Opinion Piece By: Sophie Reaville
International Women’s Day was on Sunday 8 March, and we at Naked Politics wish you a happy belated International Women’s Day as well as a happy Women’s History Month this March!
I’d like to begin by addressing the following statement which I have heard all too often: “but we don’t need feminism anymore, we’re already equal!”. I mean, clearly, as I’m sure most of you would agree, this is an incredibly naïve and ignorant statement to make when 12 million girls will become child brides this year alone, nearly a quarter of women in India will be subjected to domestic violence, 1 in 5 American women will be raped and only 1.7% of reported rapes will actually be prosecuted across England and Wales. Furthermore belittling feminism and its cause is effectively belittling anyone who has been subject to discrimination for something as simple as their gender, or indeed their race, sexuality or religious beliefs.
This question brings me onto my next point – I recently put a poll to my 600+ followers on Instagram asking whether or not they think feminism is radical or could be seen to be so. Rather to my surprise, a huge majority of them said yes, including a large majority of women. Why? Well, there were varying answers. Mostly about the minority radical feminists, and the fact that feminism which most agreed began with the goal of equality of the sexes, has now turned into a “man-hating”, “inherently sexist” spree of furthering and prioritising women’s rights over men’s. Some suggesting “feminism has a stigma that it is radical” and others saying “(it) used to be about equality but now is more (about) superiority for women” and “modern day feminism has moved away from equality and towards hating”. Many feel that “feminism has become derivative of a proportional rights movement”. The trouble is, that you can’t throw the definition of feminism at these people because these are the very people that know and believe in it, and we must resign ourselves to the fact that feminism seems to have grown this awfully unnecessary “radical” stigma. I’d like to put some of this stigma, and these stereotypes, at rest and reiterate how essential feminism and its causes are, even in modern day western society, when it may not seem as relevant.
Although we have the vote, the pill, legal abortion, a “popular with women” option on Porn Hub and we haven’t been burnt at the stake since 1727 for being witches, there are still many issues, although seemingly small, that remain unsolved and often not spoken about widely enough! For example why does everyone ask me if I have a boyfriend yet? Why am I expected to be smooth shaven, skinny and sporting a golden tan all year long? Why do I get funny looks when I don’t wear a bra, or even when I do? Why do I feel like I can’t talk about intimate sexual desires, experiences or even something as simple as my period, in front of men? Why are pads and tampons still so flipping expensive?! And why does nearly every guy I date ask me how many people I have slept with, and then either judge me because I’m inexperienced or a whore?
I ran my own poll on sexual harassment to my followers. The results were really quite alarming, especially as it’s important to remember that these people are all between the ages of 15 and 30 years old and the large majority are 18-20 years old (see results in above table).
And what about sexism, does that still exist in modern day western society? Well yes, as shown by a third poll. Sexism nowadays is much more subtle than it used to be though; as explained by Caitlin Moran in her book How to be a Woman (which I vehemently recommend!) : – “like racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia – modern sexism has become cunning. Sly. Codified…. A closet misogynist has a vast array of words, comments, phrases and attitudes that they can employ to subtly put a woman down…but without it being immediately apparent”. Moran also states that “Now there are female chauvinistic pigs, and men trading in ‘ironic sexism’, whereby calling you ‘Tits McGee’ and telling you to go and ‘makes us a fried egg sandwich’ is technically not sexism but a ‘laugh’ which you must ‘laugh’ along to”. As Moran explains, sexism is becoming harder to notice but is much more frequent than we may imagine.
Furthermore, I had a lot of men and women message me in response to this poll with examples of sexism they have suffered. Many of the women suffered due to gender stereotypes, most prevalent in the sporting industry. There were two particular women who had similar experiences, one worked in a gaming store and one in a hardware store. They explained that male customers would just ignore them and ask male staff members for advice rather than them; due to the gender stereotypes associated with both hardware products and the gaming industry. In fact many young women who participated claimed that they had been “overlooked over male counterparts, dismissed or excluded from ‘male’ activities”. Additionally, I had one young man say that an elderly woman had told him that “men can’t be good nurses and dads because they only care about themselves”. This shows that there is a long way to go in achieving equality of the sexes, and this includes promoting men’s issues as well as women’s and addressing these toxic femininity and masculinity ideals.
So what does it mean to be a feminist today? Well, in my opinion, it means promoting equality for all sexes and supporting and loving each other as much as possible. It means trying to understand each other too. Feminism absolutely doesn’t mean you should burn your bra (please don’t, those things are expensive and the SavagexFenty ones are super pretty, but equally, if you don’t wanna wear on, you live your best life hun!) Also, to the guys reading this, not all us feminists are lesbians, and we don’t all hate men, I promise! Feminism means supporting men when they are weak, and supporting women when they are strong. It means accepting each other for all our strengths and weaknesses. I hope you can all see the continued relevance of feminism in western society and indeed in the world, and now understand it more for what it really is and not the radical stigma it seems to have unfortunately adopted.
On a positive note we are getting there…Harvey Weinstein has just been charged, abortion has just been legalised in Argentina, and pads and tampons are now free in Scotland. Not only that, but in yet another poll on my Instagram, although 77% of women felt uncomfortable about openly discussing topics such as sexual desires, experiences and their menstrual cycle, only 6% of men said it bothered them! Many guys replied saying that it was good to talk openly about such things and that it didn’t bother them at all. So, it is getting better, especially among the younger generation who seem to be more willing than ever to fight for equality!