Before anything else; a definition.
Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.
Watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s whole TED talk, it’s fantastic.
That’s it. The entire thing. That’s all it means. Not so scary eh? A common misconception about feminists is that we are all “man hating” and that feminists want to oppress men in some way. Feminism is just trying to redress the balance of power that has been so demonstrably skewed for hundreds of years. After all, supporting gay rights does not mean that you wish to disadvantage the heterosexual community and by the same token, supporting the advancement of women’s rights does not mean that you wish to disenfranchise the menfolk.
But what’s that I hear you cry? Sexism doesn’t exist any more! There are laws against it now! There have been for years. What on Earth could you still have to complain about?
Well, we still only have 29% of MPs in the UK being female (support the 50:50 Parliament campaign here); the pay gap is still 19.1% (as per the Fawcett Society, which is pretty bloody woeful; the EU average is 16.4% and in Slovenia it is a mere 3.2%) and we still have Nobel Prize winning scientists like Tim Hunt openly espousing incredibly sexist views.
A couple of blatant examples from my own life:
– aged 21, working in a University administrative role with three other male colleagues at the same level of seniority. I’d been in the job longer than my colleagues and was demonstrably more knowledgeable. My boss assigned me photocopying, typing and tea making tasks whilst giving my male colleagues tasks that were actually part of our job role (that he was happy for me to do prior to them being employed, while we were short staffed, of course). My boss also asked “Why didn’t I wear heels to work?”. I was also paid less than they were (I found this out at a later date otherwise I would have gone on the rampage).
– aged 22, still with the same employer, I was in a relationship with someone else on my team. Everything was above board and my boss knew about it. The week after I told my boss about the relationship he asked me in my annual appraisal if and when I would be having children with my new boyfriend and what my plans would be at that point “obviously you’ll give up work”. None of these questions were asked of my boyfriend in his appraisal immediately afterwards.
I could go on all day with my personal experiences, both large and small. Friends of mine have lost their jobs when they’ve become pregnant. A truly horrifying number of people I know have been sexually assaulted or raped (often by people they know). Domestic abuse is still prevalent and services to help the victims and rehabilitate the perpetrators are being continually cut. All huge topics; all possible future posts methinks.
There is also the constant drip of tiny everyday micro aggressions; the sort of things recorded in the Everyday Sexism Project (if you aren’t already aware of this, check it out immediately; Laura Bates’ accompanying book resonated with me so deeply – I recognised so many unconscious things from my youth that affect my thinking even now and the messages we are constantly bombarded with).
The fact that so many people can be so vehemently, violently, vitriolically opposed to granting women equal status as human beings (because that’s all we are after, we just want to be recognised as fully human) is quite frightening. That when women politely ask to be treated equally they are greeted with a torrent of abuse, rape and death threats is pretty telling about how some people feel about the status quo (spoiler alert: it suits them quite well, thank you very much). This was nicely articulated by Helen Lewis “The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism”. No where do you want to stray below the line less than an article about feminism; truly, here be dragons. No, not dragons, dragons are cool. Here be some of the terrifyingly fucking creepy shit that lives in the really deep sea. Stuff that frightens angler fish (as you’ll see from the link, male angler fish get a pretty raw deal).