It’s strange isn’t it, at the moment. Here we are at a stage where some people feel that what has set out to be achieved has been done so, therefore the word “feminism” is no longer required. Whilst others think that we still have miles further to go until we have a truly equal society. On the contrary, some even stress that we have gone “too far”. Some diss these so called “radical feminists”, whom allegedly believe in too far fetched and unrealistic concepts; while others claim that these days feminists seem to be asking for more than what men have in terms of power whilst others claim that many women are acting in a demeaning fashion, partly due to what feminism has taught them. Some may think it is stupid that many women seem to now be getting enrolled into jobs that they’re not really “up to”, simply because of their gender- in order to make the company look good. Is there a distinct natural difference between men and women meaning that it would really be impossible for total equality to be achieved? Is feminism now a threat to men, as if it goes much further it will be likely to leave many men behind? Maybe to those of other genders too? Therefore I can see why many think that feminists here need to simply buckle up, for many reasons, and focus on harsher inequalities which exist today within the world…
But no! I still believe we have got further to go, and though the issues may be far more subtle now than what they were a long time ago, they are still very prominent. Plus considering how circumstances were, with women not even being able to vote just over 100 years ago, as well as shocking circumstances even just going back a couple of decades, it would be far too early to forget! In-fact we always need to remember the legacy they have left behind! Therefore you cannot ditch feminism, because of this, and believe it or not, the word has too much of a meaning behind it!
The definition of feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” at least according to google. Now some point out that the definition is rather narrow and only accounts for equality for women during the period when it was most needed, however I think that this leaves us with strong leeway to interpret and adapt this to the problems and circumstances of our times. Because I think there is still a long way to go, before all inequalities faced by women are eroded, however it’s fair to say that those of other genders are effected immensely by certain stereotypes which can have a massively damaging effect. Therefore these following reasons explain why I am personally a feminist, and why, the advocacy of female rights and gender equality is still immensely important and relevant. The first part will be more focused on what effects women directly, but I will then focus on gender inequalities in general and why and how this can be incorporated into feminism.
1. Inequality of opportunity
Now this seems like a pretty obvious one to begin with. And although it is true that here girls get the same amounts of essential education, are equally able to attend university and have barely any limits on what career they can pursue (with the exception of….), I personally feel many girls still feel may feel afraid and reluctant to fulfil something they’d wish to. That would be because in the past almost all of those people fulfilling these positions would have been male. While still now some may, without realising, put someone off doing something because of their gender.
Just think, the UK has only had two female prime ministers, while the USA hasn’t had any female presidents! Moreover I think that many females are afraid to go into male dominated jobs, such as mechanics, electricians, lorry drivers and so on… Partially due to feeling afraid to be in a traditionally nearly all male environment, due to fears of abuse and the feeling of “not being wanted”. While it is all too easy to discourage girls to go into these fields, telling them to peruse a more female orientated career instead.
Moreover I think in general, young women would feel far less easy about doing certain things independently having been discouraged from a young age, which they’d otherwise be very willing to do. No, I am not talking about having a job, independently paying bills or even telling that guy trying to sell triple glazing, that you’re not interested. But things like travelling, setting up a business and well; being in power. A young man travelling alone seems pretty normal, however I feel that if a young woman travels alone, it is a different story. Really I cannot understand why, where we are both capable of weighing up the risks of travelling somewhere, and know not to approach grizzly bears. So why cant we be independent beings in the land of the unknown? So although we can all physically grab these opportunities, there are still many more mental obstacles that we have to overcome.
2. High vulnerability to mistreatment
It breaks my heart to think of any women who has been a victim of some form of sexual assault or misconduct. I cannot imagine how difficult living would be, having been victims of this kind. However statistics show that this is the reality for many women; with an “estimated 20% of women and 4% of men having experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16” . While the work place is not safe for women, with the ComRes poll for BBC radio 5 finding that 53% of women had experienced sexual harassment at work or at a place to study. Varying from “inappropriate comments to actual sexual assault.” While children too are vulnerable, with “18% of girls saying by the age of 17, saying they have been victims of sexual assault or abuse”.
