OPINION

Liberal feminism has failed women

The concept of ‘choice’ has been co-opted by liberals to mean acquiescence to harmful practices that benefit men.

The statue for Mary Wollstonecraft by artist Maggi Hambling is seen covered with a t-shirt in Newington Green, London [Paul Childs/Reuters]
The statue for Mary Wollstonecraft by artist Maggi Hambling is seen covered with a t-shirt in Newington Green, London [Paul Childs/Reuters]

It is not exactly hard work being a liberal feminist. Nothing has to change, no challenge to the status quo is necessary and men do not need to be admonished. In other words, things stay the same and the quest for individual enlightenment and liberation becomes key.

“My body, my choice” is one of the most recognised slogans of second-wave feminism. This is because, prior to the many achievements of the women’s liberation movement, women’s lives were defined by the absence of choice. Women had little or no say over whether or not they married or had children, or even about sexual practice and pleasure. Feminism created a landscape in which women could, to an extent, exercise choice. But lately, the concept of “choice” has been co-opted by liberals to mean acquiescence to harmful practices that benefit men.

Ask yourself this: if it was legal for women to walk around topless in the same way it is for men, would you do it? Would you choose to walk around in public naked from the waist up on a hot day? Or sit topless in the park, would you go into the shops to buy groceries topless? If not, why not? In fact, walking around topless is legal for women in New York City but nobody does it.

Take the ‘Free The Nipple (FTN) campaign’ which can be filed under Slutwalk for stupid “feminist” ideas. FTN was started by filmmaker Lina Esco in 2012 to highlight the fact that men do not get hassled when appearing topless in public but women are not afforded the same freedom to do so.

Notions of choice and equality underpin liberal feminism, which results in appalling ignorance when it comes to the material and lived reality of women and girls. For example, I have witnessed campaigners against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) being abused on social media for using the term “female” to describe this human rights violation. Apparently it is transphobic to suggest that vaginas are exclusively female.

Things that are currently classed as empowering for women include: buying unbearably high shoes, pole-dancing as exercise, breast enhancement surgery, posing naked on Instagram and “sex work”. But what one thing do these submissive practices all have in common? They are all performed to please men. And all supported by liberal feminists.

To take a contemporary example: the statue of Mary Wollstonecraft, recently erected in London, which depicts a naked woman seemingly on top of lots of writhing naked bodies. Liberal feminists might celebrate this as being sexually liberating and ignore the fact that the vast majority of statues of men are fully clothed, and that they outnumber statues of women by about 2.5 to one. To me, the statue looks like a Christmas tree decoration and not a very nice one at that.

But there are also issues of pressing urgency that are wilfully misrepresented by liberal feminists, such as the horrors of the global sex trade. Prostitution, or rather “sex work” as the liberal feminists would have it, is a cause and consequence of women’s oppression. But not for the liberals! So long as there are at least a few women describing renting out body parts for men’s one-sided sexual pleasure as “empowering” the social structures such as racism, colonialism and misogyny that underpin global prostitution can be set aside.

It is the same with the thorny issue of whether or not transgender women should be regarded as women per se. Liberal feminists imagine that, with their personal empowerment and focus on bettering the mind through education, they will never end up in prison or in a psychiatric ward. Perhaps, bearing in mind that liberal feminists are almost always middle to upper middle class, they also assume they will not need the services of a domestic violence shelter.

Partly as a result of the liberal support for extreme transgender ideology, a number of female-only services providing direct support for women and their children who are the victims of male violence are under pressure to admit male-bodied trans women. Liberals have successfully argued that trans women should be allowed in the women’s prison estate, including those that are convicted sex offenders.

Female-only clubs and sporting facilities are also under threat. For instance, despite widespread protest, Girlguiding has a policy that boys who identify as girls can join all of its activities without the girls or their parents being told. That also goes for adult volunteers working with the children and includes overnight camps.

Liberal feminists are so scared of offending men that they bend over backwards to maintain the status quo as opposed to seeking proper liberation for women. They are happy to be given a seat at the table where they might get thrown a few crumbs, rather than taking an axe and smashing it to smithereens. If men support a particular type of feminism that should be a clue as to its ineffectiveness. Feminism should be a threat to men because we are seeking liberation from patriarchy, which means that they lose the privilege they were afforded at birth by simply owning a penis.

Naked statues of women will neither help feminism nor topple it. What we need is for women to rise up and be brave and most importantly, refuse to accept our lot. Liberal feminists need to get radical.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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