A Marine Le Pen feminism

Feminism supports all women: A statement that cannot be argued against nor dismantled. True feminism uplifts women to the point of equality. But when vital feminist beliefs are put to the test, is it really so inclusive?

When I heard that Marine Le Pen was running for President of France, I felt a flux of emotions. Both proud of how much women have accomplished, and embarrassed that it had to be somebody who held such bigoted values. Embarrassed that she was being portrayed as a representation of feminists everywhere: which she shouldn’t be, by any means.

At its core, feminism provides a platform in which people can show their support for gender equality. But the deeper values of feminism also lie with integrity, truth and an honest acceptance for humanity as a whole: nobody is excluded. Being a far-right and openly xenophobic candidate, supporting Le Pen seems to undermine everything that the movement stands for. She made no secret that she was appealing to women through her campaign either; her attempts had been obvious. Changing the National Front party logo from a flame to a blue rose ran alongside her evident attempt to dress down in order to appear more approachable and relatable to the everyday woman – a woman who feared that her job was about to be taken by immigrants; this xenophobic fear was one that Le Pen ingrained on her female followers throughout her campaign.

Marine La Pen Blue Rose Campaign

A Marine Le Pen campaign in which the new blue rose logo is used.

To have a woman as President would be a notable feat. But that’s disregarding Le Pen’s true values: those of racism, intolerance and parochialism are something that feminism does not tolerate nor stand for. To say that one should support Marine Le Pen because of her gender is ignoring her character, and therefore dismissing the tolerant teachings of feminism at its most basic level. Yet many people appear to believe that all feminists should support her, despite her insularity and dismissiveness.

The far-right leader knew that she held a certain power over her feminist voters in that they didn’t want to seem unsupportive of a female candidate. Thankfully, Le Pen’s intolerance outshone any feminist values she claimed to have held. It goes without saying that she used her gender to give the National Front a veneer of respectability and modernity.

Paris feminist group the Femen movement claimed to have seen through Le Pen’s facade from the start of her campaign. They regularly intruded her public events, calling her a ‘fake feminist’ whilst having “Le Pen Top Fascist” written across their chests. They insisted that Le Pen was using women’s issues to push forward her xenophobic propaganda and that she had no real care for her women voters. In her 2017 manifesto, Marine Le Pen introduced 144 proposals in a 24-page long document: the word “women” only appears twice. To the Femen movement’s remarks, Le Pen called them “obscene harpies”.

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the Femen movement gate crashing a Le Pen public event.

Many women saw through the feminist facade Le Pen hid behind, and being a woman wasn’t enough to make her President. Instead, Emmanuel Macron won by a 66% landslide and promises to provide France with the unity this world so very much needs. Being a feminist does not mean that you are obligated to stand aside bigotry and hatred: even if that happens to come from a woman.

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Can men be feminists?

According to the Oxford Dictionary definition of feminism, (“the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of sexual equality”,) the movement doesn’t appear to be something that is confined to one particular sex; inclusive and unexacting definitions that appear all over the internet seem to agree with this. Despite this, for some people, the argument still remains: Can men truly call themselves ‘feminists’?

Recently, I got the opportunity to speak to Game of Thrones actor and self-proclaimed male feminist, Sam Coleman, about whether or not men should brand themselves feminists, or whether they should be consigned to the ‘ally’ label merely because of their gender.

“I think people should be able to call themselves what they like, nobody can own words. I, personally, describe myself as a feminist. Why? Because I support, nay fight for, feminism,” Coleman told me. “It’s rather hypocritical to alienate support based on gender. That’s without getting to the fact that feminism is about gender equality and that includes men as well.”

To deliberately isolate an entire gender from the feminist movement would be a juxtaposition in itself, where campaigning is based around inclusivity and alliance. In doing so, the social justice movement would do itself no favours; I was more than surprised to discover that many feminists believe that men terming themselves ‘feminists’ is actually detrimental to the campaign. In an equality movement, I believe that inequality should be fought as one.

“Whilst being young, white and male puts me at the advantage of not really being discriminated against in terms of legal rights or employment, there have been times where I have been acutely discriminated against. My weight, for example, has sometimes led to prejudice from people, as has my sexuality,” Coleman tells me. When put into question, it’s important to understand why people may believe that the male privilege would act as counterproductive in the movement. “I understand my privilege,” Coleman says. “I have also been lucky enough to avoid a lot of the gender discrimination other young men and certainly most young women have faced due to my open and supportive home life and friendship circles, though I am fully aware this is not the case for a lot of people.”

