I’m a feminist. You should be a feminist. This is a post explaining why.
Feminism is, in principle, a cakewalk to defend. Let’s begin by getting Wikipedia on the case:
Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.
Sounds simple, huh? Well, some people enjoy arguing that equality isn’t something that we should be having; some think that feminism as a movement is no longer necessary, what with women having the right to vote and all. Furthermore, some argue that feminism has lost its message of equality and instead promotes the superiority of women over men. I’ll aim to cover all of these points in this post, though I can’t guarantee I’ll do it in a patient and calm way. To be frank, some of this stuff is just asinine.
One of the strongest, or at least one of the most prevalent, forces against feminism is religion. I should be clear from the very beginning that this by no means applies to all religions, nor all adherents to a given religion, because boy are we going to be talking about generalisations in just a little while! But it would be naive to say that fundamental Christianity and fundamental Islam are anything but the most vicious opponents of women’s rights in the modern world. It should come as no surprise that their dislike of female emancipation originates in their sacred texts, which were written hundreds (or thousands) of years ago by men who really enjoyed having both sex on demand and someone to feed them. The modern equivalents of these men, however, attempt to take a more philosophical approach to the issue of women’s rights by attacking it at its very core: is equality, as described by feminists, really necessary? Is it really necessary, looking at the Wikipedia definition above, to have equal employment opportunities for women? Additionally (though I find this to be a hilarious point of hypocrisy), how can you support the idea of equality if you don’t believe in a higher being?
Absolute equality of opportunity is a necessary quality of a great society. Granting equal opportunity to the disadvantaged is a mark of respect for humankind as a whole. Besides, what gives us (as men, white people, relatively ‘rich’ people on a global scale, Westerners, whatever) the right to rule over another aspect of humanity? Back in early civilisation it was physical power, but when that physical power became less important we affixed sexism to the nearest deity we could find in order to preserve the establishment — and that love of the establishment is going to be a major factor throughout this post. So, yes, equality is necessary, including equal employment opportunities: in giving others choice we grant them the personhood they deserve. Just as slave owners dehumanised their ‘property’ by taking away their choice, we can enrich the human experience by giving as many people as much choice as possible within the reaches of morality. On a less philosophical level, it has been proven time and time again that women are just as capable as men, if not better, at most occupations — sure, they might not be as capable at firefighting (which is the only ‘super-masculine’, physically-demanding job I can conjure up right now), but if they weren’t capable enough then they wouldn’t be hired. When your house burns down, I’ll make sure the female firefighters stand outside and bawl out their little hearts for you. I’m compassionate like that. Quite evidently, a higher being is not at all needed for me to justify equality, and actually turns out to be a highly repressive force — there’s no argument quite like “because God says so.”
It’s worth stating that a lack of gender equality is harmful to men, too. Just as women are objectified as the servants and sexual possessions of men, men are burdened with the responsibility of being gods. Patriarchy destroys all those who do not fit into the establishment’s (or as some might say ‘God-given’) view of society. If you are a non-muscular man, you are dehumanised. If you are not a sexual men, you are dehumanised. If you are not willing to rule over a woman as a ‘true’ man should, then you are cast out of the social paradigm and treated as badly as women. There’s a lot of hate against male feminists. Patriarchy is rule by testosterone, power, and money. Please tell me otherwise, if you can find a leg to stand on.
But is feminism even necessary anymore? I’ve already mentioned that women are employed in firefighting, and a good number of women take part in active service in the army. Perhaps we should tick that box for gender equality and call it a day. It’s true that we’ve made a lot of progress in the past century — by 1928 all men and women over 21 could vote, a resounding success for the Suffragette movement. The introduction of cheap, safe and effective contraception in the 1960s meant that women were no longer ‘chained to the kitchen sink’ by successive pregnancies. In recent decades women have reached the highest echelons of political power, with two prominent examples being Thatcher (however good or bad an example you think she is) becoming Prime Minister and Hillary Clinton first being a senator and then a Secretary of State. She’s already tipped to win the presidency in 2016, and her only Democratic challenger is Elizabeth Warren — go figure. So, in the run-up to a woman likely assuming what is thought to be the most powerful position in the world, the work of feminism must be done. Well, that’s what the establishment men say.
