Let's Talk About Feminism
Feminism: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.
Why is that such a hard concept for some people to grasp? Why do so many people advocate for equality but reject the feminist label?
But wait, they cry. Feminists are man-haters! They burn bras and don't shave their legs!
If this is your perception, go back and read the first sentence. Feminists do not hate men. The correct term for a person like that is a misandrist. And who cares if some feminists don't shave their legs? It doesn't hurt anyone, it's not unhygienic, and above all, it's not your choice. If you don't have a problem with men not shaving their legs, you shouldn't have a problem with women doing the same thing.
But wait, people continue to argue. Why is it called feminism? Shouldn't it be equalism or humanism?
There is not a single country in the world where women have more rights than men. Thankfully, many are getting closer and closer to equal rights, but for true equality it is more important to focus on building women up to be equal with men. It is the feminine qualities that are associated with weakness and disdain. Because striving for gender equality is focused more on women's rights, it is apt to call the movement feminism. Besides, if you advocate for all of the same things that feminists do, what's wrong with calling yourself a feminist? Personally, as long as you support equal rights I don't care what you call yourself. But if you dislike the fem- prefix perhaps you should look inward and ask yourself why you don't want to associate with it.
Now that we've gotten past some common misconceptions and negative stereotypes about the movement, let's talk about what feminists advocate and how you can help the movement! When I tell many people that I'm a feminist, they often wonder exactly what rights I want to fight for. In my country women have the right to vote, own property, and divorce. We're far better off than we were a hundred years ago and we have more rights than a lot of women around the world. What else could we want?
First of all, keep in mind that just because things could be worse doesn't mean we shouldn't try to better them. Someone always has it worse. Someone with a sprained ankle is better off than someone with a broken leg, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to fix the sprained ankle. Someone living in poverty still has more than someone living in worse poverty. Unfortunately, I can't do much about the horrors that women experience in other countries. But there are plenty of issues to focus on that can help women closer to home.
One of my favorite signs from the Women's March
The truth is there are too many things to list. I want a man who rapes an unconscious woman to get more than three months in prison. I want a woman who rapes a man to be perceived socially as just as much of a predator as a male rapist. If a child results from assault, I don't want the rapist to be able to sue for custody of that child. I want more victims to feel comfortable coming forward and I want less stigma around sexual assault in general. I want to stop being harassed in the street.
I want women's bodies to stop being a political issue. Because it is a political issue, at the very least I want women to have an equal representation in the government that is trying to restrict women's bodies. I want equal pay for the same work, especially for people of color. I want housework and childcare to stop being women's work. I want every glass ceiling to shatter and every glass elevator to crash.
I want people of both sexes to stop calling women sluts just because they make decisions that other's wouldn't decide to make. I want to be able to wear a tank top on a hot day without violating a ridiculous dress code. I want people to realize that my self-respect is not correlated with what I wear or how many people I'm with. I want to wear lots of makeup and not be considered insecure. I want curves and cellulite to be embraced more often in the media. I want equal rights for the LGBT community, the disabled, and people of color. I want the phrases "you're a pussy", "you run/jump/hit like a girl", and "man up" to disappear from our vocabularies.
Like I said before, there are simply too many to list. And these are all issues in the United States, where the sexes are considered to be fairly equal! The list grows when we move to countries where women are denied an education and forced into marriage.
Which brings me to the next issue: what can we do about it?
The first step is tackling our own stereotypes. When we expect a male doctor and a female nurse rather than the other way around, that is internalized misogyny. When we call another woman a slut for wearing short shorts, that is internalized misogyny. When we criticize other people's choices that have no effect on us, that is internalized misogyny. When we have stereotypes about LGBT people and POC, we need to remind ourselves that it is not okay and we need to stop thinking this way. It can be difficult but it's so important!
Next is taking on the stereotypes of the people around you. This doesn't have to be confrontational! Here's an example of a conversation I had with my dad recently. Keep in mind that I had been wearing a literal turtleneck that had the shoulders cut out. (Why are shoulders considered promiscuous and revealing??)
Dad: You wore that to school?
Me, jokingly: Does what I wear affect my education?
This may not actually amount to a change in their thinking, but it's a good start. If you can get people to question their own stereotyped thinking it can lead to big changes. You can also take this to a larger scale with social media if you're interested!
A bigger step is activism, or actively participating in a movement. There is passive activism and active activism. Passive can be in the form of donations, active can be in the form of protests, and both are great.
I wasn't able to participate in one of the women's marches taking place all over the world last Saturday, so instead I donated! Along with my monthly donation to Planned Parenthood, I also made a donation to the Malala Fund, which works to provide girls with an education all over the world. You could also donate to women's shelters or other humanitarian efforts, especially if you want to help women locally. Clothes and toiletries make great donations if you want to contribute something other than money.
(Some recent screenshots from feminist accounts I follow, 'cause I know some troll is going to complain that feminists don't talk about equality for men even though many of them do if you just take the time to look at what feminists are actually saying!)
And finally, because I know someone will be thinking it, how does feminism help men?
I resent this question because feminism shouldn't have to benefit men for them to support it. "Men of quality don't fear equality" and all that. You wouldn't expect a Black Lives Matter protest to go on and on about how it will benefit white people. But don't worry, in many ways feminism does help men! There are a lot of double standards and areas where women benefit more than men, and any feminist worth his or her sh!t will fight for equality in these areas regardless of whether they "benefit" their gender.
Intersectional feminism (a type of feminism that is inclusive, and the only true kind of feminism tbh) especially benefits men. This term is relevant because there are a lot of so-called feminists out there who don't support all women or don't recognize that some women experience more inequality than others, based on race, sexual orientation, disability, etc. Intersectional feminists also focus on how the patriarchy is harmful to both men and women.
Men who don't fit the status quo are often at a disadvantage in our society. Non-heterosexual men, men of color, trans men, etc. are discriminated against constantly. If a man likes something that isn't associated with being masculine, he is put down for it. Male rape victims and male victims of domestic violence are not taken as seriously as female victims. In child custody cases, often even if the father provides a better home for the children the mother still receives primary custody. Body expectations for men are ridiculous. Too many women don't realize that "no means no" when a man says it, too. Behaviors that are considered abusive when a man does it are normal or okay for a woman to do. These are all things to think about for both male and female feminists.
I've been wanting to do a post like this for quite some time now, so I know that it's a long one. I didn't cover everything that I wanted to, but I hope it was informative! I am by no means a perfect feminist, and I don't think a perfect feminist exists, but I am constantly trying to educate myself and get involved where I can.
Things are looking a bit precarious for civil rights at the moment, but let's not forget that women's rights are human rights. There is always more to learn and more to do. #Feminism.
First image source
Second image source
PS. I put tons of links in this article if you want to know any specific instances or facts I was thinking about while writing!