Beverley Merriman

I’m not a feminist

Inspired by those overbearing man-eaters who bitch about inequality and hide behind women’s lib for their every whim, I tweeted, “The world would be a better place without those hard-core feminist types“. Boy, did that tweet get me into trouble.

If tweets could kill, I would have needed life support.

“I’m no feminist,” I shot back (keenly aware that I owned a brand called FeistyFemale!). Truth be told, I never gave it a thought till that very moment — whether I was a feminist or not — I’ve never had to.

After much contemplation, I’m sticking to my guns. I’m not a feminist.

This leads me to my next tweet, one that was inspired by an article written by Justine Musk “I was the Starter Wife”: Inside America’s Messiest Divorce. The tweet read, If any man ever told me “I’m the alpha in this relationship” … God help him.

You see, those men exist. Those who do think they are god-like and that their dreams, talent and ambition take priority over any woman’s. Each time my (silent) response is: Why should my talent and dreams take a backseat to yours? How is that fair? What makes you superior? How do you justify your fucking god-like awesomeness? Instead of picking a fight with these types I let them be and I carry on fulfilling my dreams. It’s not like any argumentation can change this narrow-minded mentality in a single argument.

It’s ridiculous in today’s age to assume that any person reserves the right to have their dreams, talent, skill and career prioritised because of their sex. I don’t care if you are a man or a woman — it’s a bad attitude to have. It shows that you are selfish with no sense of what’s fair and that you have no compassion to uplift those around you. In the business world it also shows lack of common sense.

My parents raised my sister and me in an age and society where roles and responsibilities were far more clear-cut than today. Despite this, I had the privilege of being raised in a family where my parents were parenting partners, equals and peers. As both my parents spent equal amounts of time at home, they took equal responsibility for income and home life, neither had traditional mom and dad responsibilities. Both were equally likely to cook, clean, do the groceries, help with homework or cart us around to our extracurricular activities. They functioned as a unit, truly calibrating their lives to be shared and equal. They shared successes and failures.

This ensured that I was raised to be assertive, independent and outspoken about my dreams and needs. Neither my sister nor I have ever viewed being independent as being feminist. We seem to take it for granted that our rights and needs are on par with that of our counterparts. Despite working in a predominantly male industry, my attitude can be defined as: my chances are as good as yours!

My partner (both romantic and in business) and I function much like my parents did — as a team. It’s a two-way, give-and-take process with shared sacrifices and shared domestic and business responsibility. We are sensitive and supportive towards each other’s visions, wild ideas, aspirations and passions. It’s not really rocket science to realise that both parties need to be happy and fulfilled to be happy together. This too is true for business relationships. You need to be happy to flourish and happy enough to let those around you flourish whether they are male or female.

This kind of confidence and happiness is not obtained by joining a feminist lobbying group and bitching about your rights or on the other side of the spectrum believing your rights take precedence because of your sex. Enough of that!

Feminists seem to face the moral conundrum of how they give back to society: do they give back to society by using their talent and skill through a career or by raising the next generation of children?

You simply can’t blame men for this conundrum. It’s a societal problem. Our society is a well-oiled machine, an intricate system of smooth running processes that have rapidly evolved into what we know today. We haven’t designed our society to cater for either sex if you think about it. I’m sure that there are many hard-working dads that would give anything to spend more time at home with their wife and children. The solution is a challenging one. We need to recreate (as joint forces, both men and women) a society in which to function holistically — where women get to work while raising a family, but also where men have time to spend with their families.

Then there are those feminists that focus on weakness. I agree there are cases and societies where women are, for various reasons, ill-treated. This often comes down to lack of education or poverty. It’s not about feminism then — it’s about culture, education, poverty and/or not knowing any better due these factors. However, for the most vocal extremists in our society this does not hold true. If you can think you can work, if you can work you can earn, if you earn you are empowered to make choices. Choices, however difficult and complex, are still choices.

  • You choose to have a family and a job.
  • You choose work over family, or family over work.
  • You choose how you are treated in the workplace.
  • You choose to acknowledge that extremists and assholes exist.
  • You choose whether to stay in an abusive relationship or not.
  • You choose whether and how you will negotiate a relationship (work or business) that works for you.
  • You choose not to be set back by the fact that you are a female or you choose not to practise superiority because you are a male.
  • Lobbying, preaching feminists irk me. It’s pointless spending days lobbying for a cause that merely highlights inequality. This does not empower a soul. If you want to support something and effect change — go and educate someone in need, teach values while teaching them skills. Employ someone that needs it. Act equal, lead by example, pay it forward but stop bitching about bullshit. Empower through other means rather than highlighting injustice. And for goodness sake, acknowledge the fact that some women don’t mind being less empowered or objectified. That too is a choice.

