The ‘F’ Word.

Not the curse which can be moulded into a verb, noun and adjective but more the political and social movement: feminism.

In recent times feminism has broken the media and is now a popular topic that comes up on one’s newsfeed and in general conversation. As great as this sounds it is still treated as a taboo issue; declaring oneself as a feminist is generally not received in a positive light. There is a pre-made profile for feminists which, for some unbeknown reason has been ingrained into societies mind, yet another stereotype which the masses cannot see passed. To be a feminist means that one:

  • hates men
  • does not take part in any hair removal
  • is a lesbian
  • strives for females to be put on the societal pedestal

to name just a few. It absolutely incredible that a large volume of people immediately assume this just from a statement but are on so many levels factually wrong. There are two definitions that outline what feminism is:

The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.

The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

Between the two definitions there is the general consensus that feminism is for equality with the difference being whether it is for women or for both sexes. I can understand that since throughout history and in present day women have less rights and privilege than men that some feminists take the stance that feminism is exclusively for women. Neither sexes have full equality; the issue of domestic abuse towards men and male rape are still taboo and brushed under the carpet in the same way it’s the norm for women to be cat-called and not taken seriously on a regular basis. Both sexes have their repressions, but the reason feminism mainly focuses on female issues is because there are so many more of them. Throughout history women have always been viewed miles below males, they weren’t allowed to leave the house on their own, put through finishing school to learn how to ‘be a proper lady’ and were originally perceived as having an under developed brain. From feminist movements in the past women have gained the vote, been able to gain the same education as men, accepted into industries such as labour and engineering to work, acceptance and welfare support behind divorce, access to abortions and the list goes on.

As a gender we have come a long way; we are viewed in a more positive and respectable light than we have ever been before but there are still aspects of society which prevents us from being wholly acknowledged for more than just our gender. However, women are still underpaid in comparison to our male counterparts with the gap margin hardly decreasing since 1997 in the UK.

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Women still get cat-called on the street which can be incredibly uncomfortable – there have been times I have opted to change what I’m wearing on hot days to avoid being cat-called. Articles within the media are still published detailing what men really want, giving the message that being yourself is not enough to find a partner (and that’s presuming you want a partner), you have to fit a model to get a husband. Not even to mention that portrays men as having all the same interests and desires within a woman which is pretty demeaning itself. Women have traditionally never been used in advertising in a positive light, back in the 50s advertising campaigns promoted strict gender roles accompanied by pretty deprecating captions, although we have moved on from that and the blatant sexism is frowned upon advertising still has sexist undertones. Male directed campaigns always include a sexy, barely clad women selling the item, be it draped over a luxurious sports car all oily and seductive or even this Tom Ford campaign which speaks for itself:

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We have female representation within government with a movement for 50/50 MP representation, but recently the bill to scrap the tampons being taxed as a luxury item was rejected with the majority of voters being men who coincidentally don’t get periods nor have to pay for sanitary items. One male MP during the debate couldn’t even bring himself to say tampons.

And these issues are only the tip of the iceberg for those in the Western world. Women living in the Middle East and Africa have even harder. Due to culture differences and economic state women there don’t have access to half of the resources to allow for equality. Cultural/religious rules prevent women from having control of their bodies regarding abortions, safe birth and even contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Access to literacy is very limited to all members of some societies – when I was in Ghana some of the teachers were half arsed when giving lessons with some of them not even turning up to class to teach. Cultural norms can also get in the way for equality, again in Ghana some of the school girls had to cook all their student teachers’ meals as a sign of respect and would be caned if not. The school kids also have to pay to sit their exams and in the village I stayed in not many of the parents could afford to do so resulting in 20 year old still in primary school.

In the Middle East feminism is needed but in different aspects; where Western women have been fighting for equality for owning property, to sue and be sued, Muslim women already had this privilege. It’s in aspects of traditional Islamic law where feminism is needed.Over the years women have been able to claim equality to men with laws being passed raising age of marriage and requiring bridal consent, introducing conditions regarding polygamy and reducing the legal support of obedience over wives to name a few. But since the 1970s gender equality is becoming threatened by the rise in support for Islamic fundamentalists who campaign for the conservative Islamic law. Some of these laws include introducing schools to train women to be housewives, limiting political voice and taking away jobs outside the home.

Like I previously mentioned, men need feminism too. Of course there are gender roles out there for men that need to be eradicated. For instance, to come out as a victim of domestic abuse is seen as ‘unmanly’ and many are mocked for being ‘pushed around by a woman’ which forces men to not speak about the abuse. Within courts women are highly favoured over men regarding custody over children due to the pre-made stereotypes society forms in their minds that women make better parents than the father. Six out of ten males will experience domestic abuse at one point in their life which is shockingly high and thus showing that men do need to be fairly treated to make it easier for men to come out and seek help. Another ‘taboo’ issue for men is the case of male rape – it often gets made fun of in the prison context and this common mockery makes it harder, again, for males to come forward and get help. With feminism this social issue needs to be tackled, people need to realise that men can be hurt as well and it by no means makes a man any less of a man. Male stereotypes are just as mentally damaging as female ones; in Scotland rates of male suicide is far higher than female, this can be due to the stress of upholding the position of being the breadwinner and having the role of supporting a whole family. Men have pressure to be ‘manly’ and to be the ‘alpha’ and also have the unrealistic body image struggles. Not every male wants to be the high earner in the family, some wish to be a stay at home dad and that is every bit ok as wanting to go out and work. There shouldn’t be any judgement, there are no prerequisites in being a man, as a human being you should be free to have the choice to do whatever the hell you want to do. And this is why men also need feminism.

By no means am I bashing religious practices or those who fit into ‘gender roles’, everyone is free to do what they wish if it’s not harming anyone else, but what I am wholeheartedly against is taking away a person’s choice to do what they wish. Some women grow up wanting to be a wife, have kids and stick around at home doing the cooking and cleaning and that is absolutely fine; some women don’t want children and want to be completely financially and emotionally independent and that is absolutely fine, some women don’t want to be involved in politics or further their education, that is absolutely fine. What is completely out of line is taking away that choice. Taking away the opportunity to become the person you want to be and to not even be valued as a member of society and that is why we need feminism and why it is not a terrible thing.

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