Whilst being a male may limit your personal experience with sexism, it’s paramount to remember that everybody experiences different forms of discrimination in their own ways; that’s really what feminism is all about. “I think that anytime we get into a discussion about semantics, we miss the point entirely,” Coleman said. “Whilst I have witnessed very little obtrusive sexism, due mainly to the typically progressive nature of most of the people I interact with, I have seen acute sexism against women many times, because it is everywhere.”

With many failing to agree that men can freely call themselves feminists, I think it’s important to understand that feminism, as a movement, is made to be inclusive: that in excluding men, the terms of the movement itself are violated. Though on a personal level they may not understand the daily sexism that women experience, they can try to help us fight it; that gives them a right to call themselves ‘feminists.’

“Feminist Baby”

In a modern world where the new concept of feminism is widely frowned upon, introducing people to the true notion of the word early on is important. To promote its inclusivity and intersectionality is something that, more often than not, is forgotten about. On April 11, Loryn Brantz, a woman with a desire to abandon the status quo and change common conceptions of the word, published her third children’s book, Feminist Baby. Brantz lives in New York City, where she is a Senior Writer on staff at Buzzfeed, writing and illustrating about feminism, body image and other hearty topics. The book has captured the attention of many for its humour, distinctive illustrations and value of equality. I recently got the chance to speak to Brantz, and used the opportunity to understand why she felt that writing the book was of such importance.

Feminist Baby felt like it had been a long time coming,” Brantz told me in an email. “From as far back as I can remember, I’ve been trying to think of a children’s story I could tell that would positively impact the world… I wanted to write a book that I would want to give to my friends’ babies, and to my own possible future babies.” The specific idea for this book, though, hit Brantz when she was looking for a baby book related to feminism to buy for a friend’s shower; she was so inspired that she “literally ran home to write it,” she told me.

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Loryn Brantz
Brantz hopes that the book will align common misconceptions of feminism.

Feminist Baby aims to expose children to the idea of feminism; to familiarise them with the true meaning of the often misjudged and maligned word. The book does this through a variety of comics, which present feminist ideas in the context of a baby’s imagined life. “Feminist Baby chooses what to wear,” one page reads; “Feminist Baby likes pink and blue,” reads another.

“A lot of children’s media likes to beat around the bush and I think it’s time to be more direct,” Brantz said. “I’d like to think that if a child loves Feminist Baby, it will help them have a positive association with feminism later on in life.”

Feminist Baby Loryn Brantz Kayleigh Bolingbroke

Loryn Brantz
Feminist Baby is completely gender neutral.

The book is also unique in that it’s completely gender neutral. Brantz didn’t want to exclude boys from her intended audience, she said, because “they need to grow up with feminism and not be scared of it. It would be much easier to make progress with everyone working together.”

While Brantz has been waiting for the book to be released, she’s also been publishing comics that similarly feature the feminist baby protagonist, but target an adult audience instead. The comics use humour to subvert typically tired conventions such as the gender reveal, and baby’s first words. This same baby character has also been used in the context of political satire; one comic illustrates a baby’s refusal to be born whilst President Trump tweets.

Feminist Baby Loryn Brantz Kayleigh Bolingbroke

Loryn Brantz
Brantz has also made comic strips targeted an an adult audience.

Acquainting people with the word ‘feminism’ without provoking antipathy or fear is important; introducing babies to the word illustrates the true affability of feminism as a whole. Feminist Baby is not only fresh and neoteric, but shows people of all ages that feminism is not a word to be afraid of.

To women who don’t call themselves feminists

Recently, a Facebook post has been doing the rounds on social media. The post itself is riddled with remarks that bash both the feminist movement and feminists themselves, from “I do not feel I am a “second class citizen” because I am a woman,” to “I control my body.” Not only are these statements entirely oblivious, they are more worryingly a reflection on how a systemic patriarchal ideology has been drummed into many of us as a societal norm that doesn’t need changing.

The post was made as a retaliation to the recent Women’s March on Washington after Trump’s inauguration – the author of the post believes that she is “not a victim,” and thus didn’t attend the march. She also believes:

“I can make my own choices.
I can speak and be heard.
I can VOTE.
I can work if I want.
I can stay home if I want.
I control my body.
I can defend myself.
I can defend my family.”

