Feminism. The word carries so many connotations, bringing to mind for many, a decidedly ‘unfeminine’ woman who jumps onto any opportunity to shame and blame men for anything and everything. A woman who claims to support equality but really just hates men- a woman who is just (let’s be real) on about nothing.
Because we’re fine, aren’t we? We have rights, we can wear a bra- or not wear a bra- we can support and spoil ourselves and our loved ones, we can swear, smoke and drink if we care to. We don’t need feminism.
This is for you if you have ever said ‘we don’t need feminism’, ‘feminism isn’t equality’, ‘I’m not sure if I’m a feminist because I don’t want to be grouped with extremist women- I like men’. This is for you if you think it’s not okay for a group of men to whistle at you on the streets while you’re walking alone, if you say you have a boyfriend when a man harasses you at a bar because your own opinion will not be taken seriously-but the fact that you possibly ‘belong’ to another man might- yet will happily say that feminism is a null movement.
I could ask you the usuals:
Do you believe that women should work, get tertiary education and have freedom of speech and the right to vote?
Do you believe that a woman gets to choose who she has sex with and marries?
Do you believe that women are capable and necessary participants in our society?
Would you condone domestic violence, on your part, or to a woman you care for?
I could ask you these questions and, assuming you’re not living in the 1950s and don’t abuse women, you’d likely say yes to all of the above. I could tell you that you are then a feminist.
But that’s been done before- simplifying the meaning of feminism to a basic belief that women deserve the same rights, pay and respect (physically and emotionally) that a man does.
But you might still group feminists under an extremist group of women who burn bras and plot an estrogen-fueled domination of the world that will leave men considerably on the sideline and disadvantaged. You might still say ‘Alright that’s all good but the truth is, these are things women can do and do, so why is there still a need for feminism?’
Here’s the truth: Not every woman can and does the above.
You may not be a victim, your loved ones may not be, but that does not mean that there isn’t a girl out there who IS a victim. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t girls out there who cannot choose to study, or even finish high school. That doesn’t mean that there are not girls out there being forced into marriage, women out there who are not being domestically abused. That there are not rape victims in certain states in the U.S who are forced by law to allow their rapists visitation rights to children borne of their sexual abuse.
That does not mean that there is not a girl out there slowly learning to hate herself because she doesn’t fit into the box that society and her peers have conditioned her to believe that she will only ever be enough of, if she does. That there are not women who are having sex because they are too scared to say no because ‘they put themselves in that situation’, that there are not women who have said no and are ashamed to do anything because they may have been a bit drunk. That there are not women who are being unwillingly genitally mutilated because laws have not been passed for them to choose.
Just because you are fine and those that you know are fine, it does not mean that is the case for every woman.
I could end it here and say that is why feminism is necessary- because when a woman speaks in a meeting her words carry less weight than that of a man, because a single mother working the same job and position as a single man earns on average 20% less, because 1 of 6 women (usually reported as 1 in 5 but for argument’s sake let’s go with 6) are domestically abused at least once in their lives, or even because in 1 hour a young girl will likely be raped and murdered in Khayelitsha while going to the communal bathroom.
But I won’t.
Because you knew that.
And I won’t say that every man has and will commit these offences, I won’t say that you, sitting there, reading this intentionally made it that way. But I will say, that by not acknowledging that these things are everyday realities, and that hundreds of years of systematic patriarchal oppression cannot be completely rectified in +- 60 years, you are perpetuating – and encouraging -these events.
As a man, you could feel personally victimized by a movement that seeks to give every young girl and woman basic human rights- you could see this as a movement that seeks to disadvantage men, and push women up the ladder leaving no place for you to succeed and realise your own dreams. You could say ‘why don’t we call it humanism not feminism?’
Yes- that is exactly what it is, an issue of human rights. Feminism is named so because it’s main objective is to bring women to the same level economically, socioeconomically, physically and mentally. But by changing the name to ‘humanism’, the meaning evolves to seeking to bring everyone to the same level, and there are names for other human rights issues (LGBT rights, anti-racism movements, etc) . These causes are afforded the simple right of being able to belong to their fight, without intimidating others. Feminism is not. Because it is not understood.
I could tell you that it’s mere tendency to be misunderstood underlines it’s basic necessity.
That you do not need to intimidated by half of the world’s population being allowed to actively and safely participate in our society and global economy, that being a feminist doesn’t have to mean that you have to forego shaving your armpits and wearing high heels (but that you can if you want to), that it is not an exclusive cause but that as, as a man, you too can be a feminist if you believe in women’s rights. You too can change the fact that a little girl is born into a world where she bases her worth on her looks and objectifies herself because she has learned to believe she IS an object, that you yourself get to define what and who you fight for when you say you are a feminist, and do not automatically need to be associated with first wave feminism.
I could tell you to be grateful for first wave feminism nonetheless and not to demean it now that you are ‘free’, because it is the reason you are able to take a man who rapes you to court, and that feminism is fighting for him to get the sentence he deserves because he might only get 6 months (in a first world country even).
I could tell you that it’s all quite simple. That it all boils down to believing that you as a woman deserve basic human rights, and that other women not in your country or code do too, that it all comes to if you as a man respect women and believe that they deserve the rights that you enjoy.
But you already knew that, didn’t you?