    The alpha males should also realise that they are not doing themselves or society a favour with their narrow-mindedness. The archaic view that women are the lesser, weaker sex will do future generations a disservice. It also will not bring you any more power, control or success.

    I realise that my upbringing was not the norm — I was privileged having parents that were present and involved in my development and in so doing making me who I am today. I settled for a partner that’s prepared to work 50/50 and have children on a 50/50 partnership basis and who values my dreams and achievements as much as I value his. This is not the norm, but it is a choice, and one that is worth making. Together we can help society far more than if only one of us assumes power. Should we ever raise children, they too will have the privilege to absorb their parents equally.

    Ask yourself if you are making the right choices. Is your outlook really fair? Also, think about team work, even if society makes it hard or damn near impossible — because having fathers and mothers that aren’t stuck on sexist issues and have a joint influence on children, would raise a stronger, more cohesive, more talented, balanced and much more morally aware society. You know it would.

    • http://www.1sttime2010.wordpress.com Jennifer Thorpe

      @Bev, you sadden me. It is obvious that you were extremely lucky to come from a family where your parents were mutually respectful of one another. But Bev, this is a rarity. It is a rarity because of systemic rewards for the other type of relationship where one partner is dominated. This need not be the woman, but unfortunately in many cases it is.

      Your comments about choice are sickening. You do not always choose how you are treated at work, and women certainly do not choose to be abused. Yes they may make a choice to stay, in order to continue feeding their children or so that they have a roof over their heads. Surely this is not enough freedom to choose to say that parties are equal.

      @Tara Woods. Thank you. You are amazing.

    • MayaMaya

      @Benzol – Sigh, this post was about feminism hence the references to the abuse that women face in our society. In no way does that mean that male rape or domestic violence or any other kind of abuse does not occur or is not to be taken seriously or is even less serious than VAW. Those women laughed at the conference because it’s always the same response from certain quarters and it gets rather tiresome to have to keep explaining to people that abuse and violence against women is by far the most prevalent form of violence both in the public and private sphere. There is a reason that we focus on VAW to such an extent – 500 000 women raped every year; 1 woman killed by her partner every 6 minutes; 25% of SA men admit to having raped a woman. BTW let’s not forget one of the main speakers at the VEP conference from Zambia who stated that women bring rape on themselves because of what they wear! Views like this are prevalent in our society as well and we need to keep challenging this kind of thought so that our daughters and sons will stand a chance of living in a less violent, more tolerant society.

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/mikebaillie Mike Baillie

      I can’t say I agree with you at all.
      And I hope that one of the feminist bloggers will respond to your blog shortly.

    • Paul Barrett

      I cannot fit this into one post so it will have to be two.

      @Joel: “not surprised that a man (probably white and privileged like Beverly) would think all feminists are speaking only for YOU to listen…”

      I said I was white male and privileged. Well done for turning it into a sexist assumption as I predicted.

      I never said or implied that all feminists are speaking only for me to listen, ref: “me and many others.” You are clearly reading what you want to and not what was written.

      Your condescending attitude toware myself and others is hindering your arguments. This was, as I read it, a central theme of the original article. I do not read it as saying all feminists are bad, but that people who argue as you do are doing a disservice to the advancement of equal rights.

      It is not possible to read Tara’s comments in a reasonable way as she insists on attacking people for things they did not say. You appear to be doing the same.

      Apart from being intended as condescending and insulting, I am not sure what you were trying to achieve with “Even to you that should be somewhat puzzling…”

      It is not puzzling at all because I can follow her argument, whereas you apparently cannot.

    • Paul Barrett

      Continued…

      “It is not enough to treat people as people!”

      It is.

      “You must treat women as women by respecting them and their femininity and still considering them your equal…”

      This is inherent in treating people as people, which to me *means* as equals. I apologize if I did not make that clear.

      I am not putting forward anti-feminist views. I argued against your arrogant assumptions about who Beverley is and your sexist statement that in order to have the view she does she must have sold her soul to male attitudes.