But did she once stop to believe that the reason she can do all of this is because of the feminist movement? Through generations, women have been arrested, imprisoned, beaten and gassed just so that we can have the right to do any of these things. Women have fought, tirelessly, to give us the ability to be able to say any of those statements. Thankfully for her, some women do believe that marching, and protesting, and rallying make a difference, and they are the ones that have given her the ability to feel “equal.”

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Thank Emmeline Pankhurst for your right to vote. Thank Elizabeth Santon for your right to work. Thank Maud Wood Park for your access to prenatal care, and for giving you an identity that is built around more than who you are married to. Thank Rose Schneiderman for the fact that you are able to work in humane conditions. Thank Eleanor Roosevelt and Margaret Thatcher for your ability to work in politics and affect government policy. Thank Margaret Sanger for your birth control. Thank Gloria Steinem, Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafazi, Ida B. Wells. Thank your ancestors and your peers alike for fighting for half of the rights that you are entitled to now.

You may not see the overwhelming and immediate successes that feminism has brought about, but you unknowingly reap the benefits of them every single day. Benefits that strong women who have fought misogyny and pushed through patriarchy for generations have gifted you. I am fortunate enough to be able to write this freely; fortunate enough to be allowed a voice – a benefit that would not have been available to me some tens of years ago. You are wrapped up in your own delusion of equality; forced to believe that systemic patriarchy doesn’t exist.

And yes, women in third world countries are severely underprivileged and hold a disadvantage that is incomparable: but you are not equal either.

You still make less than a man for the exact same job. Men are still debating over what you should be allowed to do with your own uterus. You still have to pay taxes for having a period. You still have to carry pepper spray when walking at night, and you still wouldn’t dream of walking home alone. You still have to prove to the court that you didn’t provoke the rape, and that what you were wearing should have nothing to do with the fact that a man couldn’t keep his hands to himself. You are still being abused by your partners and murdered by your soul mates. You still have to suffer from depression as a side effect of birth control because there’s nothing equivalent for men as of yet. You still have to fight to breast-feed in public. You are still catcalled by builders; still sexualised; still objectified. You are still told you’re too skinny, or too fat. Or that you wear too much make-up, or not enough. You are still judged on what you look like instead of what you have in your mind. If you are a woman of colour, a gay woman, a transgender women, you are worse off than anybody else. We still tell our young girls that they are beautiful before we tell them that they are smart. We still tell them that “boys will be boys,” and that they’re only being bullied by them at school because they like them.

We are not equal: your daughters aren’t equal, your mothers aren’t equal, your friends aren’t equal. We are all systemically oppressed, whether you are from a third-world country in Africa or a wealthy city in England. But I get it, because by admitting that you aren’t equal then you would feel exactly like the “second-class citizen” that you claim not to be. You will believe that the rights you have at this very second are the rights you have always had, and that they’re enough. But luckily for you, there are women out there who believe that what we have right now isn’t enough, and that there’s still so much that needs to change before our gender is anywhere near equal. Your equality is an illusion, and I’m sorry to say that you’re not equal at all.

But you still see feminism as a dirty word, and it’s embarrassing to fight for equality when there’s really nothing to fight for – so don’t worry, the rest of us will do it for you.

The real terrorists

Xenophobia has always been an issue in the Western World. There have always been people who are scared, and in turn derogatory of, races, religions and cultures which they are not a part of. The malicious comments that we’re seeing spewed daily since Trump’s victory are nothing new – at least not to those who’ve been targeted with the same bigoted slurs for years. The difference is, people begin to become overt with their intolerant comments once you elect a fascist as President who does the exact same thing.

Since Trump’s triumph, New York Police Department have reported a ‘115 percent increase in bias crimes,’ and, after the President introduced his ban on certain countries entry to the U.S., ‘the number of bias incidents against Muslims doubled.’ Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are the seven countries affected by the ban, and though the ban has recently been revised, the same countries are still those affected. People are dubbing the order a ‘Muslim Ban,’ and rightly so – statistically, all seven of these countries are of a Muslim majority. Before yesterday, even green card holders weren’t exempt from the ban. Whilst Trump supporters believe this ban to be a moral and just constraint to protect the safety of U.S. citizens, you have to look at who the real terrorists are in this situation – innocent refugees seeking safety from a war zone that Western civilisation created, or Western civilisation itself?

