My brother just watched me write that title, and then shook his head. “You’re such a feminist”.
I turned to him. “Do you think women should have the same chance as men to succeed?”
“Do you think that a woman should not have to choose between personal success and having kids? Do you think that women should be able to live their lives without fearing sexual assault, and not be blamed or ridiculed if they are sexually assaulted?”
“Well yeah, of course”.
“Then you’re a feminist too”.
Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. That definition comes from bell hooks, an American author, feminist and social activist. The definition she gives is simple and precise. It’s about sexism. It isn’t about hating men – or women, for that matter, who can also be perpetrators of sexism.
So why are many of the people who believe in these very goals so scared of feminism? I’ve often heard from other people, “I’m not a feminist but I support equal pay”. “I’m not a feminist but I believe in equal opportunity.” The thing is, the second halves of both these statements are in line with feminist beliefs. Why are people so afraid to call themselves feminists when clearly the goals of feminism can lead to a better life for themselves and their loved ones? Are they afraid of the stereotypes that come with the description? That they will no longer be attractive to the gender of their desire? That identifying as a feminist will affect their masculinity or femininity.
Those who are brave enough – because at this point, it does take courage – to declare themselves feminists are mostly met with awkward silence, aggression, or general discomfort. It’s not anyone’s fault. For most people, knowledge of feminism comes third-hand. The problem is that we’ve been raised to equate feminism with being anti-men, anti-nature, and in search of superiority over males. “They” are seen as cold-hearted, bitchy, humorless, bra-burning, loud, and un-feminine. A quick peruse through some forums responding to the question “why do people hate feminism” proves this.
The view of feminism that prevails today is often one that has been handed down through the generations. It’s true that feminism began out of anger towards males – how could it not, when the males in power back then perpetrated blatant injustice involving whether women were even people. However, as time has gone on, the movement has realized that women can also be perpetrators of sexism, and feminism has reshaped itself towards creating gender justice.
After all these negative stereotypes, it’s not surprising that the media and many of the general public are pleased to proclaim that feminism is on the decline. Time magazine even ran a cover story in 1998 asking “Is Feminism Dead?” (the articles inside answered yes). Even though that story is over ten years old, the sentiments remain today. But to say that feminism is declining is to say that there is no longer a need to fight for inequality between men and women. This is incorrect – even the fact that we’re so afraid of feminism shows that there is work to be done in terms of gender equality.
If you believe that women and men have equal rights, think about this…
- Imagine if men in politics were vastly outnumbered by women, rather than the other way around. Weird, huh?
- Canada’s child-care programs fall short of commitments and need, meaning that more parents – mostly moms – are forced to stay at home rather than work. For many mothers, having kids means forgetting about career dreams.
- Like all of my female friends, I usually can’t walk home at night without being made to feel unsafe and uncomfortable by leering groups of guys – no matter what I’m wearing.
- Sexual assault remains a huge problem, with victim blaming rampant and perpetrators often getting away with it.
- According to Statistics Canada, women are more likely than men to be the victims of the most severe forms of spousal assault, as well as spousal homicide, sexual assault and criminal harassment (stalking).
- The Human Resources and Skills Development Canada website contains information about ensuring pay equity – equal pay for women and men doing work of equal value in the same establishment. If there were already pay equity, these kinds of websites wouldn’t be necessary. This inequity begins early – a recent survey discovered that newly graduated women MBAs make an average of $4,600 less at their first jobs than their male counterparts. And the split only widens as careers advance.
…and those are just a few Canadian examples.
Feminism isn’t perfect – there are issues involving race and class that have fractured the movement. But fear of feminism isn’t going to help deal with these issues. By increasing awareness of what feminism can be, we can help to reclaim the word as something positive for everyone.
There are many different kinds of feminism, and there really is something for every person – whether you are the hands-on kind who wants to get out and be heard, the kind who chooses to support politicians who have a strong women’s rights platform, or the kind who just wants to learn more about feminism by reading some blogs. As bell hooks says in her excellent book, Feminism is for Everybody, “Come closer. See how feminism can touch and change your life and all our lives. Come closer and know firsthand what feminist movement is all about. Come closer and you will see: feminism is for everybody”.
*Note: I have focused above on feminism in Canada in particular. I haven’t even ventured into the extremely important, multi-faceted dimensions of feminism that involve race, religion, class, politics (this will involve a whole other article), and I don’t claim to speak for anyone.