– by Sarah Cole
It’ll be International Women’s Day – the recognition of women’s achievements and suffrage that’s been annually celebrated for over a hundred years – this Sunday, 8 March. Now is a perfect moment to think about the battles and achievements for women by the women who came before us. It’s also a time to reflect on how far there still is to go.
Enter feminism, that most divisive and ambitious political term.
I’ve been arguing a lot recently, with men and with women, about feminism and how it’s still super relevant and we all need it. There have been many, many articles and hashtags floating around the net which are mistaken about what feminism means, and claim it’s no longer needed or even that it’s malicious towards men. Don’t even get me started on “meninists”.
If you believe we’re all entitled to the same rights, you’re a feminist. Congrats. It’s more complicated than that, though, of course. Here are the core reasons why feminism works for all of us and deserves a reputation revamp.
Yep, still need feminism. There are those who say we’re all totally equal now because women can vote, and they don’t care for feminism because they like being ‘ladylike’ or “they’ve never felt oppressed”. The only people I’ve really heard say this have lived sheltered, privileged lives and aren’t thinking past their privilege to consider the billions of women who still don’t have full human rights. I wonder how aware these anti-feminists are of the power that male opinion still has over their lives – on everything from their behaviour to career to baby-making choices. It’s truly a case of the fish that doesn’t know it’s wet. Or marginalised.
Our culture puts down femininity – in women and men. This is pretty much causing all of our self-esteem problems. Women are berated for being too girly (or not girly enough), and so are men. The masculinity complex is a huge issue for guys, where they must seem to be constantly rejecting the feminine: an exhausting social contact that can be booted when feminism socially redeems the feminine. Some underestimate the feminine so much they somehow think it deserves less pay – yep, definitely still happening, no matter what you’ve heard – particularly to women of colour.
It’s about wearing what you want. Feminism protects your right to dress however you’re comfortable. Not so long ago, there were strict rules in Western culture on women’s presentation. Girls were arrested for wearing skin-tight swimsuits. We’ve come a long way. But now the issue is respecting all women’s choices: having a global and multicultural understanding of choice. While there are still places where girls are attacked for choosing to wear a kaftan, hijab, or salwar kameez, we still have a battle.
Rape is still a conditional crime – while there’s still victim blaming, while there’s still social pressure to remain silent, while there are still normalising rape jokes, while there’s still a necessity for women’s constant defensive vigilance, we still need feminism.
Feminism includes transgender folk too. Yes, they are women, sometimes with penises. Get past it. Transgender people are arguably the most violently persecuted minority in every society right now. The patriarchy’s gender binary and pesky femininity expectations are causing a lot of grief and pain.
Women are still a joke. There are hundreds of examples, but one widespread joke that really grinds me is about how horrible a straight marriage is for the guy. Y’know, the ball-and-chain thing. Maybe it’ll be funny when millions of little girls aren’t being forced into marriage any more.
Now when this next comes up direct them to this dot-pointed crash course in Yes, Humanity Is Still a Bit of a Fixer-Upper. (I’m fun at parties, I swear.) I’ll brace my inbox for the probable tirade of hate mail now – though before they start writing any I hope they realise they’re proving my point.
Happy International Women’s Day for this weekend. Buy your mum something nice and tell your sisters and girlfriends you’re proud of them for making things work in a man’s world. Then hug your dad and tell your brothers and boyfriends and let them know it’s all going to be okay, because feminism is here to help them too.
Photo credit: Laura Forest