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Getty Images

There’s no denying that terrorism is a very real threat. But not only do the West have to accept our (huge) part to play in the escalation of this over recent years, we also have to look at how we’re helping resolve the situation. By generalisation of the peaceful Islamic population and total expulsion of an innocent party, we’ve been taught to fight hate with hate. Instead of the general population making a standpoint against this overarching bigotry, many of them have decided to promote Xenophobia even further by regurgitating untruths and objectionable ideologies: then there are those who claim to ‘not care enough’ about the situation to advocate those in a lesser position themselves.

Our daily struggles seem miniscule when we take into account how lucky we are to not have to fear for our lives on a daily basis – our families don’t have to flee from war, we don’t have to worry about where we can legally seek refuge should things become worse. As I sit here writing this in safety and warmth, with a roof over my head, food in my stomach and money in my bank, there are hundreds of thousands of citizens from all seven of those banned countries looking to emigrate for a number of reasons – for protection, a better lifestyle, or because they have no choice. And this is what the indoctrinated majority need to contemplate: if you or your family were in this situation, would you hesitate to do the same? The answer is probably no.

To exclude someone because of their religion is ignorant and wrong. To generalise a warm and neighbourly religion because of what you hear from a biased media without carrying out your own research into the statistics is ignorant and wrong – in fact, if we did undertake our own research, we would discover that 94% of terrorist attacks in the U.S. are carried out by non-Muslims: something the Western media would never cover. Until people begin thinking and learning for themselves, they’ll never break free from the shackles that are the Western ideal. Until people can consciously undo their zealot generalisations and begin treating one another with true kindness, the wars will be endless, the world forever in bloodshed.

White feminism

For those who choose not to identify as a feminist or as an ally, the common misconception is that everybody who brands themselves as either of those believes in fighting for the same things: wrong.

At school, I had been provided with what was seemingly a thorough teaching on the history of the feminist movement. I learntextensivelyabout leading icons: Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett and of their many attainments. As I prepared to sit my exam, I relished at the thought of all women having gained the right to vote by 1920. Outside of education, I was disheartened to learn that the only women who actually had the right to vote by this year were predominantly white. I learnt that the struggle of the vote did not end with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendmentin some places, African American women were unable to freely exercise their right to vote up until the 1960s, over forty years later.

In theory, this coined the term ‘white feminism’: this branch of the movement fails to give feminists of colour a platform to discuss how gender inequality relates to racial inequality. It meanson basis levelthat the privilege a white woman holds because of her race is held at a higher level; that her feminism is more important because of the colour of her skin.

Other feminists aren’t denying that white feminist issues aren’t important: there’s no shying away from the fact that the gender wage gap and sexualisation of the female body are issues that should concern every woman. But exclusively, white feminism focuses only on this. The way a black woman experiences sexism and inequality is completely different to the way a white woman experiences inequality: while white women are making 79 cents on a white man’s dollar in the US, black women are only making 64 cents.

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The problem lies where white feminism denies to recognise issues of breast ironing in Africa, and police brutality against black women in the west. Many of the celebrities who publicly brand themselves as feminists hold—fundamentally—these white feminist values. Not only this, but the majority of feminist influences we see blazoned across the media actually are white. Emma Watson, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lawrence are some but to name a few, and though these women are all inspirational in their own right, they fail to recognise and speak out on the struggles outside of white feminism. Though many black women speak out and use their voices to express their struggle, they are seldom heard.

When the presidential election came around, once feminist icon Susan B. Anthony was being praised as an inspiration, with women from all over America coming to place the ‘I Voted’ sticker on her grave whilst revelling in their proudness—this is the same woman, mind you, who claimed herself to be a white supremacist whilst she was alive.

When it was time for the results, a white feminist ideal shone through when 53% of white women voted for Trumpthis is a distburingly fitting example of white privilege has clearly taken priority over gender. But white women were quick to be applauded for speaking out on the results, even though we were the ones that led Trump to victory. And white women have always been applauded for speaking up on gender and race issues, from #BlackLivesMatter to #SayHerName: when black women do the same they’re labelled angry, or told that they’re over reacting.

Each women experiences her own form of oppression, but until we work together to demolish white feminist ideals and start helping all the women around us advance in their oppression too, we cannot truly label our feminism intersectional and inclusive. To only acknowledge feminism from one side, is truly opposing the meaning of feminism altogether.

