender and Security Theme of the Centre for Security Studies at Loughborough University in partnership with the Race, Gender and Sexualities Research Group at London South Bank University, and sponsored by the Gendering International Relations Working Group of the British International Studies Association and Routledge. The workshop brought together scholars and practitioners working on different facets of Feminist policy (broadly speaking) and the following questions stirred very insightful and enlightening conversations on Feminism and Feminist policy-making:

1. What is Feminism; what is it really about?

I suppose the best place to start when engaging any concept is to first define it. I raised this question at the workshop and it repeatedly featured throughout the discussions of the day -one of the manyresponses given which I find quite interesting is that ‘Feminism is personal, and it is up to the individual to define it based on their personal experience’…

Dear Reader, what do you think; what is your definition of Feminism?

2. Why has there been a negative connotation attached to the term ‘Feminism’ and does the alternative term ‘womanism’ make any significant difference in this regard?

In asking this question, this excerpt from Virginia Woolf’s work, cited in Walters (2005)[1] comes to mind:

“…destroy an old word, a viscous and corrupt word that has done much harm in its day. The word ‘Feminist’ is the word indicated. That word, according to the dictionary, means ‘one who champions the rights of women.’ Since the only rights, the right to earn a living has been won, the word no longer has a meaning. And a word without a meaning is a dead word, a corrupt word.”

Dear Reader, I wonder if the problem is the word ‘Feminism’ itself or the meaning attached to the word; what do you think?

3. There seem to be disjuncture(s) between/within Feminist theories, why is this the case?

Most (if not all) Feminist theoretical approaches tend to agree that the world is fundamentally patriarchal – an issue not only for women but also for men who don’t conform to standards of hegemonic masculinity – yet there are different versions of feminism broadly classified into two: radical Feminism on the one extreme and socialist Feminism on the other end of the spectrum.

Dear Reader, these philosophical disjunctures make me wonder whether there is more to feminism than gender (in)equality, power relations between male and female, women’s liberation, etc.? What do you think?

4. Are there uniquely Feminist insights? If so, do ALL wo/men share these views?

Arguably, problems of inclusion and exclusion, (in)equalities of class, race, sexual orientation, age, etc. all complicate Feminist analysis. For example, Feminism has been argued to be ‘Eurocentric’; Priorities of women from different cultural and racial backgrounds differ significantly. The problem of cross-cultural misunderstanding is a persistent one, as mainstream Feminist discussions have been said to be ‘hijacked’ by European and American wo/men who are interested in issues that are not relevant to the realities of, for e.g, BME wo/men. And even when they do, they are said to sometimes sound both patronizing and racist.

Dear Reader, what are your thoughts on this – bear in mind cross-dressers, BME women, LGBTQs, etc.?

5. What is the relevance of Feminism?

According to Walters (2005: 4–5), Feminism has become a playground for extremists and ‘fundamentalists’; It has become ‘institutionalized’, and nowadays it is just another academic subject…

Dear Reader, I wonder if feminism is now a term we have constructed and use only when it suits us?

Again, I ask: what is Feminism really about?…

[1]Walters, M. (2005) Feminism: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chidinma Okorie
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