Yes, the rights of women might have been improved significantly in the past 100 years, but we should be wary of the kind of people telling us to stop. Those propagating the idea that feminism has completed its goals are the same people who never wanted women’s rights in the first place. As for feminism being a contemporary issue, consider the restrictive abortion bills that are repeatedly being pushed on the legislature in the southern states of America — especially in Texas. These bills are being sponsored by those who have already lost, those who want to return to the status quo of the early 20th century, and if they can no longer do it in a populist way then they’ll do it insidiously. Similar issues exist in Russia and other major world powers. Of course, on a global scale there is still much work to be done by the feminist movement, with women being sickeningly oppressed in the Middle East and elsewhere. Politically the ideals of feminism are, as of yet, far from being realised.
However, one of the most important distinctions to make on this topic is the gradual morphing of feminism from a political issue into a cultural and social one. On every website of every newspaper (as far as I know), there’s now a section dedicated to women’s issues. Even the Daily Mail has one — think of that what you will. This paradigm of discussing issues of gender equality in-depth is the new face of feminism. Perhaps it’s less interesting or accessible than people chaining themselves to railings and burning bras, but it’s an important step: there are a lot of social habits that we could do without, and I’ll discuss those later. The point remains, though, that feminism is still an important issue even if it’s beginning to take a new form, even if the stakes are arguably lower.
I mentioned people chaining themselves to railings and burning bras as a homage to the past, but these forms of protest still occur in the Western world today — in what is often labelled ‘militant feminism’. In talking about gender equality with other 17/18-year-olds, this is probably the biggest stumbling block and the biggest reason why many fear to identify themselves as feminist. There is now a stereotype of the ‘typical feminist’, who never shaves her legs and shouts at people and hates men — and, to the great amusement of those who look down on her, doesn’t get any. But, again, we need to ask who is creating these stereotypes. As a man (who, admittedly, doesn’t shave his legs), it’s demonstrable that the stereotype does not hold. In addition to this, however, we need to consider if and why this stereotype is undesirable in a modern context.
It will come as no surprise that the stereotype is to be blamed on establishment men. I should mention, in the wake of the stereotype of feminists being ‘anti-men’, that the emphasis is on ‘establishment’. It’s a simple idea that those in power benefit more than those who are not in power, and therefore seek to retain the control they have over the rest of society. In history so far, men have almost always been in power and have gotten pretty good at perpetuating this control — thus, they form the establishment. I’m sure that if women had the same access to power then they would be part of the establishment (and there are fundamentalist women who form part of it today).
Feminism is a threat to those in power, and it is consequently much-maligned. If we are made to hate those who are attempting to bring about equality, the virtues of which I’ve already explained, then the establishment survives another day. We are being deceived into thinking that the grimy underbelly of feminism (which absolutely and undeniably exists) represents the entire movement, which is an unabashed lie. We, as ‘right-thinking people’, do not accept that the Westboro Baptist Church is a valid representative of Christianity; we do not accept that Al Qaeda is a valid representative of Islam — I mean, jeez, we don’t accept that elected MPs are valid representatives of the normal people (admittedly they aren’t, but that’s a role with the explicit purpose of being representative). So why treat the more extreme wings of feminism as the driving force of the movement? Publications like the Daily Mail have gotten very good at preserving the cosy executive lives of their shareholders. It’s also worthwhile to attack this stereotype directly. I’ll be honest: as a man I’m not exactly a fan of hairy legs, but who am I to make a demand of someone to shave ‘em? Who am I to set a bar for women, when it’s hardly as if I reach a similar bar for men? Again, it’s an issue of choice — making demands is, quite simply, removing human rights.
This isn’t to say that the feminist movement doesn’t have a lot of problems in the modern era. I cannot and will not deny that there are vicious wings of the movement that do attempt to establish a matriarchal society, which would have just as many problems as a patriarchy. Feminists have an incredibly quick trigger-finger, especially in the internet age, when it comes to people like Miley Cyrus. Sure, licking a sledgehammer in a video is super weird, but we shouldn’t be attaching the global reputation of women to one person “any more than we burden Sir Alan Sugar with speaking for all preternaturally hairy businessmen who have leveraged a mildly cantankerous mien into a showbiz career, or Mervyn King with speaking for all Mervyns.” The sensitivity of modern feminists does, I think, prove that the stakes are still quite high, but it’s only through a rational and productive discussion that we can really create society that everyone wants to live in.
It’s probably genetic that more women than men enjoy caring for children; it’s probably in our DNA that men prefer to do sport. Feminism is not trying to force maternalism on men or make all women pick up a basketball. Feminism is about valuing the contributions of each individual regardless of gender, and putting in place the means by which we can all strive to better ourselves and the lives of those around us. I think boobs are attractive, but that doesn’t mean I should suppress the human rights of women.
Oh, and next week I’ll be talking about religion.