8 March 2014

Why I am a Feminist

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Today is International Women's Day, a day of recognition of the strength and achievements of women around the world. Its first recognised celebration dates back to 1908, and since then it has gained increasing amounts of recognition the world over, even being dubbed an official holiday in some countries. As well as a celebration of the progress of women, IWD also serves as a reminder of all the issues that still sadly affect women's lives and prevent equality.
I thought I would use this International Women's Day as an opportunity to write a post that's been on my mind since I started blogging and explain why I am a feminist and why feminism is important to me.
Claims of being a feminist are often met with rolled eyes, sighs and exclamations of 'But why do you hate men?!' or 'So does that mean you don't shave?' (These have all happened to me) Many people are under the impression that men and women are equal now and feminism is pointless. While it is true that things have definitely improved since the early days of women's rights activism, sadly there is a very long way to go before anything nearing equality can be achieved. I've also heard plenty of women claim that they believe men and women should be treated equally but they don't believe in feminism, which doesn't make sense to me in the slightest.
I think feminism is misunderstood and negatively perceived when it's really actually quite crucial. So here are a few reasons to sum up some of the issues women still face and that have convinced me that feminism is still necessary.

There will be some discussion of rape and violence against women in this post, so please be aware if these issues may trigger you.

  • Sexual Violence
    This is probably one of the issues that confirmed my feminist leanings and it's still one of the issues I'm most passionate about. I even wrote my Masters thesis on how issues of victim blaming affect the quality of justice for rape victims (spoiler; it affects it really badly!)
    A quarter of women in the UK have been victims of rape or attempted rape and 1 in 3 women worldwide have been a victim of some form of sexual assault. The prevalence of sexual crimes against women is overwhelming and yet hardly any perpetrators are ever imprisoned. Women are also routinely blamed for being sexually assaulted at all stages of the criminal justice system, something which is truly disgusting as it dissuades women from reporting their assaults and seeking help.
    Women are frequently told not to wear revealing clothes, not to get drunk and not to go out alone at night; not only is this ridiculous and completely dismissive of the fact that it's rapists that cause rape and nobody else, it ignores the reality of sexual assaults in that most are carried out by someone known to the victim.
    And if I hear the 'but most rape allegations are made up!' argument one more time, I will probably kill the person who said it. It's so staggeringly wrong that I don't even know where to begin.
  • Pay Inequality
    I wrote about this before but it definitely bears repeating. Women are paid on average £5000 a year less than men for the same work. Women working full time earn 17% less than men doing the same job, and this wage gap increases for ethnic minority women. Women also shoulder the brunt of childcare and household chores for which they are unpaid, and their choice to have children and leave work to care for them is often met with punishment in being paid less and being passed over for promotion.
  • Domestic Violence
    A quarter of women are victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives and every week 2 women in the UK are murdered by their current or former partner. Despite the widespread nature of violence against women, austerity measures have meant that women's refuge shelters have had their government funding cut and are finding it increasingly difficult to help those in need.
    Domestic violence is rightly condemned, but often the attitudes of some do not match up to majority opinion. Reeva Steenkamp was killed by her partner Oscar Pistorious, who is currently standing trial for causing her death. Paddy Power thought it would be appropriate to encourage people to bet on the outcome of the trial, wholly disregarding the fact that a young woman is dead at the hands of her partner, whether accidental or not. This highlights the often nonchalant attitude towards an issue that affects thousands of women all across the world.
  • The Media
    You only have to turn to page 3 of The Sun to see inequality alive and well. Women are presented half naked every day, while men are portrayed as strong and competent. This isn't even a question of choice; the fact is that it presents women as objects to be ogled, not people capable of proper thoughts and actions.
    Women are constantly judged in the media for literally anything. From looks to lifestyle, nothing is out of bounds. I took a bullet for all of you and went onto the self-esteem sapping Daily Mail website. I didn't have to look for long to see women reduced to singular parts, with most headlines screeching about someone's 'long legs', 'curves' or 'baby bump'. Surprise, surprise, there were hardly any articles on male celebrities at all but those that did exist generally covered their actual lives, not their bodies.
    Advertising is also astonishingly sexist, and it's not just the Mad Men era that had gross adverts; they're still prevalent today. Just take a look at these.
  • Constant Vigilance
    How many times have you been honked at in the street? Has a man ever stopped you in the centre of town just to tell you you should smile? Have you ever been groped by a stranger on a night out? All these things and more have happened to me, and they have never happened to my male friends. Women live in a state of constant vigilance, where they are always on the lookout for what might happen to them. I often walk with my keys tucked between my fingers if I'm out alone at night, I sometimes feel nervous if I walk past a group of men on my own and I make sure I sit near other people on public transport in case I need help. And I hate it. I hate that I have to think about these things and that my safety might be at risk if I don't.
    These things come with the territory of being a woman in a world that is perpetually unequal and many men have absolutely zero idea about the self-preservation tactics many women routinely employ.
These are just a few areas of inequality that currently exist. I haven't even touched on reproductive rights, forced marriages or pornography, among many, many other issues I could have mentioned, but this post would have rivaled War and Peace if I tried to cover any more.
If you're still not sure whether you're a feminist or not, although I'm not sure how you can't be, there's a handy test to find out. If what I've said here has piqued your interest, I'd recommend exploring some feminist literature. One of the best introductory texts I read was He's a Stud, She's a Slut, which explores double standards in many areas but isn't intimidating and is actually quite funny. I also recommend Full Frontal Feminism, although it does take a more American approach, and The Equality Illusion, which I reviewed here.
I truly wish I wasn't a feminist. I wish I didn't have to be, that I and every other woman the world over was automatically treated equally and able to live a life free of harassment and sexual violence.
I wish I wasn't a feminist, but until the world becomes safe and equal for me and every other woman, I am proud to be one.

Are you a feminist? What do you think of the issues that women are faced with every day? Are you doing anything to celebrate International Women's Day?

2 comments:

  1. Great post Rebekah! These are really good points and I totally agree with everything that you've said.
    Hayley
    Water Painted Dreams xxx

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  2. I've only just caught this- my lack of computer means I'm behind on all my favourite blogs at the minute- but it's excellent! People always like to try and discredit feminism by acting like its all about feelings and not evidence, and you've comprehensively dismantled that argument! xxx

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