Features

The F-word

feminist

In an unapologetic account, Sanya Budhiraja and Elis Williams discuss the realms of gender eqaulity and what it really means to be a feminist.

Here’s an idea: next time you’re at the pub on a lecture-free Wednesday afternoon, bring up the topic of feminism and watch everyone cringe. Feminism, much like racism or individualism, is a social ideology; and feminism like any other social ideology, is controversial. The stigma that has existed around feminism in the past has caused a wave of denial amongst women and men alike in identifying themselves as a feminist. The reality though, is that feminism is often poorly understood. The Oxford dictionary defines ‘feminism’ as the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. But in a poll conducted by HuffingtonPost in 2013 only a third of all individuals identified themselves as a feminist, whereas most of them believed in the equality of sexes. And they aren’t the only ones; in a recent interview, celebrity and fashion-icon Sarah Jessica Parker opened up about being a ‘humanist’ rather than a feminist. This seems more than a bit ironic, as feminism is about equality of the sexes; thus saying that one believes in gender equality but not feminism is like saying that one believes in the apple falling down from the tree, but not in gravity.

This difference between what feminism is and how it is perceived is due to the negative images associated with it. The empowering feminist connotations of strength and gender equality associated with the suffrage movement has depleted over the years as women across the world have gained more and more rights. In western society, women have every freedom to make of their lives anything they wish; causing a solid belief that there is no gender inequality anymore. It’s not true. We’re not nearly there yet. Feminism isn’t about whining and stirring up a fuss about nothing. It’s not about shaming stay at home mothers or demonizing husbands who remain the sole breadwinners for their financially dependent wives; it’s about choice and it’s about freedom. Women shouldn’t have to decide between having a family and a career and men shouldn’t be taught that ‘real men’ do not show emotion and weakness.

Lauren Southern, whose video ‘Why I’m not a Feminist’ has gained hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, makes a point in saying that feminism that doesn’t include men’s rights is not a movement for equality. And whilst feminist writer Lauri Penny states quite rightly that ‘Of course all men don’t hate women’, feminist women, don’t actually hate men either. Feminists acknowledge the fact that both men and women do not get equal rights in our society and work on making sure that both the sexes have equal representation and protection. The gender wage gap and lack of female representatives in government are as important feminist issues as the lack of safe houses for men that have been victims of domestic abuse. In fact, it was a feminist foundation that led to the FBI changing their definition of rape to include men as victims.

Support for feminism is continuing to grow, connotations of the concept as a dirty word are clearing, and a vast array of both male and female celebrities have begun to accept and embrace its true meaning. Yet there is still a massive imbalance between the distribution of power and protection between genders in this world and it will not be fixed without feminism.

Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2015, was shot on her way to school by the Taliban for daring, as a female, to pursue an education. Malala’s fight for equal educational rights and freedom from oppression for females in the Middle East and across the globe, shines as a fresh and positive image as to why feminism is not redundant. Such image acts in contrast to the social media wave of ‘Women Against Feminism’ Facebook selfies that depict messages abhorring what they believe third wave feminism stands for; “I don’t need feminism because ‘female empowerment’ implies that I am currently weak…because I can own up to my mistakes…and do not have to blame them on the completely fictional patriarchy”. Are such anti-feminist movement’s misplaced, or do they make their own irrefutable point? That the ‘victim mentality’ associated with modern day feminism is causing more harm than good; by reaffirming female weakness as opposed to celebrating female strength and female independence.

However, the wage gap is not imaginary and sexual objectification and domestic violence does exist; women are denied education and many young girls in the third world are forced into violent marriages. And since we do not live in an imaginary idealistic society made up by the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr; sexism is still pre-dominantly present in our society. Teens such as Amanda Todd take their own lives because they are slut shamed and abuse survivors like Elizabeth Smart are made to feel dirty and ashamed because of sex that they didn’t consent to.

Feminism is still required is because we are not an equal society. The USA has not yet seen a female president in the White House and many men still think that the only way to express their masculinity is through violence, for men’s imprisonment rates rise 14 times higher than that of women. But our society has come a long way; women can pursue high flying careers and men can proudly take on the role of a stay at home dad. And after all, a better-informed society is synonymous to a better functioning one, so if you’re wondering ‘how’ to become a feminist, writer Caitlin Moran has two rules for you: treat men and women equally and don’t be a d**k.

 

Women seem to have a lot to say about feminism, but do men feel just as passionate? Do they run miles at the very mention of the word in fear of putting their foot in their mouth, or are there more male feminists out there than we tend to assume? Elis Williams offers a refreshing account of what feminism means to him.

It’s quite difficult to explain what feminism means to me, as a man. Although I do consider myself a feminist, it’s hard to feel terribly passionate about something that, by name at least, excludes you from being a part of it. Despite popular belief, feminism is a movement for equality, not for women to be supreme rulers of Earth; that, my friends, is what one would call “female supremacy”. Many a man, and woman for that matter, believe that feminism means the latter; largely spurred on by idiots such as that “meninist” twitter account. I mean, come on guys, men’s rights isn’t that much of a thing. We’ve got it good. Just think of Jennifer Lawrence; a victim of probably one of the greatest acts of female objectification in many years: “the fappening”. She and Amy Adams were both paid 2% less than their male co-stars for their work in “American Hustle”, but I digress; if you were to ask any executive why this was the case, they wouldn’t be able to tell you. It’s just how it is. Inequality is so ingrained in our society that gaps of thousands of dollars between male and female salaries are just accepted.

Don’t get me wrong, us lads aren’t the only ones who can be dicks about feminism; there are many women who don’t understand what feminism means. These are the ones who believe in female supremacy rather than equality. I am definitely a bona fide feminist, I read Caitlin Moran books and she is basically militant about the whole thing; offering an unapologetic, cut the crap account of what a modern feminist really means.

Fortunately, it’s not as objectionable for a man to be seen as a feminist as it used to be. Even a few years ago, if a man called himself a feminist, he would eternally be taken the piss out of forever more. Now, though, no self-respecting man in this day and age would object to female equality. Benedict Cumberbatch is an ardent feminist, and in an interview for ‘The Imitation Game’ he took absolutely no shit from a reporter who commented on how tired his co-star Keira Knightley looked. He rightfully emphasised the point that women’s looks are concentrated on so much more than their work in the entertainment business.

“What does feminism mean to you?” is such a difficult question to answer, I believe, because it’s such an integral part of today’s society that we couldn’t really do without it. No modern-minded man would deprive a person of their rights just because they were implanted with a different set of hormones in the first few months of their mother’s pregnancy. Anyone that still thinks women are inferior to men is utterly backward, and, let’s be honest, an idiot.

Does anyone remember that episode of Friends with the male nanny? When Ross says “it’s like if a woman wanted to be… (very offended look from Monica)…king?” Well the end-game of feminism is for situations like that not to exist anymore. So really, it’s in all our best interests, male and female, to support feminism. As usual, Friends said it best. So to answer the question of “What does feminism mean to me, as a man?” It means everything. Due to the inequality still present today, it’s not really a level playing-field. So come on, let’s make it a fair fight.

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