What is feminism?

I was astounded on Friday of last week to hear a girl at my work offer the following sentence ‘my cousin is a feminist and she hates it when I wear this t-shirt because she says I am showing that I am not a feminist. But I don’t care because I’m not a feminist. I’d happily let a man look after me, it’s what I want and she says if I’m not a feminist I shouldn’t bother wearing trousers’.

I had to bite my tongue. I’m new to the job and an argument that would have made it clear I thought she was an idiot probably wouldn’t have gone down too well. I’m unsure what annoyed me most, the fact that she was boasting about not being a feminist or the fact that she clearly has no idea what being a feminist means.

The Oxford definition of feminism is ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’ I think however that this is only the tip of the iceberg. People like the girl at work make presumptions that feminism is just about women being equal to men. They think of feminists as bra burning lesbians who to put it bluntly wish they had a penis between their legs. They think it means that women want to be able to go out to work and not have to stay at home looking after children and cooking tea for the man who is the breadwinner. Yes it is in many ways about those things but for me and many other people who identify as feminists, feminism is about CHOICE.

The girl at work who we’ll call Sarah presumed that because her desires and ambitions lead only to being at home to cook and bake for a husband she hasn’t met yet and to look after their children that she can’t be a feminist. She thinks that to be a feminist would be to betray these ambitions and that she would have to change who she is and what she wants. What she doesn’t realise is that just making that choice alone makes her a feminist. Her choice to be a housewife makes her no less a feminist than my choice to want a career and an education.

So to the Sarah’s out there I think it’s time you found out exactly why you and every other woman (and man as well) should identify as feminist:

  • The Suffragettes – known mostly for their protests and work which led to women obtaining the vote. To name a few of the sufferings the Suffragettes were subject to: imprisonment and force feeding, chaining themselves to fences and throwing themselves in front of carts. Their militant protests enabled women to be granted the vote and therefore allowed women across the country to make decisions about how they wanted the country to be run.

So why is that point relevant? People like Sarah openly admit that they don’t vote and so feel that the suffragette movement had no effect on their lives at all but this is in fact not true. Firstly the choice is available to take if you want it. If you want to vote you can. That word CHOICE is so important by choosing not to vote you are still having that choice made available to you. However to deny your choice to vote implies you have no political opinion. You can’t talk about being unhappy with your wages or your children’s school and education. You can’t complain about the wait in the NHS A&E department or how often the council collects your bins. If you don’t vote then you are making the choice to allow the things you are unhappy with to continue.

  • You get to dress however you want! – if you want to wear skirts, trousers, crop tops or a burkha you’re welcome to put on whatever clothes you want. 100s of years ago women were denied that choice. They couldn’t wear short dresses or have their arms bared. Men often dictated what they could wear right down to the way they could wear their hair. Even having your hair down instead of pinned up was seen as unseemly.
  • The pay gap and career inequality – do you think it would be fair if you found out that Bill who sits next to you at work gets paid a £1 for every 77p you earn? If you found out that women don’t get promoted to high positions as often as men because it is presumed that they will be unreliable and decide to leave to have children
  • Rape and domestic violence – to stop people presuming that because you’re wearing a short skirt or getting drunk means that you are ‘asking for it’ or that because you burnt your partner’s tea it means that you deserve to be punched in the face or pushed down the stairs and that nobody will care because they still believe in the old fashioned beliefs that a man is entitled to beat on his wife. Here’s a few statistics about rape for you:
  • 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in the UK every year that’s 11 rapes an hour and only applies to adults not to mention children
  • Half a million adults are sexually assaulted each year.
  • 1 in 5 women between 16 and 65 have experienced some form of sexual assault in their lifetime
  • Only 15% of sexual violence cases are reported to the police
  • 90% of the victims know the their attacker prior to the attack
  • Most women in the UK do not have access to a rape crisis centre
  • Only 5.7% of reported cases end with a conviction

(Information taken from www.rapecrisis.org.uk further statistics can be accessed there)

Feminists do not think they are better than men or that they should have any special treatment. To be a feminist just one special ingredient is needed: to believe that all humans are equal regardless of sex, race, colour, political, religious and social beliefs.

To reiterate: feminism is about CHOICE. So you’re a feminist if you:

  • Choose your own clothes in a morning
  • Have sex when you want with who you want or choose not to have sex at all
  • Have an education of some description be it secondary or higher education
  • Choose your career path whether it be a housewife or an entrepreneur

I couldn’t fit every single reason for being a feminist into one blog post but I hope that the few reasons and examples I have used will help the doubting Thomas’ to see exactly why they ARE in fact a feminist and identify with the movement.

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