‘Is feminism still relevant?’. That’s a question I get asked a lot by my male friends. They say, ‘Women have equality now! There’s nothing a woman can’t do in the world, so it’s pointless that feminism still exists’. Some even say that the movement of ‘feminism’ is a misnomer, as it implies that women are the only ones in need of emancipation. Some other name implying universal gender equality should be found. There are areas that men need to be equal in too. After all, sexism is a thing for the past. It doesn’t exist anymore.
Apparently, like the man who insulted me after I told him that I have experienced sexism thought, I am just a paranoid girl obsessed with the idea of patriarchy. I hate to break it to you fellers, but sexism is back with a vengeance. It’s like some cheesy Hollywood action sequel, where the figure of sexism lumbers from the grave, to wreak havoc once more. Only it never went. It never left society. It’s only gotten less pronounced and more vindictive.
There are good reason why feminism is called feminism, why the word is female centric. For thousands of years, women have been stigmatised and marginalised simply because a quirk of genetics kept them female in embryo. As a gender, we have been thought to be emotionally, physically and mentally deficient in comparison to men. Women were the weaker vessel, an imperfect man and naturally lustful, deceitful and dumb. Western culture is dominated by negative female archetypes; the seductress Cleopatra, the sorceress Morganna, the deceitful Delilah, and most of all Eve, the woman who caused humanity to be cast out of paradise. You may sigh and roll your eyes at this and say, ‘well, no one thinks like this anymore!’ and castigate me as some loony feminazi. My point is that these were beliefs, ideas, and medical opinions that were thought of as fact for thousands of years. English culture was built around these ideas, and it is a cultural legacy that is not solved or removed just because of some equal rights laws. That’s the trouble with ideas – they never fully die. Forty years of women’s liberation does not automatically erase all traces of misogynist ideas about women.
As a young woman, I am routinely objectified. I live with sexism daily and mostly, I put up and shut up because that’s how society wants me to be. After all, if I start spouting off about feminism, then I’m just a man-hater with unresolved issues. I must field inquiries about my sexuality with good humour, otherwise I’m just a non-sexy lesbian with an attitude. I’m made to feel ashamed about menstruation, because of residing taboos about it. The word ‘vagina’ is bleeped out on television before the watershed, whereas ‘penis’ or talking about breasts is fine. If I weak make-up, I’m only looking for one thing and should be more natural. If I do look natural, then I’m not making an effort and I’m not fit to be in public. Being assertive means I’m just a bitch. All the negative words for being sexual are aimed at women. I’m a slut if I say ‘yes’ to sex, ‘friend zone’ attacks my right to say no, and ‘bitch’ takes away my right to call you out on it.
I’m not that bitter about it, I swear. This is the life I’ve had to live since men first decided they had a right to grope me on the basis I possessed ovaries. The only thing I really dislike is the abject terror I get whenever I walk alone at night; not because I have some misguided belief that all men are rapists, but that I live in a country where it’s very unlikely I could secure a conviction if I was attacked. We live in a society where the most ridiculous of defences are accepted quite happily: ‘she was clearly asking for it, wearing those clothes’, ‘she was okay with it, before she said no’, or worst of all, ‘she was drunk so it doesn’t count’. I was told by an ex-boyfriend that there’s no need for consent if a girl’s drunk and needless to say, I was appalled. I was appalled that this was an acceptable thing to say and appalled that society had trained him to think like this.
Feminism is about gender equality. And in a world where women having chubby legs makes national headlines or it’s okay to publicly blame a victim of rape in a newspaper and fire those who call you out on it, it’s not only women who are suffering here. Men, is this how you want to be seen? When sexism works its bitter magic on the media, men are made to look like fools who cannot control themselves. Every time a rapist alleges that he couldn’t control himself because a woman was gagging for it, it makes your gender look as if they have no desire or ability to control any part of their being. The media makes men look like hateful, sex-obsessed slobs who are unable to face responsibility and permanently retain mentality of a selfish child. It’s as one-dimensional a image as the bland homemaker with double Ds, and it’s certainly not a viewpoint I’d ever subscribe to.
Is this a world that you really want to live in? A world where men apparently can’t be trusted to think and that women are judged as either saints or sluts? Do you want these attitudes to be the legacy our generation leaves behind? I don’t want to live to see my daughters suffer the same pains I have had to suffer. I don’t want to live to see my sons think that they don’t need to take responsibility for their actions. Together, as individuals, we can hope to change attitudes around us. As a society, we can work together and make real changes in the damaging perceptions the media can create. It’s not a battle of the sexes, it’s a fight for both to be seen as intellectually valid as the other.