I am undoubtedly and unapologetically a feminist.
Unlike many of the movement’s critics and sceptics, I can think of few other times in modern history when feminism has been needed more. There are reasons why feminism has undergone a resurgence of popularity and press attention recently; and, contrary to popular opinion, it is not simply because we like to complain. I am fully aware that I am writing from a position of privilege; as a white woman from a western society, a middle class background, and a strong family network. I cannot begin to comprehend the betrayal felt by a fourteen year old forced by her family into an arranged marriage, I cannot understand the daily struggle of having to be accompanied by a male escort in public, and I will never struggle to find the reproductive health care that I need. I would not do my female counterparts around the world, the disservice of pretending that I know their battles, or try to articulate the anger, frustration and fear felt on their behalf.
For many however this is where it ends. The fact that in the UK and the USA women have many more rights than in other countries means that we should sit back, and be grateful. I do not argue that on paper women have equal rights to men in many areas – what I do dispute wholeheartedly however is that women are treated with the same level of respect.
Many young women find themselves accepting top university positions across the country, and it is their academic prowess, hard work and determination, which has allowed them to achieve these. Within the first few weeks however, these women will be exposed to club nights entitled ‘Pimp’s and Ho’s’, encouraged to perform sex acts on stage for free drinks, and warned against the dangers of walking home alone at night. The university experience is still centred around male leadership and male pleasure, despite many more women attending classes than ever before. Even more tragically, recent documentary ‘The Hunting Ground’ on Netflix, drew attention to the lack of support from colleges in the US, when women do report sexual assault on campus. Many colleges prioritise their reputations, and fraternity donations, above women’s safety; showing women yet again that their refusal to accept unwanted male advances, and free access to their bodies, is little more than an annoyance which can be easily buried amidst the red tape of bureaucracy.
In the moment that a woman experiences the unwanted attention of a man, whether that is by them shouting a crude ‘cat call’ in their general direction, or by being groped and molested on the tube – it does not matter that the woman is on her way to work at a top law firm in the city, which fifty years ago would not have hired women. We are more than aware that in these cases the women who are targeted are often intellectually and financially superior to the perpetrator; however this offers them little relief at the time. A small minority of men still have the primal need to show a woman that they are able to dominate her, and when they are unable to do this in other areas of society, they resort to violence and sexual gratification. Every time that we as women laugh off a bad experience in a nightclub, or listen passively to our male companions discussing similar stories, we are allowing men (and other women) to believe that this is okay. That if it is not violent, and it is not malicious, and it is not rape; then it is not serious enough to affect us, or to warrant being reported.
Tomorrow we are due to see a man elected as the President of the United States who feels it is acceptable to ‘joke’ about grabbing women by their private parts, without their consent. Sadly, knowing the individual in question, his rhetoric and lack of respect for women does not surprise me – what did, however, were the numbers of people in the US who were able to dismiss his comments, and grant him their vote. Especially women. Many women proudly waved placards saying they were happy to be grabbed in the p***y by Trump, and some even agreed to waive their right to vote, when a hashtag circulated on twitter demanding to revoke the 19th. In these seemingly small ways women are betraying the progress which has already been fought for and won on our behalf. If women are to ever gain the respect that we deserve, then it has to come from us first, as a united front.
Many spokespeople for Trump would use the same worn out statement to defend his remarks, quoting the numbers of women whom he has employed in his many businesses over the years. Whilst mildly interesting, his representatives do not seem to understand that these two statements are entirely mutually exclusive. I fear that numbers and figures, needed once to guarantee gender equality in the workplace, are now used to hide a multitude of sins. Businesses can use the fact that they have met their ‘quota’ of female employees and executives as evidence that they are a fair and just workplace, which treats women well. However there are many ways in which businesses and CEO’s can continue to discriminate against women once they have been hired, and yet these indiscretions are far harder t0 quantify.
There are numerous ways in which the patriarchy has hurt men also. The record high numbers of male suicide and self harming, prove that encouraging men from a young age to suppress their feelings, is damaging for their mental wellbeing in the long term. Men are also often at a disadvantage when it comes to custody battles, due to a long outdated concept of what family means. Feminists are not blind to these flaws in the current system, and this is why we encourage men to join us in dismantling the patriarchy together.
To conclude, do not take what is written on paper as gospel, and always look closer, analyse and be sceptical, and let no one tell you that is wrong. Be kind to women in positions of power, do not comment on their looks, their age, or their voice – for this is what leads many to question their ‘leadership’ potential further down the line. Call friends and family out when they speak in stereotypes, make jokes in bad taste, or laugh off their own experiences of assault as insignificant. Celebrate women who have achieved great things, even when the odds were stacked against them, and thank men who speak up for women whilst others continue to walk over them.