This obviously proves how subject we are still to sexual mistreatment, and with the percentage of males receiving this being considerably lower, it shows this is an issue particularly effecting us, which urgently needs addressing. And although a lot of sexual harassment isn’t “too serious”, being a single comment, or a light touch-this is not an excuse. It shows how we are still viewed by some as “objects” and I think that this can effect things as simple as our choices of clothing. Which leads me onto mmy next reason.
3. Excuses for this behaviour
I actually find it shocking that still to this day, some men will use the way we dress as a way to legitimise their disgraceful behaviour. And some may argue that if one chooses to display large areas of skin, it makes them a “slut” therefore they are “asking for” this mistreatment. But this is not at all the case. I am sure that most women or gay men would not dream of harassing a man, choosing to wear nothing but swimming trunks or shorts on a hot summers day, so why on earth do people find it ok to laugh at women who choose to show some of their legs for instance? It simply is not right. And I think that it does severely effect how many of us do choose to dress, feeling the need to be more discreet to avoid this kind of severity.
4. Unfair, unrealistic and pathetic expectations
Ok, so this indicates a wide range of issues, which could affect men and women likewise, but for now I will focus on “looks” which effect both genders. I don’t think you can blame any gender for this expectation, but it is more of a kind of constraint which is upon us, which has evolved over many years.
So for women, there is the expectation of “dressing well to suit the occasion” regardless of whether this suits you or not, the pressure upon us to wear Makeup to “improve” our appearance (as mentioned on a previous post) as well as the feeling of never having the “right” body shape, regardless. Now this is toxic for us, and is definitely more of a constraint. In recent years however, I have fortunately seen an increasing number of magazines, celebrities and Instagram influences advocating the power of natural beauty more, however generally most are still living beneath the filter. This is not only unrealistic, but is mentally and physically unhealthy and needs to be tackled in order to combat the gender constraints and pressures which we face.
However men do not have it much better, if not any better. Now I cannot speak for men so much, but I think they do face the pressure of having a certain “masculine appearance.” Just think, how many of these male models have shiny six packs, rather than appear wiry or on the larger size. While if they were to prefer to dress in a more “girly” manner, this would be strongly stigmatised. Maybe because it is their role to look like “a man” or maybe because they’re scared of having a seemingly feminine touch. Probably both, but they are definitely pressured, I think, to have this sturdy appearance.
5. Toxic masculinity
On the topic of being muscular, this is actually a face of many underlying pressures which they face. With the feeling that they cannot express too much emotion. Now this seems just as harsh on the man, as different inequalities do on us. But what on earth is toxic masculinity? Well, according to google (what else), it is “a set of attitudes and ways of behaving stereotypically associated with or expected of men, regarded as having a negative impact on men and on society as a whole.” Unsurprisingly this “causes health problems for men in later life“, whilst those men who are perceived as “most masculine” are those who are least likely to get help. Because being able to address and be open about emotions is literally the pathway to growth, as everybody obviously experiences negative emotions, therefore why should a certain group of people, men, feel almost prohibited from doing so. I suppose this stems from the pressure to be “strong” and to be the one whom is relied upon, but nobody can be at their strongest if they aren’t addressing and healing from what they have been through. And in a perfectly equal society, this wouldn’t be the case.
6. Limited choice in childhood behaviour
The confines of gender-hood literally begin in the cradle for many. As it is obviously up to the individual parents or carers, but generally I think that girls are definitely treated differently during upbringing compared to boys. When walking into shops which sold toys years ago, I vaguely remember all of the girly things in one area, and everything for boys was somewhere else. Which is bad for both as it implies to and shows the parent that their child may be playing with one thing more than another. Whilst many parents of young boys may not dream of letting them own a baby doll, an art set or one of those weird cooking sets while a young girl may have to put up with a poxy barbie doll, and one of these kiddies makeup kits- when they may secretly want a toy car. Now I know that recently there have been immense improvements made with this, and it is fair to say that most parents wouldn’t strictly limit their children to this extent. But I think it can still happen, almost accidentally- leading to youngsters feeling that some types of activity aren’t for them.
