On this, International Women’s Day, we are encouraged globally to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, I am reminded we are still far from living in a world that is socially, economically, culturally or politically equal.
It’s time we re-frame feminism as our society has come to know it and get back to what it really stands for if we are to achieve this.
I realise that from the outset, being a straight, white female born in a wealthy country, my experiences and understandings of feminism as a movement, and the preluding oppression and inequality, may prove to be problematic or lacking, but it is for this reason it is so important I write this; in 2017 we need feminism more than ever.
Today, when I hear influential figures use their public platforms to denounce feminism I might cringe, weep, laugh manically, or break out into a terrifying, cackling combination of the three. I’ve noticed this sentiment predominantly from prominent women such as actors or musicians, assuring us that while they believe in equality and the strength of women, they definitely don’t hate men (as if the two are mutually exclusive) and would therefore never dare to label themselves as something so demanding, divisive and hateful.
Whatever their reasons are for not thinking of themselves as feminists, all women’s experience are uniquely their own, and they have to right to express these beliefs. We are so past this picture of feminists as bra burning, angry, man-hating bitches (though women reserve the right to be all these things if that’s what they want) and the reasons often cited for condemning the ideas of feminism are often inconsistent with what the movement stands for.
One recurring perspective I come across in both the media and my personal life is that “I/we don’t need feminism any more”. I could easily launch into horrifying statistics of female genital mutilation, education disparity between genders and sex trafficking and exploitation in both developed and developing countries. I could preach the history of feminism and how it paved the way for you to even be in a position where you can voice that opinion. All of this would be ineffective though, because a) people often don’t respond well to being argued with and told they’re wrong, and b) these facts and figures aren’t something we can all relate to.
Instead I’ll briefly try to explain why, in the context in which you are reading this, I still need feminism today.
Editors Note: When I googled ‘feminist memes’ to go with this article, this is a small sample of what I got, which should stand in itself as reason enough to need feminism
Because earlier this year, and only days after over 2 million people around the world (an estimated 500,000 in Washington DC alone) marched for women’s rights, the men in control of ‘the land of the free’ signed an executive order determining what women could with their bodies— a decision that will undoubtedly prove to be detrimental to reproductive health and wellbeing on a global scale.
Because there is a lack of representation or legislation to demonstrate justice for every individual, despite gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity.
Because so many of the strong, caring people in my life that have shaped me into the woman I am today are too quick preface any potentially controversial statement with “I’m not feminist but…”
There needs to be a shift in how feminism is perceived. The negative associations of feminism today are distorting something that really comes down to unity, compassion, equal opportunity and empowerment of all ‘feminine’ traits and all genders. Feminism is not about supremacy or one gender coming out on top. It is not about hate and alienation. As long as there is still one person out there in need of this cause, we are all in need of it. This is not a gender issue; this is a human rights issue.
It had been suggested we find a new word to describe what feminism represents. ‘Humanist’ is one that seems to come up a lot among feminism opponents, and incidentally holds the same principles, however fails to recognise the historical and systematic suffering, the centuries of oppression women have endured, and continue to endure today. Maybe, as the kickass Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams suggests, we should just drop the word all together and start calling people that aren’t feminist ‘sexist’, with everyone else just being ‘a normal person’.
I believe the best way to advocate feminism is to firstly own it, and then lead by example. Make 2017 the year you do all things out of the inclusiveness and empathy that is at the core of feminism. Have conversations and unapologetically stand up for real equality. This is how we can create genuine and radical change. Calling yourself a feminist doesn’t have to be some grand proclamation, it’s just a way of living this world needs more of.