There is a word that has developed a bit of a bad reputation. Yes, I’m talking about feminism.
I don’t call myself a feminist (even though I am), because there are people out there who misunderstand what that word means. Do I believe in women’s rights? Of course I do. Do I think male privilege exists? Of course it does. Do I believe there is inbuilt gender bias in our society? You’re damn right I do. Would I like to wave a magic wand and change all this? You bet. By definition, I am a feminist.
Just for clarification, here is the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of ‘feminism’:
“The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”
Okay? Are we all agreed on that? Alright, moving on.
And yet, I choose not to identify myself using that word. Why? Because I’m concerned that if I do, there are people who won’t take me seriously.
The sad reality is that the debate on gender inequality has long been centered around the issue of ‘man-hating feminists’. All feminists are lumped together under the one umbrella, and the F word has become something that even women who believe in feminist ideas don’t want to be associated with.
I’m not trying to play the blame game here. Feminists are often angry (and rightly so) about the inequalities women face. In turn, men come across this anger, feel it is directed at them, and lash out in response. Well, that’s productive… Issues like this tend to polarise people, so of course there are going to be opposing sides of the debate. But this kind of us vs. them/’I hate you, you hate me’ debate gets us nowhere.
Gender inequality is much more accurate name for this issue than ‘feminism’, because there are inequalities on both sides. Unfortunately, these are not distributed evenly and women tend to bear the heavier side of the scales.
As a young, white, Australian woman, from a small, middle-class family, I have privileges. Both my parents obtained university degrees and used them to good effect. My dad was the main bread-winner, while my mum stayed home looking after me and doing part time work. She was lucky that she had this option, as many women do not. But do you not think that my dad would have jumped at the chance to be home all day with us too? Unfortunately, someone had to support the family financially. My dad had (and still has) a well paying job, which meant that my mum was not forced into the workforce and I was not forced into childcare. My mum did not have to fight for adequate maternity leave and risk not having a job to come back to. As my years steadily advance, I am faced with the prospect that someday I will want to start a family of my own. And, when that happens, what will become of my career?
As of right now, I have very little career to speak of. Due to health issues I’ve had in the past, I can’t work and simultaneously study full-time. So, here I am, at 24, finally studying a degree in a subject I’m passionate about, with the goal of then getting a job that uses those skills – a job that pays well, and that will provide me with choices when the time comes to have kids.
Anti-feminists argue that having a child is the woman’s choice. Which is (mostly) true. They argue that if a woman chooses to have a child she knows what the deal is, so she shouldn’t complain when she’s forced to take time off work. However it is not our choice that we are the only gender of our species who can bear children. And it’s not men’s choice either. It’s just biology. So why is it that women are often forced to choose between their career and their family, while men are not? There are plenty of stay-at-home dads out there, and I think that’s fantastic. But the reality is that women are the ones expected to become the main carers for their children, while men are expected to provide for their family. This separation of gender roles is one thing that really irks me. Our culture has been this way for so long, that it’s not going to change overnight. But so many women accept their position in society without asking why. This inbuilt gender bias is something that all people experience and perpetuate, sometimes unknowingly.
Another anti-feminist argument that annoys me is the one that goes something like “Men and women are different and have different needs so gender equality is impossible”. True, I have different needs to my male counterparts. But the issue is that my needs, as a female, are often not taken into account as much as a man’s. The best example of this is the ‘tampon tax’. In Australia, sanitary products such as tampons and pads are taxed. Condoms are subsidised and therefore cheaper than they would be if they faced the same tax as sanitary products. Condoms are important. Let’s just get that out of the way. If you’re having sex, you should use them (unless you’re trying to get pregnant, obviously). But sex is optional (again, unless you’re trying to have kids…), it’s a choice. Periods are not a choice. Trust me, if they were optional most of us women would choose not to have them!! They’re a pain (literally). They’re uncomfortable and unpleasant and a hassle. But we put up with them because we have to. What’s crazy is that the products we need to manage our periods safely are not subsidised. We pay what they cost because we don’t have a choice. But how great would it be if each month your period didn’t cost you the best part of $20?
There are many other ways in which women are disadvantaged over men. Why is that? Because the people who have the power to change these inequalities are predominately men. Now, before you put me in the ‘man-hating’ box, let me just say this – men are great. To quote Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins, “Though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they’re rather stupid”. There are many men in my life that I love and respect – my father, my brother, my boyfriend, my grandfathers, my friends, and my nephew (still a boy, but will be a man before too long!) – and their rights mean just as much to me as my own. I’m a lover, not a hater. I don’t hate on individuals. That’s mean. What I hate are ideas and ideologies that are illogical, make no sense, and are founded on fallacies. And anyone who argues that male privilege doesn’t exist, that women have everything they need and should stop whining, is making an illogical argument. Yes, there are issues that affect men more than women. More men are homeless, more men take their own life, and many men feel they cannot be open about their feelings for fear of not being ‘manly’ enough and being judged accordingly. But these issues are seperate to that of women’s rights and should not be bartered against each other. The ‘feminism’ issue gets clouded by ‘men’s rights’ groups which are mostly arrogant white men with privileges complaining that they can’t express their feelings, therefore they are underprivileged. In my mind, these groups just reaffirm the idea of male privilege and make it harder for gender equality to make progress.
As far as I’m concerned, regardless of what gender you are, if you don’t support women’s rights, you’re sexist. If you buy into gender stereotypes, and think a woman’s place is in the home, you’re sexist. If someone mentions the statistics on domestic violence against women and you find yourself retorting with stats on men’s suicide rates, you’re sexist. If you don’t think feminism is a good thing, you’re sexist.
You don’t have to agree with someone’s methods to agree with their ideas.
I have to be a feminist. Because, if I wasn’t, I’d be sexist.
There’s no grey area on this one.
Don’t be an idiot. Be a feminist.
But maybe a ‘small f’ feminist for now, until the f word loses some of its power…