7. Treatment in other countries
I decided to leave this one to last, because it is often too easy to think about how far the UK have come in tackling gender inequality. While I suppose it is a rather controversial to whether we still need to make further steps, though I definitely think that we do. We need to remember there are countries which have only very recently given women the right to vote, including Saudi Arabia. Whilst education opportunities for women in many countries is much worse, aa many have to leave school early or are unable to attend. Take Yemen and Pakistan, where “just 49% of Yemeni women and 40% of Pakistani women were literate, compared to 82% and 69% of men.” This just proves that in-spite of huge advances western countries have made, gender inequality is still a prevailing issue on many developing countries. Therefore why stop supporting the movement of feminism, when half of the countries are still left behind?
This shows that regardless of your views, gender inequality does still need tackling. But as I’m sure you are aware, there are varying extents and means of tackling this inequality.
It is also true that different feminists want different things. So I mentioned “radical feminism” earlier on, however this. While the remote and ignorant belief now days that feminists want reverse inequalities, meaning to be superior over men, does actually have its roots. This stems from Cultural feminism which “believes that the society needs a female essence or a female nature” where the qualities in women are not only unique to, but superior to those in men. Meanwhile there are other fundamental branches of feminism, being Liberal feminism who “argue that gender inequality lies in the denial of rights to women in primarily the fields of education and employment.” This has been used historically for law changes enabling “women to express their political freedom”. While Marxist Feminism argues that resulting gender inequalities are as a result of the “current system of production” within the capitalist society which we live. While Marx was, and is still looked up to as a key economist during the 19th century, whom argued for more state intervention. And Radical feminism is the belief that gender inequality is as a result of the patriarchy system whereby men tend to hold the power and women are excluded from it. This has resulted in social issues facing women like sexual violence, and that the way of the capital system favouring men, is really as a result of this. There are also many other branches of feminism, often combining other issues like race discrimination.
So where do I stand on all this? Well obviously developing countries need to become equally fair, in order that women receive perfectly equal opportunities to men. But take the UK for now. I think that girls and boys need to be encouraged to take up whatever they choose from young age. While both genders need to be relieved of pressures, regarding appearance and how they act. Being femine or masculine needs to stop being pushed around as an insult, to one prevent the fear that feminists are now pushing for reverse inequality, to prevent girls feeling inferior to men and to prevent the pressures on men, especially concerning toxic masciulinity, if they realise there’s nothing wrong with displaying “female qualities.” Now it is quite possible and likely there are genetic qualities associated with men or women, and I feel at some point more research needs to be conducted to see how far fetched this is. However this is going to be inconsistent, being more prominent in some people than others, as some women may have more of a “male brain” and vice versa. This therefore emphasises why we need to tackle stigma associated with either gender. Moreover there are different views on how to overcome inequalities in opportunity. Women definitely need to be taught overtime that they are equally capable to men with persisting with what they want, and it is possible some men may be more willing to engage in these activities compared to us. But this should not put women off from persisting with something they want to do. And likewise men, if they want to engage in an activity which is more female dominated. It is ok for the time being for workplaces to aim specifically to include more women, if this encourages more women to come in the future and improve the standard of the workforce.
I think it is most important to work toward complete equality between all genders, so that nobody is afraid to receive any sort of mistreatment because of their gender. Even though there may be a general trend of differences in patterns of behaviour concerning gender, no one should feel constrained because of this. While we all need to work together to erode the stigma and stereotypes regarding any gender, in order for everyone to feel confident in their gender, and for there to truly be no inequalities in time.