      “I bet you were Mom and Daddy’s little boy while your little sister had to take the blame for everything!”

      In fact I was raised by a mother who had no university education and poor job prospects on getting divorced due to an upbringing which said to her that women get married and have babies while men get degrees and jobs. No one taught me that this was wrong, I figured it out for myself. Regardless, I got no special treatment for being male.

      These ad hominem attacks are seriously undermining any argument you make. Try to refrain in future.

      “I repeat: Beverly could have easily written a piece without first feeling the (male-driven) urge to displace feminism… In fact her arguments would have been truly path-breaking had they engaged with some feminist literature!”

      Do you really not see the sexism in your assumption that Beverley could not have constructed her opinion without being subject

    • Paul Barrett

      Despite being 250 words, that last bit got cut off. Sorry about that.

      Here is the last bit again:

      “I repeat: Beverly could have easily written a piece without first feeling the (male-driven) urge to displace feminism… In fact her arguments would have been truly path-breaking had they engaged with some feminist literature!”

      Do you really not see the sexism in your assumption that Beverley could not have constructed her opinion without being subject to male-driven ideas?

    • http://www.beverleymerriman.com bevmerriman

      Herewith my last remarks:

      Thank you to the rational commentators @Brent, @Rory Short @Lentswe @Benzel @Rodney @Andrew @Paul Barrett @X-cepting . I’m sure that not only I but also the rest of the readership found great value and insight in your comments.

      As for the rest, thanks for the tremendously inaccurate & less insightful character sketches of my personality/background. Your comments are perfect examples of how irrational debate and anger alienates people to a cause.

      Statements such as, “You are naïve enough to think that your boyfriend and father represent masculine identity” is not the cornerstone of good debate. In fact it’s irrelevant. Incidentally, my father is 78 and was a Major in the Army, not exactly the metro man as implied.

      I have great admiration for those fighting for a cause, even if it’s not a cause I agree with. I think Feminists would do far better lobbying support if their tone weren’t angry, rude and emotional.

      The reality is that this is an opinion piece not an academic paper. It’s my opinion. I therefore expect agreement, disagreement and indifference. It’s a starting point of a discussion where all can learn.

      I specifically excluded issues of poverty and culture, my background does include working in rural areas. As @Rod of Sydney pointed out “outside of this world (middle-class) there are all sorts of attitudes/entrenchments”.

    • http://www.beverleymerriman.com bevmerriman

      Final remarks.. continued:

      @Lentswe pointed out two important points (1) legally in South Africa there is an equal playing field (2) the less fortunate also have choices.

      If you look at the URL you’d see that my title for the piece was somewhat different than the title the editor chose. A title can stir up such emotion, don’t you think?

    • http://blog.ainslie.co.za Chris

      Exactly. I’ve commented on your post in slightly different way here: http://blog.ainslie.co.za/2010/10/21/feminism-and-the-primitive-man/

      We’ll just have to change society’s was, one post at a time!

    • X Cepting

      @Beverley – I think the other reason you are getting such vehement opposition from the “feminist” brigade is that they see you as playing on their turf. I notice that most had to twist what you said so that they could find a reason to disagree with you and be totally disgusted by what you said, turning an enjoyable message of hope into something dark and sinister. It confirms my suspicion that they really do not wish all women to become people since the necessity for “feminists” would then dissappear. Rather than rallying me to their cause it has served to distance me even further, which does not mean that I will continue to fight my (non-feminist) way to empower women any chance I get, since it does get results.

    • X Cepting

      Obviously that last sentence should read: “…that I will NOT continue to fight…”

    • http://janemademboblogspot.com Jane Madembo

      Jennifer, Jen, I totally agree with you. I enjoy reading the guardian, and so far their writers (Thought leader) have been great. How can we stop advocating for equality as women, every day girls who will grow into women are born. The stereotype of the feminist as an angry man hater is the brainchild of the men themselves, who in retaliation wanted to unsex the woman.

    • TBo

      Dearest x-cepting, women did not get to vote by being polite and tip toeing around mens egos. How would you achieve anything by continuing to be subservient? Women had to get the vote before people of colour were given the right to vote, which leads me to how we eventually managed to achieve relative democracy in this country. . . Not by being polite or subservient.

