Catherine Redfern is the founding editor of The F Word, a large feminist blog that you should definitely add to your RSS feed. Redfern (left) founded The F Word in 2001 because she was frustrated by the dearth of feminist writing and online activism in the UK, and because she suspected that she wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Kristin Aune (right) is a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Derby and teaches courses on gender, feminism and religion. Together, they co-founded London Third Wave, a networking group for London feminists. They are also the co-authors of Reclaiming the F-Word: The New Feminist Movement, which came out in June.
The book began with Redfern and Aune’s confusion at the constant refrain, in the press and in politics, that feminism was dead, dying or that we were living in the post-feminist age. As Redfern and Aune saw it, that wasn’t the case at all; The F Word was a vibrant community of online feminists, and it certainly wasn’t the only one, and there were plenty of feminists organizing offline, as well. And as for post-feminism, well, as they put it, “I’ll be post feminist in the post-patriarchy.” So Redfern and Aune set out to write a book that would take stock of the state of feminism in the UK today, tackling a wide range of issues, from sexism in popular culture to the role of women in religion. They conducted a survey of 1300 self-identified feminists, asking them how they felt about the current state, and the future of feminism. The full results of the survey are in the book, but you can read more about what they asked, and how people answered, here.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune.
Chloe Angyal: How did you become involved in feminist activism and what led you to writing this book?
Catherine Redfern: My feminism came about from reading books like The Beauty Myth, Manifesta and several second wave and ‘third wave’ books. I then sought out feminist magazines from the U.S. like Bitch, Ms and Bust (there wasn’t anything equivalent in the UK at the time). I started reading feminist websites like Third Wave, Feminista, and the Ms Magazine discussion boards which were all active at the time (but have now all gone!), and all of these things really inspired me. I tried to find similar things in the UK but couldn’t find anything online, and I didn’t know any other feminists then. In 2001 I set up The F Word as I figured that there must be other young women who have feminist views and who wanted to discuss these issues. At first it was aimed at younger feminists but later on, it became about contemporary UK feminism generally. I chose the word contemporary as it emphasised that it was about feminism today not feminism as a historical movement – but apart from that, it had a very broad and inclusive interpretation of what feminism.
As time went on I met a lot more younger feminists and got involved in feminist groups. The scene was vibrant, inspiring, and growing, but all we heard of from the media, even some feminists in the media, was that feminism was dead and young women didn’t care. The difference between what we knew was happening and how feminism was being presented really annoyed me. I wanted to put something out there which killed that lie once and for all and which celebrated all the activity that’s going on in the UK and around the world today. Hence the book!
Kristin Aune: My feminism came about partly through reading and studying (I did a Masters degree in Women’s Studies), and partly through observing and experiencing the marginalization of women in the Christian church. I then sought out feminist groups to join, some Christian and others not.
My activism for some years was focused mainly on improving the position of women in the church. One thing I feel proud of is that an essay I wrote was quoted from in an influential publication debating the ordination of women as Bishops in the Church of England (a victory that’s since been achieved). I’m also proud that there’s a church in London where, thanks to several of us arguing that gender equality could be justified theologically, women are now allowed to preach where they weren’t before.
Googling ‘feminism in the UK’ when I was living in London doing my Ph.D. around 2002, I was excited to find The F Word. I contacted Catherine and suggested we meet. We ended up starting a feminist group, which came to be called London Third Wave Feminists. We had the idea of writing the book years ago, but, thankfully, waited several years before doing anything about. I say thankfully because it was good to have the benefit of a longer and broader experience of feminism, and also to have a bank of knowledge of academic work on gender to draw on.
By the time we started researching the book, I was in a full-time academic job at the University of Derby, and this made the process of research easier. The University of Derby provided funding for a wonderful part-time research assistant, Rose Holyoak, to help with our survey research. Plus the library was invaluable!
The survey is a really important part of the book. We questioned nearly 1,300 feminists – people involved in feminist activities that had come about since 2000 – about how they came to feminism, what they thought the important feminist issues were, and what activism they were involved in. The results were fascinating and are published in our book.
CA: Who are your favorite fictional heroines, and who are your heroines in real life?
CR: My fictional heroine is Delenn from Babylon 5, which as we all know is the greatest sci-fi show ever made! She’s passionate, deeply caring, and driven to make a difference to the universe.
