Feminism and the Communication Problem

by - Saturday, March 10, 2018

Feminism - it's a topic that I am passionate about, and you would think that this would be one of many blog posts that I have written on the subject, but in fact it's the first.
I have often thought of writing about specific feminist issues but have been completely daunted by the enormity of the subject matter, the myriad of different positions and the complex analysis that is required to give a reasoned perspective. So I have put it off till now.  
What has given me the impetus to write at this point in time?  Well, primarily my own life experience and observation and given that this is my year to be half a century old, I made the resolution to be resolutely myself. You might ask what this has to do with Feminism and communication?  Well, for me, everything. As a woman of a certain age, brought up in a certain culture, the value of being 'nice' as a woman is always the overriding subliminal and outward message. Smile, defer, don't be 'bossy', let men take the lead. I wish I could say that things have improved for my daughters' generation but unfortunately, if we are to go by social media, there has been regression to a point where the only value lies in physical appearance. Objectifying oneself is the norm, rather than the exception and the bigger issues have been lost.

Simone de Beauvoir who is (and always will be) my abiding heroine and role model, speaks about the concept of the 'Other'. 

"The category of the Other is as primordial as consciousness itself....Thus it is that no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself." 

"Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him.."

(The Second Sex, Penguin Books, 1986)
So, to come back to the main point of discussion here, communication is an integral tool in creating a sense of Otherness and in the placement of where we are in society and what we are entitled to.
It is also how we, as women, make ourselves smaller and less threatening - by apologising to excess and diminishing our achievements. This is something I myself have done way too much of, up to this point in my life.  It is a learned thing but also unconscious much of the time and I don't doubt that I still do it, but I have become more careful and more aware and, astonishingly, the world has not come to an end because I have stepped up or spoken out in small ways.

I met a good friend recently and I guess we are both at a similar stage in our lives because she said she has stopped making excuses - if she doesn't want to do something or be somewhere, she will just be direct and unapologetic about it.  We don't need to justify our own needs and wants and couch them in some sort of acceptable form, they are just what they are.

The language that represents women and that defines femininity is essentially a glass case of inertia, that has remained unchanged for a very long time with the exception of the new cutsie terms like 'girlboss' or 'mompreneur' or all the vicious online terms like 'feminazi'.  All of these are equally abhorrent to me - essentially you will be 'allowed' to be a boss but we have to qualify that by emphasising that you are a girl - not a woman, mind, but a girl. 
The problem for me is that the subtleties of language not only reflect society's thinking, but can also direct our thinking and behaviour in a very insidious way. The nastier online terms do just what they are intended to do, they bully and invalidate reasonable points by diminishing the entire woman instead of dealing with the actual discussion.  We need to stop believing in a definition of femininity that has largely been created. We need to define ourselves and become the subject instead of 'Other'.

With that in mind, I think we have to have our own awareness, as women, of how we speak and how we present ourselves and as I mentioned earlier, that can be a difficult thing to tackle. It is impossible to avoid absorbing all the pre-conceived notions of femininity that are out there. We are bombarded constantly online and everywhere with images and narratives that close down who and what we are. Age and nationality no doubt play a part also - I think it is quite an Irish thing to be self-deprecating and I'm certainly way more confident as a 49 year old than I was as a 20 year old.  That however, is all the more reason for me to be conscious of how I am because if younger women never see a confident and assured woman who is happy to take on challenge, then how will they ever become that person themselves?  Not that I'm setting myself up as some kind of amazing example but I have realised with age that it makes not a blind bit of difference what people think of me. It literally has no impact on my life and the dogma of female 'niceness' is just a load of rubbish. Genuine niceness, kindness and confidence are real qualities to aspire to but I think they are qualities that come from being your true self.
So let's hope the women of the future are strong and true to themselves!

Mother and Baby
Síomha and Baby Mara

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  1. I agree with all you have said. We definitely need to define ourselves and be true to ourselves.

  2. People seem to be forgetting about little boys when they go on about feminism all the time, we need to be raising boys to realise they can be who they want too too instead of focusing everything on what seems to be making barriers between the sexes!

    1. Not sure that you have read the post properly because it concerns adult men and women and not little boys - that is a whole topic onto itself but not what I'm discussing here. I absolutely agree that everyone should be raised to believe in themselves regardless of gender but unfortunately there are still some disadvantages to being female.

  3. Love your comment about being older and no longer caring about other's perception. We certainly need to portray this confidence to younger women around us - hopefully before the media does!

  4. I love this and completely agree, I have definitely gained confidence with age and as a mother to two girls, my feministic attitude has become far stronger!

  5. Love this post and totally agree. I have also got into the habit of doing what I want and if I don’t like something or don’t want to do something I say it , life is to short to not be yourself . Oh I am a total feminist ha! xx

  6. As a Mum to two girls I feel under a lot of pressure to try and buck the stereotypes of a woman. Over the past year I’ve found myself being more confident in challenging the percieved roles but there is still so much work to do as it is subliminally ingrained and I really find I have to make conscious decisions not to act in certain ways.

  7. I love this but agree that this mind set comes with age and experience. A lot of younger generations and millennials sometimes don’t even register what they’re doing or how they’re acting as how society has said they should be...it’s not until behaviour is pointed out to them that they even notice.

  8. I really took a lot from this post. You actually made me see myself in a new light. I think at times I've made myself seem smaller and less threatening, because the older generation (my grandparents mostly) used to tell me I wasn't very 'ladylike'. I used to be very outspoken as a child and got told off for being 'bossy' and strong minded. If I ever tried to join in with conversations with certain male members of my family, I was told 'it wasn't my place to comment as a girl'. As I grew up I vowed to change that and I have always been strong minded and a big feminist. I honestly thought things were changing. Over the last 28 years I've seen things change for the better, but now after reading this I do completely agree that with things like social media, there has been a little bit regression. I, like you, see so many of the younger generation seeing that value lies in physical appearance. I have to admit, I am guilty of using terms like 'Mumboss' though. I actually find it quite empowering. x

  9. I agree that the older I get, the more confident I become and the less I care what other people think of me. I wish I could go back 20 years to my younger self and give her some of this growing confidence.

  10. I also agree in that as I get older I have got a lot more confident and don't worry about what others think so much. I have two girls and hope they realise this quicker then I did. x

  11. Hats of to you lovely lady and well said - i think as women we do need to try and speak up more and do what we want to do not with the flow @patirobins

  12. A very well written post! I completely agree.