It’s a loaded topic, but a necessary one.
Today I’m going to explain to you why I’m a feminist. No propaganda. No excuses. No covert intentions. I’m just going to explain the why and the how…
First of all, let’s clear up the basics. Feminists:
• Don’t wear bras (because they burned them already)
• Don’t shave their legs/armpits
• Don’t wear deodorant
• Hate men
• Are exclusively women
• But not feminine women
• Are bossy
• Were all once emotionally destroyed by a man
• Were relevent only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when women wanted the vote
Glad we got that sorted.
Jokes aside, these are all stereotypes I grew up with. Damaging stereotypes that I grew up with. I never actually really understood the concept of feminism until I was about 15 years old. I just believed everything I’d already been told – and subsequently had a very distorted view of feminism. Of course, I was never actually taught the definition of feminism. Let’s take a look:
Feminism is about equality, not superiority. And not any of the other things mentioned above. What’s also frequently forgotten is that feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights regardless of race, ethnicity, class, socioeconomic status, religion, ability or sexual orientation. So whilst many people believe feminism is a null cause because women already have the right to vote and equal wages, what more could they want?, they’re not really talking about feminism at all, because they’re excluding most of the world. Feminism, in its most honest form, is the advocacy of women’s rights across the globe on the grounds that women are not equal to men in all forms.
I didn’t realise I was a feminist, probably, until I was 16, when someone asked me if I was, to which I naively responded, “aren’t we all?“
This was around the time that I started becoming increasingly interested in activism, and how people in higher-income countries like myself have the gift – and potential – to help change the world for the better and liberate women across the globe. Now, I’m not saying that we’re the only people with the ability to inspire change, but we are definitely in a very favourable position to do so.
I believe on one level, many people are feminists without realising it, or don’t define as feminists because of recent so-called ‘feminazi’ movements. There’s a glaring difference between feminists and misandrists, and it is so frustrating that so much of modern feminism is overwhelming – and incorrectly – defined by the minority – the loud minority that news outlets are apparently so interested by – who tarnish the righteousness of the movement. A lot of people think this is one of the main things holding feminism back, and of course, it plays a very important role. However, I disagree that it is the main cause.
The main thing that hinders the progression of feminism and equality in the sexism that is ingrained in our society.
Again, this isn’t something I realised until I was about 16, when I started studying it in school, and I supported this learning by doing some more research outside of this. Both YouTube and Instagram have amazing resources for learning about inequality and activism. For example, Emma Watson gave a great speech at the UN back in 2014 to promote the HeForShe campaign, which I never would have heard without YouTube.
Furthermore, I follow many pages on Instagram that challenge my activism and that give me news updates as to progression in the field. My favourite pages are ForeverFeminism, Feminist, Fem.inist, March and ItsFeminism. These pages receive a lot of negative comments inspiring a lot of debate in the comment section which is always interesting to read. They’re really engaging and active, and I highly recommend you check them out. Here’s an example post:
On the other hand, at school, we learned all about gender theories and how your language can both represent and determine your wider views of the world. This is a brief summary of the Sapir/Whorf theory, the theory that your language limits and determines your perceptions of the world. For instance, the Tarahumara Tribe in Mexico lack a distinction between the colours blue and green, because in their language these two colours come under one word. So, in English, where we do not have a male equivalent for the words ‘whore,’ ‘slag,’ or ‘slut,’ we potentially have a predetermined and limited perception of men and women because our language does not facilitate equal views of each.
Here, I’m drawing on Julia Stanley‘s research. She looked into promiscuous terms and the imbalance between those for men and those for women. She found 220 terms to describe a promiscuous female (terms like ‘slut,’ ‘tart,’ ‘whore’) and only 20 for a promiscuous male, many of which had approving connotations, like ‘stud’ or ‘stallion.’ On the occasion that someone would like to refer to a man as a ‘slut,’ they are limited by our language’s lack of a male-equivalent term. Many people simply use ‘slut’ androgynously. However, more commonly, ‘slut’ is fronted by ‘man’ (‘man-slut’) so as to ensure the listener knows said promiscuous individual does in fact identify as male. In short, ‘slut’ is a term that inherently and almost exclusively refers to women.
Other linguists – namely Dale Spender and Christine Christie – have looked into similar things, and their research unanimously shows that the English language is inherently sexist. And we don’t even realise it. Here are a few of my favourite examples:
- Terms of Address: A young man is a ‘Master,’ and when he turns 18, he becomes a ‘Mister.’ In contrast, a young woman is a ‘Miss’ and she doesn’t become a ‘Missus’ until she is wed. Why do terms of address denote a man’s age but a woman’s marital status? To read a really interesting post that expands on this topic – by Jess @ Jess Writes – click here.
