A couple of weeks ago I found myself reading two articles in the same day that absolutely blew my mind. The first was about WRU voting on appointing women to the board, and the second was about Cardiff and County Club voting on whether women should be allowed to join as members to the club.
What?! I’m sorry, can we just hold on a second. Are we not living in the 21st century? Why on earth is this not already common procedure?
It comes at a time when feminism is the hot topic of conversation; and it’s about time. Whether it’s the 10 hours of walking in NYC as a woman video, the countless BuzzFeed articles (including this particularly shocking one), Queen B embracing the movement wholeheartedly or, of course, Emma Watson’s stunning HeForShe speech at the UN, the world is finally talking about it.
So why is it that so many people still refuse to admit gender inequality is still alive and well? Why is it that I am constantly subjected to ignorant and downright disgusting views about what it is to be a feminist?
I couldn’t count the amount of rows I’ve had / ridiculous social media posts I’ve had to endure about slamming feminism. “Feminism is sexist” “All feminists are over the top and love to argue just for the sake of it” “Everyone’s a feminist until a man opens the door for them and they get offended” “If it’s about equality then why is feminine in the title?” All true quotes. And from all genders.
I remember in first year a lecturer asked us who in the room believed in gender equality. Everyone raised their hands. When asked who counted themselves as a feminist, only a handful put their hand up. One specific girl (an incredibly clever one at that) piped up, “I believe in gender equality and all but like, I’m not going to go and drown my sons or anything.” SERIOUSLY!
In another lecture we were discussing witness statements. The example was of a girl who claimed she had been raped. The lecturer (and I quote) said (with reference to the statement): “I mean, what is everyone going to expect? This girl has been out in a teeny tiny dress and is already sexually active at 16. Of course they are not going to believe her.”
Needless to say I have never been so disgusted in all my life. It’s something i’ll never forget.
On another occasion I had a PR professional (during a training course) tell me that there were never any women high up in PR because all women did was get pregnant and then aimlessly work from home. I swiftly made an excuse and left the course immediately.
Yet, for some unbeknownst reason, there are still so many people denying that it is still an issue.
Why? I truly think people still don’t understand what feminism is. And sadly, I often see feminists not helping the matter. The amount of times I see posts slamming “fake feminists” or dubbing all men to blame for the many wrongs of the world is so, so upsetting. Because to me, that isn’t what feminism is about.
Feminism (amongst MANY other things) is about fighting for equality. That means not tarring with the same brush or making assumptions about ANY gender. And I’m sorry, but feminism is not a one size fits all kinda thing. Judging someone based on whether they are a “real feminist” or not is downright hideous. We all have our own beliefs and aspirations for what we want out of it all, so why insult someone’s integrity? What do people get out of it? And so what if it is becoming associated with popular culture – if people are talking about it, I really couldn’t care less how the message is getting out there.
Obviously it’s something I feel incredibly passionate about. Already in my career I have been subjected to seriously chauvinistic attitudes. Whenever I walk home past a certain time I have to ring someone the whole way for fear of being harassed. I’ve been chased, I’ve been called every derogatory name under the sun, I’ve been f**king stalked in a library as I studied for my A Levels. Whenever I get into an argument with a guy on social media they throw the slut bomb. If I got out in a short dress I have to expect at least one person trying to grope my arse – and the second I turn around and tell them to f**k off, I’ll get full on verbal abuse for being a stuck up cow.
And I know that men and (of course) transgender suffer their own forms of abuse through gender inequality. That’s the whole point. It all needs to stop.
In the lead up to this post I published a survey across social media. I was really interested to see people’s views on feminism and its connotations (a big thank you to all who took part).
The results, as a whole, were pretty reassuring.
100% of participants felt that sexual inequality still existed, yet only 84% felt that feminism was still an important movement in today’s society. Those who felt it wasn’t important anymore stated that they felt the focus should be on equality and not just women’s rights (again, an unfortunate misunderstanding of the term as feminism IS about equality for all genders), and also that women should not be discriminated against if they wanted to stay at home with children (amongst other reasons). Yet (to me) I don’t think anyone would dub a woman unfeminist for doing that – surely the whole motivation is we all have the right to choose what we want to do?
When asked why people felt gender inequality still existed, common answers ranged from objectification, pay gaps, sexual abuse, overly sexualised female images, the media, expectations of characteristics in genders, women’s rights, victim shaming, less women in managerial positions and male and female only jobs (there were so, so many more).
Some particularly interesting answers included:
“Whether people like to admit it or not, there are still people out there who see women as being inadequate. Particularly, in my experience, in the work place. I quote “why hire a woman when all they do is go off sick and get up the spout?” (Actual quote from someone at an event I was at the other day.)”
“The fact that my undergraduate degree had 200 females and 10 males on the course, yet the majority of Professors in the department were male. The fact that I have been referred to as ‘cold’ when I have expressed a desire not to have children or get married. I think that the emphasis that is placed on preventing rape, through the invention of nail varnish that indicates whether it has been spiked, rather than teaching people not to rape in the first place. That body hair is deemed as unhygienic and disgusting on females. The age at which this is instilled in young girls places so much unnecessary pressure.”
“Overtly sexualized images within the media that favour the male gaze (Mulvey) and the pervasiveness of hardcore pornography on the internet. Its become acceptable to view degrading images of women and has become common sense.”
I asked whether people felt that the term feminism had negative connotations; 73% said yes and 27% said no. Prevalent responses included that the term had a negative stigma attached to it, people still associated it with bra burning man-haters, that it seemed to be associated with wanting to be better or more empowered than men, that there was a misunderstanding of the intention and that many assumed it to just be whinging women. Pretty tough but all sadly common assumptions.
Finally I asked what feminism meant to everyone; the general consensus was equality between genders, but participants also cited independence at home and work, ending discrimination and the breakdown of ignorant attitudes.
A few stand out comments include:
“Being treated on par with any other person in every situation including the workplace, in social situations, in the gym, on the walk home, on a night out. Not having to worry about my daughters more than I worry about my sons.”
“Feminism is striving for equal rights between men and women. It saddens me that feminism has such negative connotations attached to it such as all feminists being ‘man haters’ and ‘lesbians’. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want equality between genders!”
“Feminism means celebrating the fact that women are a strong and powerful gender who are not only equal to, but in many ways better than men… and I’m a man.”
Sure, there were a few ignorant comments. But rather than letting them get me fired up (as they normally would) I’ve accepted that these attitudes are purely down to a lack of understanding. And that’s what we need to change.
I hope that the HeForShe movement will be a prominent step towards an equal society. I hope that people will start to embrace the term “feminist” and celebrate their beliefs; not shy away from it for fear of being ridiculed.
I am a feminist. And I’m bloody proud to admit it.