Loving yourself, and each other

Growing up, I was never really exposed to any overwhelming misogyny—well, I didn’t think I was at the time. Looking back on it now I was probably exposed to it every single day as a young girl. But it’s only in more recent years that I’ve become consciously aware of every belittling thing a man says or does in my presence: it’s turned out to be a lot. And slowly but surely, I’ve begun to notice that when a man says or does these things, I seem to be one of—if not the only—girl in the room that so much as notices it, let alone is insulted by it. In fact, I vividly remember having been put in a number of situations by men that I found immensely uncomfortable, and seeing other girls just shrug it off.

It’s not really surprising that the majority of girls act this way, and I don’t blame them either. Not only have most of us become immune to the overwhelmingly hegemonic society we’re indulged in, us girls have been brought up in a way that tells you to never stand up to men. As a young girl, it’s repeatedly drilled into you by parents, teachers and friends alike: “He’s only being mean to you because he likes you.” As you get older, you find that the majority of supervisory figures in your life are profusely male—tutors, bosses. Opportunely, I grew up in a household where my mother was the breadwinner. I haven’t been surrounded by male figures for the majority of my life, and from a young age she reiterated to me that a woman could be anything she wanted to be. She provided me with support in whatever I wanted to do, and made sure that I understood that I could do anything a man could do. Predominately, I have her to thank for giving me the mindset I have today. But in the majority of households—where a male figure is the breadwinner—this isn’t the case, and girls aren’t fed this ideology from a young age. In all walks of life, men are inherently being proved to be the more powerful sex, the more dominant. So when this omnipotent creature makes a ludicrous comment about one of us, who are we to stand up to them and tell them they’re wrong, or belittle them as they do to us? They literally rule the world: we don’t have a say.

But actually, we do. There have been endless times that I’ve expressed my views on misogyny and sexism to the men closest to me, and they either laugh or tell me that it isn’t happening—ironic, because that in itself just proves how much it is happening. Or there have been a handful of times where I’ve been sat in the same lecture as a boy who makes a crude and obnoxious remark about women, and the lecturer himself will laugh. The girls always follow, because it’s been drilled into us to follow men’s paths our entire life. I used to do the same years ago; I used to brush off the sexist jokes and the chauvinistic comments all the way through school. Looking back on it now, I realise that it was a mechanism of getting people to like me. I didn’t want boys thinking that I was a stereotypical angry girl, who complained about everything and got offended by all of their comments—likewise I didn’t want girls thinking I was a headstrong feminist who thought I was better, more powerful than boys. But I was that person, and in reality I’m more so that person now: but the difference is I don’t care. And I think every girl feels the same deep down—those feelings have just been so far suppressed by the misogynistic society we’re engulfed in on a daily basis.

Unsettlingly, we’ve become so numb to the way women are treated by men in society that we’ve resorted to doing the same to each other. Us women think it’s okay to vilify other women for their sexual choices because men do, or that it’s okay to body shame another woman. We think it’s funny to put down a woman who is quite clearly confident in her own skin by calling her vain or conceited, because we know that men don’t like women like that: we want to show them that we don’t believe in loving ourselves and one another, either. In reality, we should be empowering one another: women say this enough but we don’t act on it. And by no means am I saying that I’m exempt from this, I’m just as bad as everybody else when it comes down to it. But every day, I’m gradually starting to understand that women only pit ourselves against each other for the pleasure of men. Underwhelmingly, we are the only sex to do this—very rarely do you see two men disparage one another because of a woman. Misogynists find unimaginable joy in slandering a woman just to have another humour and validate him.

I wholeheartedly understand why women are so afraid to stand up for themselves and others in the society that we live in, where we are constantly told to silence ourselves and our beliefs and where men are still inordinately in control. Even more so, I understand how hard it is to love yourself enough to not put up with the seemingly innocuous comments men make. But whilst we continue to conform to male behaviour and reassure them that it’s okay to treat us and other women this way (and actually repeating the behaviour ourselves), we’re only making things worse. Once you start to take note of the larger societal misogynistic triumphs, the little ones in your personal life begin to become more and more apparent: you should really start putting up with them less and less. Don’t be afraid to tell your teacher or your male friend that rape jokes aren’t acceptable to make for fear of being laughed at, or to highlight to your partner that he’s making a sexist remark for fear of bickering. The only way for us to move forward in gender injustice is by ensuring that you love yourself and others enough to not put up with misogyny.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”