In real-life, my heroines are the grassroots activists making changes in whatever area they’re passionate about. This was also reflected in our survey; when we asked feminists who most inspires them as a feminist, they named people they actually knew – their friends, fellow activists, and their mothers and grandmothers – just as much as ‘famous feminists’. Even the smallest scale activism really inspires me; I’ve always been really keen on riot grrrl/feminist zines produced by teenage girls in their bedrooms, for example. But even these have a big impact on the people who read them. It’s all activism.
KA: I did an English degree so I should have a good answer to this, but now I’m a sociologist I rarely read fiction! When I first started calling myself a feminist and trying to improve things for women in the church, I didn’t have a lot of heroines. I used to think of myself as trying to be my own role model.
Now, I’m fortunate in knowing a lot more feminist women and men, and I echo what Catherine said. I admire them for doing what they can in their daily lives to make a difference.
There are also many writers whose work I admire: Naomi Wolf, Jennifer Baumgardner, Amy Richards, Audre Lorde, Andrea Dworkin, Azar Nafisi, Adrienne Rich and Michele Roberts, to name just a few.
CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?
CR: Dr Petra Boynton, a feminist academic/sex-educator recently linked to a horrific tabloid press article which asked women “Would you rather be cheated on with a prostitute, a slag, or a nice girl?” and said things like “Your average famehungry one-night-stand slapper is just a prostitute who gets paid later, by a trashy paper, instead of by the bloke himself at the time.”
Seriously, where do you start with this kind of thing? The view of male/female relationships, women’s sexuality and women in the sex industry/prostitution… just wrong on so many levels.
KA: A piece in the Daily Mail entitled ‘Has feminism killed the art of home cooking?’ One choice quote from it is this: ‘It’s feminism we have to thank for the spread of fast-food chains and an epidemic of childhood obesity’. This is the latest example in a long line of ‘feminism has made things worse’ stories, generally propagated by right-wing newspapers, and which completely misunderstand the social contexts in which the changes they’re describing have occurred. Most of these changes originate in major economic changes, or the rise of information technology, rather than in feminism. And even when they contain grains of truth – they’re right that women aren’t spending as many hours slaving over cooking dinner each night – they try and recreate ‘traditional’ values that are incompatible with the demands of the modern workplace and that weren’t liberating for many women in any case.
CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
CR: It seems that in the UK at least we have finally broken through and the mainstream media is grudgingly accepting that maybe feminists do still exist. We need to make sure that this isn’t a blip and that we keep the profile of feminism high in the years to come. In the UK now we have serious issues with the new coalition Government implementing major public sector cuts which will affect women more than men. They have also quite a traditional view of what women should do and have already attempted to bring in anonymity for those accused of rape, give tax rewards simply for being married and reward families where one parent does childcare full-time (I wonder who that will end up being?).
There is also a problem with the media focusing on certain aspects of feminism and neglecting others. For example, a lot of publicity recently has been given to sexualisation, objectification and sex industry issues. That is as a result of the hard work of organisations working in those areas and it’s good that these issues are getting attention. But that’s not the only issue that feminism has to deal with. In fact, equality in work, the home and education, violence against women and body issues were the most frequently mentioned concerns in our survey. We need to make sure that those issues also get air time. We also need to find a way of accepting that feminism is broad, and we disagree sometimes, but still work together within the broad umbrella of feminism and finding ways to come together on issues that we all agree on.
KA: On the whole, I think feminism’s in a healthy place. But occasionally there’s friction over things like whether sex work/prostitution should be legalized, or criminalised and seen as a form of violence against women. Feminists have to learn to work together despite their differences, rather than insisting that their particular way or ‘brand’ of feminism is the only way forward or that their particular issue of concern is the most important one. There are loads of things we can agree on – we all want economic justice, an end to violence against women, political representation, and so forth – so let’s work together on achieving this, and keep talking with and respecting each other on the more controversial issues. We need to do this to win the respect of those who don’t yet understand the need for social justice movements like feminism today.
CA: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you choose?
CR: Kale & brown Rice, tea and Rachel Aimee, one of the founders of $pread magazine, which has now folded. I knew her when she lived in London, and it would be good to catch up with everything that’s happened since then (even if on a desert island!). I have a great deal of admiration for what she managed to achieve.
KA: Pistachio nuts, tea and Jesus (if religious figures are allowed!). He might not have used the F word but the way he treated women is inspirational.