The F-word that isn't dirty

The F-word that isn't dirty

Whenever I declare that I'm a feminist, the reactions I get - both from men and women - invariably fall into one of these three categories: Genuinely Baffled ("Didn't it go out of fashion in the '70s?"), Clearly Uncomfortable ("um...") and Mildly Derisive ("So you hate men?").

Above all, the term "feminist" is met with the same kind of dismissive attitude that you'd take with a tantrum-throwing child: "You already have the right to vote and work, don't you?" The subtext: What more do you want?

It's not that I'm not grateful for the fact that, in Singapore, women have it better than most - and this includes women in other developed countries - because I am.

But to assume that feminists are nothing more than braburning man-haters is such an archaic and myopic (but unfortunately still prevalent) notion.

Case in point: Katy Perry was recently quoted saying: "I'm not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women." Girl, why so scared of being thought of as one?

For starters, feminism isn't about hating men or encouraging women to lord over them.

As Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (whose stirring speech on feminism at the 2012 Tedx Euston dialogue session was sampled in Beyonce's latest album)points out, a feminist is a person who believes that "there is a problem with gender as it is today". (Yes, men can be feminists too!)

We may now enjoy rights that our great-grandmothers would never have thought possible, but it would be naive to think that we enjoy full equality.

A shampoo ad that went viral last year illustrates this best: In the ad, female and male bosses are shown performing identical tasks in the workplace. But while the men were deemed "persuasive", "smooth" and "the boss", the women were labelled "pushy", "show-off " and "bossy".

A father working late is "dedicated", while a mother doing overtime is "selfish".

Personally, the gender problem was never more obvious than when a male friend told me that I shouldn't buy a particular top because "guys won't like that". Or when a female doctor - a virtual stranger - questioned me incessantly on when I was planning to get married and have kids because I'm "already 26".

Or all the times I hear people carelessly toss around derogatory terms like "old maid" and "crazy cat lady" when referring to unmarried women.

These are, ultimately, just annoying comments - no one's rights get taken away every time someone breaks out a "women can't drive" joke. But accepting them is the glass ceiling to demolishing the harmful stereotypes and limitations that society has set in place for women - that we need to be defined by men, that we are victims of our own biology, emotions and choices.

It's not funny when someone dismisses a woman's judgment because "she has PMS".

Being a feminist doesn't mean organising anti-men rallies. It means recognising and calling out the double standards that have plagued - and continue to plague - women in everyday life. More importantly, being a feminist is about working to establish that women are much more than simplistic labels and gender stereotypes make them out to be.

I'm not about to change the world with my beliefs, and I'm not going to force my views on anyone else either. But ladies, do pause to think about who's being disrespected the next time someone close to you makes a sexist joke. No prizes for the right answer.

Her World, Singapore's No. 1 women's magazine published by SPH Magazines is available at all newsstands now.

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