Is feminism still a dirty word? We asked twenty-five of the brightest, funniest, bravest young women what being a feminist in 2015 means to them.
We hear from Laura Bates (of the Everyday Sexism Project), Reni Eddo-Lodge (award-winning journalist and author), Yas Necati (an eighteen-year-old activist), Laura Pankhurst, great-great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and an activist in her own right, comedian Sofie Hagen, engineer Naomi Mitchison and Louise O’Neill, author of the award-winning feminist Young Adult novel Only Ever Yours. Writing about a huge variety of subjects, we have Martha Mosse on how she became a feminist, Alice Stride on sexism in language, Amy Annette addressing the body politic and Samira Shackle on having her eyes opened in a hostel for survivors of acid attacks in Islamabad, while Maysa Haque thinks about the way Islam has informed her feminism and Isabel Adomakoh Young insists that women don’t have to be perfect. There are twelve other performers, politicians and writers who include Jade Anouka, Emily Benn, Abigail Matson-Phippard, Hajar Wright and Jinan Younis.
Is the word feminist still to be shunned? Is feminism still thought of as anti-men rather than pro-human? Is this generation of feminists – outspoken, funny and focused – the best we’ve had for long while? Has the internet given them a voice and power previously unknown?
I am a feminist. I am a feminist because I believe that all women are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men. I believe women are entitled to these rights and opportunities from the moment that they take their first breath, but too often this isn’t the case. In 2015, India’s Minister on Women and Child Development stated that approximately 2,000 girls are killed across India on a daily basis because of their gender. This reason, among many countless others, is why I am a feminist.
Within modern Western society, there’s this dangerous misconception that because “things are better than they used to be” there’s nothing left to fight for. In legal terms, things have indeed progressed within the last century in Great Britain, but sexism is still prevalent in our everyday lives. The misconception that sexism aimed at women doesn’t exist has arisen because it’s something that’s become so entrenched within our society that a lot of people simply don’t notice it. It’s become almost normal and there’s something seriously fucked up about that. Furthermore, even if sexism didn’t exist within our society, why shouldn’t we continue to fight for the rights of other girls and women worldwide? For the girls and women who are denied a voice, denied an education, denied autonomy over their own bodies? It is our responsibility – men included- to fight for the rights of these people. It’s sickening that a woman felt that her only option was to commit suicide after her family denied her the right to an a cesarean section when her labour became too painful and dangerous. It’s wrong that girls as young as six are married off by their families, denying them the chance of a childhood and an education and robbing them of their dignity. It’s disgusting that some women aren’t allowed to leave the house without their husband’s permission, as though they are objects and not free-thinking individuals. Shouldn’t we fight for them too? Women such as Emmeline Pankhurst fought tirelessly for women’s rights and it’s time we carried that fighting spirit to other parts of the world.
A friend and I had a discussion about the aforementioned everyday sexism that’s entrenched within our society here in England, the focus of the conversation being on the differences in the language used to describe men and women. There are certain words that are usually exclusive to the describing of women. Words like ‘high maintenance’, ‘hormonal’ and ‘ditsy’ are words that are lacking from the repertoire of adjectives used to describe men and words such as ‘ambitious’ and ‘bossy’ are words that have comparatively more negative connotations than their synonyms of ‘driven’ and ‘strong-minded’, which are more likely to be used when describing men. Our conversation then moved onto the sexism that we ourselves have experienced and I’ll share some of my experiences with you right now. When I was 20, a guy told me that if I “just lost some weight”, I’d be really “pretty”, as if my worth is weighed by my outward appearance alone, as if beauty boils down to the size of a person’s body…as if my sole purpose is to be aesthetically pleasing to those around me. When I was 22, a guy lectured me on what my body should be able to do because I had the ‘audacity’ to say that I was too tired to have sex with him again. The same guy also got indescribably angry at dinner one night when it dawned on him that I, a woman, got paid more than him. He then proceeded to near enough wrestle the bill for said dinner off me because I’d suggested going halves, saying that as a woman I couldn’t pay for things like that. He also used to laugh in my face when we were arguing – ironically, it was usually about feminism – saying that I was “cute” when I was angry and “tried” to argue. He was a disgusting person who thought my sole purpose was to serve his physical needs and to be a bit of arm candy. He didn’t respect the fact that I was happily independent with my own income and my own set of beliefs and values.
So, let me reiterate; I am a feminist because I believe women worldwide, including those who identify as female – of any age, sexuality or race – are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men. We’re entitled to not be lectured on our bodies. We’re entitled to autonomy over our bodies. We’re entitled to an education. We’re entitled to a voice. We’re entitled to the same wages as men for doing the same jobs. We’re entitled to exist and to be free to enjoy that existence.
And this is why I love I call myself a feminist. It’s essentially a book of short essays, each one written by a feminist. These women cover a broad spectrum of the global female community and gives them each a moment to voice their ideas on feminism and what it means to them. I love how inclusive this book is in the way that it recognises that women of all backgrounds suffer at the hands of discrimination based on their gender.
There’s a massive emphasis on intersectionality, which is essentially the fact that many forms of discrimination and oppression intersect with one another. This book helps a reader to understand this notion and emphasises the importance of understanding that many women fight a battle against discrimination on many fronts. This understanding helps the feminist movement become an all-inclusive movement, a movement that recognises and respects the individual nature of each person’s experiences.
I also love how this book promotes the reality that men can be feminists too. Men have a responsibility to change their attitudes towards women and to support the women in their lives. Many men already have feminist values, but are reluctant to label them as that because of the the negative connotations that the term has been weighted down with over the years. Feminism is often branded as ‘man hating’, but it’s not this at all. Feminism is about being on equal footing with men and there is no shame in a man wanting this for women.
To conclude, there’s an extensive bibliography at the back of this book which I think is a fantastic way of encouraging readers to expand upon their knowledge of the issue regarding the equal rights of women.
I call myself a feminist is an engaging and enlightening read and one I recommend for everyone.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Song: Lesley Gore’s You don’t own me
This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.