      One hundred years post suffragette era, the stereotype of angry feminists still pervades to such a degree than no one wants to be even remotely associated to the word. This is, regardless of the fact that society has changed as well as has feminist ideology (but thats a whole other argument). The primary and most important premise however is still the concept of equality. So every one who says they are not a feminist, but in the next breath say they believe in equality, is a bit more than confused. They are missing the entire point of feminism. Instead of reading about it, they are absorbing the media driven stereotype of feminism. How about doing a little research, huh? (wikipedia does not count as an academic source)

    • X Cepting

      @Tbo – I am sure most could see you feeding me words there… My previous comments were not meant as an attack on you, I even especially said so, but if the shoe fits… Thank you for giving me the opportunity to affirm my viewpoint of feminists. BTW there is no stereotyping when it comes to angry feminists, the comments here prove this.

    • Kat

      The anger and indignation that this blog has caused is upsetting but not surprising. This blog started off on an antagonistic and insulting note which denigrated what is still an important issue – that of the status of women, of the women’s movement, its purpose and intellectual content. All this blog has served to do is incite people and bring out the worst in them – whether proclaimed feminists or non-feminist. Insults, especially personal ones, acerbic and snide remarks will not change anything or persuade anyone. In essence, what has happened here has been counter productive. While, I agree that being provocative is needed to get discussion going there are ways to do it that promote discussion and healthy debate rather than this mess.

      Feminism, like any ism, is nuanced and faces many challenges. However, to deny that it has any benefit or relevance is just mindboggling. Feminists of many stripes, man-loving and man-hating among others, have helped shift views on women and what constitutes women’s roles – the fact the we, as women, can now own property and are legally considered adults and people in our own right are just some of the achievements of feminist women. Yet there is much still to be done and debates about how best to go forward are vitally important. Forums like these are invaluable in tackling these issues but nothing is gained by mudslinging as this blog and its comments prove. Hopefully, solutions and more constructive discussions will occur in future.

    • http://joy-mari.com Joy-Mari Cloete

      There’s too much wrong in this piece. 250 words are just not enough. It’s OK to not be a feminist but it’s not OK to dismiss feminists as “overbearing man-eaters who bitch about inequality”.

    • Leigh

      Spoken like a true privileged white woman. I could probably guess that you have never encountered or even socialised with woman who may not have had parents who regarded themselves as equal, who were financially stable. Your comments are reserved for the cocooned liberal, privileged world you live in!

    • sally

      To me, the most rational response to inequality is anger and resistance, which you charaterise as emotional. In south Africa, where (you state) the law offers an ‘equal playing field': a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner (Medical research council) where domestic violence and rape stats are among the highest in the world. Im not sure why more south africans are not emotional and outraged by this? feminist or not (I am) where is your outrage? Yours is directed at feminists. Seems that perhaps you bought the same bad press on feminism that those who seek to maintain the status quo promote. I dont blame you, its a good sell and its common, and you clearly have benefited from its riches – your race, class and position mean you have to defend it to be able to keep your place.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      If you want to run with the pack you can’t wee-wee like a puppy. Modern day feminists want to have their cake and eat it too. I think it’s apt to have double standards for men and women, especially since maternity leave for me is absolutely useless and I shouldn’t be allowed near children as I’d strangle them. This does not have anything to do with equality, but with different strokes for different folks and different strokees.

    • Zukiswa

      In South Africa, we have high rates of domestic violence. Three year old girls are being raped (as are 70 year old grannies). The majority of political and economic leaders in the country are men. I do not believe it is because there are not enough women capable of being in charge. We are just not men. On a more personal level, I am a single mother to a son. I am trying to raise him like the men in your life Beverly – respecting women and willing to do his bit in a 50/50 partnership. I am trying. But when I walk in my lower middle class neighbourhood and I see a group of men (of whatever race), I have to cross to the other side because they wolf-whistle, make sexually suggestive comments, and sometimes even come and physically grab my arm because they want my number. In an equal world, I might be alright with this because I would probably have done this to men.It is still not an equal world.I am happy for you that your life has been so good that you don’t feel the need for feminists. Alas, I can’t say the same. And neither can the woman who has just been beaten up and/or raped while I typed this.

