“Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a ‘bitch’ or ‘dyke’; it means you believe in equality.” – Kate Nash, musician, and activist
The dreaded F word.
The F word that makes people uncomfortable.
Before beginning, let me tell you a story.
I was raised in a largely conservative, orthodox family. But my parents gave me the freedom to voice my opinions. I wasn’t told I was too young for this or for that. I had some understanding of feminism when I was young. I don’t know what feminism meant, but I was sure it was about treating boys and girls equally.
Fast forward to my adolescence, I noticed that boys and girls weren’t equally treated at school or most of the places I went to. For instance, boys were asked to play volleyball, kho kho, cricket, and other games, whereas girls were asked to play badminton, ring ball, chess, etc. Naturally, boys played volleyball and kho kho more frequently than girls did. Girls were chided as tomboys if they attempted to do something a boy usually does.
I was baffled. Why is this discrimination occurring when girls should be treated on par with boys?
When I asked this question to my mom, she spoke about gender discrimination, equality, and feminism. That was the first time I heard it. She said,
“Gayathri, feminism isn’t about upholding a woman and ill-treating a man. It is not about being favourable to one sex or prejudiced against the other. It is about seeking equal rights and equal participation. Feminism is simply the reiteration of the thought that everyone is equal and should have equal access to everything that this world offers. But this society never allows a woman to enjoy the benefits a man takes for granted.”
I learned this when I was 16. Feminism struck a chord with me.
I became a feminist. At least, I loved myself to be called that way.
Growing up, I saw people becoming uncomfortable when discussing gender equality or feminism. They didn’t want to be a part of a conversation that made them feel awkward.
If feminism is that simple, why did it become the dirty word people refuse to use? Because people haven’t clearly understood what feminism is. Without understanding, we cannot expect everyone to appreciate and embrace feminism.
So, in this article, I will first provide my understanding of feminism, which will be followed by why I think it is essential to embrace feminism right now.
How do I define feminism?
Even though feminism is touted as a universal concept, it has even broader connotations. For instance, Merriam-Webster defines feminism as the belief that should have access to equal rights and opportunities.
I consider ‘feminism’ a much broader term that can take on various meanings based on the context in which it is used.
For example, feminism is not simply a sociocultural movement that proactively advocates for the upliftment and well-being of women. Feminism is a dynamic movement focusing on topics like equal pay, reproductive rights, sexual discrimination and violence, LGBTQ+ rights, etc.
Feminism isn’t a reiteration of the slogan ‘both men and women are equal.’
Feminism, at its core, is firmly based on the belief that all persons, irrespective of caste, creed, color, or ethnicity, should have equal access to all opportunities, should enjoy equal rights, and should have similar benefits.
But what about the other pressing issues our society oppresses? Feminists and pro-feminist activists also speak about those, which is why the #metoo and Time’s Up movements gained momentum. Feminism is a movement that has been around for centuries. It is just that we took a lot of time to recognize it.
The F word: Why We Need to Embrace Feminism Now More Than Ever
So, that leaves us with the next question: why do we need feminism now more than ever?
I agree that the #metoo movement has shed light on sexual perversion, abuse, violence, and discrimination. The Harvey Weinstein scandal and the rage that occurred because of the then New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s statements are fine examples to show that considerable progress has been made in the fight against gender inequality and sexual discrimination.
But the saddest part is that some incidences show many women still espouse feminism as embodying a self-improvement project. For instance, many wouldn’t have forgotten about actress Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair controversy and the reply she gave. Likewise, American singer-songwriter Lana del Ray in an interview with Fader said,
“My idea of a true feminist is a woman who feels free enough to do whatever she wants.”
She seemed to fit in with her definition of feminism. It becomes bothersome when many talented women still are ignorant of what feminism means and what the feminist movements are trying to achieve. Therefore, it is essential to understand what feminism truly advocates and why we should embrace and appreciate it more than ever.
The Gender Pay gap
This issue is something the feminist movements are trying to narrow. Despite the immense efforts to close the gender pay gap, women still earn less than men in many industries worldwide. For instance, a survey conducted by the US government accountability office presents the following points.
- Women earn just 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man
- With Latina women, it is about 60 cents
- With Black women, it is about 65 cents
The gap widens with women of color and Latina women for every dollar white, non-Hispanic men earn. This sad state hasn’t budged even after women become more academically qualified than men. Such disparities in gender pay affect women throughout their careers, eventually leading to lower lifetime earnings, reduced retirement savings, and increased expenditure rates. Despite putting in the same amount of hard work and dedication, this situation exists. Closing the pay gap is not simply a matter of fairness and equality. It also makes a nation’s economy much more robust. For instance, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, closing the gender pay gap could add around $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025.
Sexual assault and harassment
For women, sexual harassment and assault remain the key worrying factors for schools, universities, workplaces, and other public domains. The #metoo movement, which started in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, illuminated the pervasive nature of sexual harassment. The scandal exposed many vexatious situations faced by women, sparking a global rage. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center in 2018, around 61% of women and 51% of men experienced sexual harassment. More so, the research states that people who have experienced sexual harassment are more likely to believe that men getting away with such behavior is a significant issue. Sexual assault and harassment violate women’s rights and provide severe physical, mental, and psychological consequences for the victims.
I want to term reproductive rights as a fundamental human right. Ensuring a woman has sustained access to an excellent reproductive healthcare facility should be provided. Sadly, in many parts of the world, women still face barriers to accessing the necessary facilities. Notably, the attack on reproductive rights has taken a significant shift in the United States, with some states implementing restrictive abortion laws and others taking a lenient position. The Supreme Court’s verdict on the Roe v. Wade case has left many Americans in the lurch to decide about accessing abortion services. These sorts of restrictions disproportionately affect women of color, low-income women, and women living in rural areas, who might not have access to a healthcare facility. I believe that ensuring a woman’s reproductive rights is necessary to ensure her well-being, happiness, and economic independence. Therefore, all the women in the world must fight to protect, facilitate and nurture reproductive healthcare for all women.
Inequality in Political Representation
Women are underrepresented politically across the world. We know that. Let us look at some facts.
- In the United States, women make up only 24% of the Senate and 27% of the House of Representatives.
- Women fill only 36% of the parliamentary seats in Latin America, whereas 32% of the parliamentarians in Europe are women.
- At the current rate of progress, gender parity in legislative bodies will not be achieved till 2063.
Aren’t these statistics mind-boggling? This scarcity of representation not only continues gender disparities in decision-making but also constrains the viewpoints and encounters that shape policy decisions. Without women’s voices in politics, their needs and considerations are usually disregarded, resulting in policies that don’t account for the full range of matters related to women’s lives. It is essential to have more women in political leadership roles to create fairer policies and promote equality between the genders throughout society.
To sum up, feminism is of greater relevance today than ever before. Women still face tremendous challenges to gain parity in all facets of life, including the gender pay gap, sexual maltreatment and violation, reproductive liberties, gender-based violence, and political disparity. Despite the progress that has been achieved, we must persist in our quest for gender equality through teaching, policy alterations, and societal norm modifications. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie declared, “We should all be feminists” since the fight for gender equality isn’t only about women but making a more just and equal world for everyone.
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