- Order of precedence: How ‘King and Queen’ or ‘Mr and Mrs’ is a more natural-sounding phrase than ‘Queen and King’ or ‘Mrs and Mr.’ If we link this back to Sapir/Whorf, this phenomenon only accentuates the societal view of women as secondary or less powerful.
- Marked Forms: Altering a word so that you know which gender it refers to. For example, ‘mayoress‘ or ‘policewoman.’ We could also consider this in the light of Stanley’s promiscuous terms. For example, ‘man-whore’ or ‘man-slut’ – meaning the derogatory terms ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ inherently and singularly refer to women, and do not have male equivalents.
Learning this in school really made me realise the importance of feminism. How little things I don’t even think about in our language nurture this false image that women are inferior. And with English quickly being spoken by an increasing number of people, this too has the potential to increase in the future.
Of course, this alone is quite a good example of ‘snowflake’ feminism – the idea that millennials just find everything offensive. But I do think it’s important to remember, because – if we believe the Sapir/Whorf theory – our language determines how we view the world. In other words, our language determines how we view women. So having an inherently sexist language will inevitably lead to an inherently sexist society.
On the other side of the scale, and as I mentioned briefly previously, feminism is widely believed to be a ‘null cause.’ Some people genuinely believe that men and women are equal, and that feminists are ‘just complaining.’ Movements like ‘#MeToo’ and ‘March 8’ in Spain prove that this is not the case. Violence against women – rape, physical abuse, verbal abuse – remains a taboo in some of the most developed countries. I recently watched a documentary called ‘Japan’s Secret Shame’ created by the BBC which looks into the silence surrounding violence against women in one of the most developed countries in the world. And from this comparably luxurious position, we forget about the horror women must face in much poorer countries than our own, countries that are perhaps not as developed as our own, and almost certainly do not either hold or enforce laws encouraging the equality between men and women. Rape, abuse, child-brides – women are consistently and very widely considered to be lesser to men, treated as property, and are the victims of violence that is harrowingly passed off as normal.
Of course, this is reason enough to be a feminist.
But it’s not just violence that women face. If we return to the idea of simple inequality, we should look at Walking for Water in African countries – how women and girls miss out on an education and creating their own livelihood because they’re burdened with the task of walking 6km for water every single day, sometimes more than once. And not just walking for the water, but carrying it the whole way home, too. This is no easy feat. Girls are also frequently forced to drop out of school because of the limited availability of sanitary products in these environments. Period poverty is real and it leads women to becoming trapped in an unrelenting loop of discrimination.
Unfortunately, education is a very male thing in Africa. And not only in Africa, but across the world. Recently, there has been an increased number of companies being called out for their lack of women in superior positions. In 2018, women hold 4.8% of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies. 4.8%. And yet this is another issue in society that is commonly viewed as ‘snowflake feminism’ – making an issue out of nothing. And yet does this not point to a wider issue? That not only are women not given the same opportunities as men to progress to higher positions in their field – read more by researching the ‘glass ceiling‘ phenomenon – but they are not nurtured with the correct grade of education in the first place, especially in these lesser-developed countries.
But this isn’t something we talk about much. The trafficking of young girls, child-brides, inequalities in education – these are topics we tend to avoid, because it isn’t happening on our doorsteps. And because it isn’t a local issue, many people come to the conclusion that it isn’t actually happening, feminism is superfluous, and equality has been achieved.
They are wrong.
And oftentimes they believe this because of the limited exposure we are given to these issues in news outlets. Unfortunately, the struggles of women across the globe are not actually given much screen time or space on newspaper pages. So we forget.
I am not immune to this. No one is. Sometimes, some days, we’re more consumed by our own issues than the issues of other people across the globe. One of my favourite poems explains this really well – Pocket Sized Feminism by Blythe Baird – which you can listen to below.
But what’s important is a consciousness of our own ignorance. I am aware that my feminism is not perfect. I am aware that I do not always know what is going on in the world, what progression steps we have made towards equality outside of my own country. I am aware that, like Blythe Baird, ‘sometimes I want people to like me more than I want to change the world.’ We all have our own insecurities, but a consciousness of this ignorance and these issues is so much more powerful than a blanket lack of awareness because ‘sexism is dead.’
Unfortunately, it is not. And I will be a feminist until it is.
Literature I recommend (or others highly recommend) that is about feminism or has a feminist agenda:
- We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- The Power by Naomi Alderman
- Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Niell
- Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
- Girl Up by Laura Bates
- Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
- The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir