As I’ve got older I’ve started thinking a lot about what it means to be a woman, what it’s like compared to 100, even 50 years ago and whether ‘equality’ as envisioned has been reached.
The more I think about it the more confused I feel about our world. Young women as they grow up, whether that be in western countries or not, whether they be rich or poor, all go through something that many men do not understand, that we ourselves do not understand for many years and perhaps never wholly do.
From my own experience I worry the terms ‘feminism’ and ‘gender equality’ are being thrown around without much thought to how important they really are, how crucial it is for us to get it right.
It saddens me that many in my own family, men and women alike, claim that we have reached equality or that feminism has done us no good, only making our lives harder. And whilst I agree to some extent, I think these attitudes are all too common and are damaging advancement.
When I say I agree with those statement, I agree with them in context, meaning that indeed we have furthered equality since the 60s and 70s when members of my family think back to. It is hard to argue we have come nowhere in the last 40/50 years.
Equally some feminism has harmed society. There is ongoing debate about working mothers, to breastfeed or not to breastfeed. I have heard many a time ‘Pankhurst didn’t fight for women to stay at home with the kids, cooking and cleaning for her husband.’ But in each argument they miss the crucial phrase ‘unless they want to.’ Feminists fought for women to have the right to choose, not to be dictated to.
Feminism now discusses a lot around men and their right to choose, about over masculinisation and gender constraints.
A funny argument I had with three men in my family regarded one particular movement that is encouraging men that it’s okay to cry. Two claimed it is merely aggressive feminisation whilst only one understood that it’s not about forcing men to start crying but rather, that it is okay to, that it does not make you less of a man, as, shockingly, this is still seen as taboo by many. This one in three presents exactly why we have a problem.
One of those same two men also claimed that harassment of women no longer exists, but more worrisome was that the one that found the sense before claimed that street harassment such as wolf whistling was complimentary. I find it baffling and saddening that two men with daughters do not see the issue of this.
What saddens me more is that they are not alone.
We live in a world where at the age of 16 a male teacher made me change my clothes on a school trip because my appearance was ‘distracting’. When asked what he meant he explained my boobs were too visible (I was wearing a crew neck shirt). Why was a 30 year old teacher distracted by his barely legal student?
We live in a world where, when a boy forcefully tried to grab my breasts, a passing man winked and said ‘women – say no, mean yes.’ rather than try to help me. We live in a world where many women are afraid to walk home alone at night, where we check the back seat of our cars before getting in when it’s dark, where we can’t set a drink down without keeping an eye on it. A world where men are often oblivious to these things that are second-nature to us.
We live in a world where rape is still the fault of the victim, where many would rather stay silent than face the comments, the questions, the looks. We live in a world where rape is the topic of discussion, as though it is up for it.
We live in a world where a lot of a woman’s value is still placed on her makeup and clothing. And yet, in this world, we still hear arguments that we have reached equality, that feminism is unnecessary, that these things do not harm our societies.
As a woman who has lived through comments of being ‘one of the lads’ because I like gaming and playing rough, where I was branded a ‘tom boy’ because I liked sports over barbie, and where the amount of sexual harassment I have been subjected to since I was a child damaged my self-esteem and my mental stability, I can safely say we are a long way off. This is not a world in which equality has been reached and it is not a world in which we are safe to be individuals rather than genders, races, or sexual orientations. And I think it’s well past time that changed.