    • Joel

      Kat I must disagree with you. This blog is a platform for the contestation of ideas… How can our response not be personal when the basis of Beverly’s piece is her self-righteous personal privilege and position? Even then, if this article had been about “killing all the gays”, would you still be so adamant that our vitriolic comments are unwarranted? In my view, Beverly’s views amount to online pollution because of the very lazy, naïve and destructive path she chose to articulate her ideas!

      @Paul: what I meant by saying that even you should be puzzled is that any intelligent moral agent (ie. Human being) should see that the total rejection of feminism and of women’s struggles in beverly’s article is unhealthy for south african gender politics!

      How is it a sexist assumption to call a spade, a spade?? You are a white privileged patriarchal male and everything you say will reflect your position in society? My use of ‘sarcasm – a language device taught at any school’ is to point out how silly your otherwise well-phrased response
      is! You just don’t know what you are talking about? No feminism – is that you slogan?? Shame on you Paul

      @Beverly, next time stick to writing about business and leadership instead of writing about serious issues of which you have very little knowledge. Feminism is a commitment to a better life for women? Why would you reject that? I don’t get it!

      And your tendency to praise only those who agree with you is really shameful… I’m glad Jennifer responded intellectually to your infantile ideas about women’s lives

    • Alan

      You are a feminist, because you believe that women should have all those choices you mentioned. You cannot get around that. In your world feminism has become so mainstream that you can disassociate yourself with it to look cooler, and calmer.

      You get that you only had parents who thought like that, and the choices you do, because militant feminists fought tooth and nail for both the acceptance and the right to choose, don’t you? If it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t even be able to own the money you earn. It would belong to your husband – to use however he pleased.

      Feminists continue to fight tooth and nail for the parts of society that don’t affect you – that live like you would have, if their struggles hadn’t changed your world as a European-descended, middle class woman. They fight too, for the last choices that you are unable to make – or that you are restricted from making – even in your world.

      But you disrespect these efforts because they’re loud and angry, and you feel satisfied with what you have now – just as the majority of women 120 years ago were satisfied with their enslaved positions. After all, they’d been brought up to think of them as natural laws.

      Like most conservatives, you can’t go back to the positions that conservatives took in the past. But you don’t want any further progress that future conservatives will consider basic rights. Ungrateful. Smug. Inconsiderate.

    • X Cepting

      @Alan – on the other hand, fighting for female rights, however ineffectually, feminists can lay claim to successes that is not theirs who can pinpoint what is changing the status quo? If they could not claim credit, it would mean finding a new cause or getting real jobs, so they obviously fight people like Beverley tooth and nail (literally, it seems). I have great respect for the women and men who made society aware of gender inequality. These people? Wow! Respect is earned in my book, no matter one’s sex.

    • Paul Barrett

      @Joel: “intelligent moral agent should see that the total rejection of feminism and of women’s struggles … is unhealthy for south african gender politics!”

      Did you understand that my interpretation was that it is *not* a total rejection of feminism, rather a rejection of overly hostile approaches in favour of trying to effect change by engaging with people instead of attacking them? If not, you are arguing something which does not relate to anything I said; perhaps we agree more than was apparent.

      I’ll take back the comments about sexism in previous posts, though I remain unconvinced about your assumptions about the origin of Beverley’s opinions as having to come from male perspectives. Yes, I missed the sarcasm in you talking about my childhood, it wasn’t clear from the surrounding material.

      Do you see the difference in interaction when you engage this way instead of with hostility?

      I am not patriarchal, no matter how many times you accuse me of such without reason. I work with women who hold positions equal to and above mine, and I have much respect for them, believe they are incredible people with talent which should be (and is) recognized and rewarded, and spoke of my respect when asked to provide insight for a yearly review. This is patriarchal?

      “No feminism – is that your slogan??”

      I was very clear that I am not against feminism, but you can choose to believe otherwise. It will not change reality.

    • TBo

      X-cepting, feminists were among those who made society aware of gender inequality which you claim to respect.

      ‘fighting for female rights, however ineffectually, feminists can lay claim to successes that is not theirs’

      The success you speak of which is not owing to feminists? *pause for laugh* The suffragettes, on top of continual campaigning and lobbying for women to get the vote, actually wrote the amendment to the constitution which was later passed in all of the states in the U.S. There is actually a LOT of literature on this subject. Perhaps you could google the names Susan B. Anthony and Elisabeth Cady Stanton. This opinion is backed up with the use of facts, not mere erroneous claims.