Feminism 101

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I was recently told not to be “too feminist.” The advice was kindly meant, a warning that some fear what feminism means. Yet, I continue to think about that comment. What might it mean to be too feminist? I am a feminist. I believe in the equality of the sexes. It represents generations of women before us all around the world who fought and are currently fighting for suffrage, equal rights, equal pay. Feminism simply means women’s rights on the grounds of gender equality. That’s it. No female superiority, just equality. We have to know that gender equality should be a must, not a maybe, not a sometimes, not a hope.

 

“What is Feminism?”  People ask me. I reply ‘feminism is about equality of the sexes.’ ‘So why not another term like “equalism” or “humanism” they ask again.

I’ve found people making this argument generally come from believing that work needs to be done for women’s equality but see it as part of a broader movement and might have a reluctance to call themselves feminists due to negative stigma (aka the “I’m not a feminist…but” crowd).

To be considered a feminist, you only need to be on board with one idea: All humans, male and female, should have equal political, economic, and social rights. Without naming the issue of women’s inequality, without analysis of and action on the systemic power structures that generally privilege men over women in our society, there’s the possibility that it might get de-prioritized. You know why I call it feminism instead of equality? Because it’s the feminine traits that men and women are shamed for. It is the feminine traits that society needs to accept.

We feminists believe that our society’s gender inequality requires a specific lens.  Because women are generally marginalized compared to men, they need narrative space for themselves and allies to discuss women’s issues and experiences.

But being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t be an “equalist” too or that you can’t focus on other forms of discrimination. And if you’re using the term “humanist” to mean believing in human rights and equality, you might just want to make sure people understand what you mean. You can be both a humanist and a feminist like I’d define myself, but one doesn’t really substitute for the other.

‘Why do we still need feminism?’ People ask, ‘Because things are better for women these days, those gender issues do not exist anymore. Look at you and your friends; you have a degree you have a job, you have opportunities to do whatever you want. Things are looking good for you guys. Why complain?’ Well, this is my response.

Do you know why we still need feminism?

We need feminism because 59% of girls in Ethiopia aged 15 and over are illiterate. According to EDHS 2011, among women age 25-49, 63% are married by age 18, and 77 percent are married by age 20. We need feminism because 71% of women reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime and 74% of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years have undergone Female Genital Mutilation. We need feminism because when women are assaulted, they are often the ones who feel ashamed, violence against women is significantly under-reported, under-prosecuted and horribly stigmatized against victims. We teach women how to prevent rape, instead of teaching people to not view women as objects. We need feminism because women are told that walking alone at night makes them “an easy target.” We still need feminism because FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), the act of cutting off and re-stitching female genitals to prevent pleasurable sex — and can happen to girls as young as five months old — is still practiced in 29 countries, Ethiopia being one. We still need feminism because our cultural and professional expectations of the child-rearing need to change and that this would be a net win for everyone. An equal parenting would help keep families together in some cases, give better male role models, improve career opportunities for women, give men a better work/life balance, and so on. We need feminism because that remarks and catcalls which might be described as jokes or compliments by some have a significant impact on the lives of women who must put up with them day in and day out. It’s hard for those who don’t experience this to really appreciate the impact – so I think it’s best to believe the reports of those who do. Just because we are not aware of issues most girls and women go through doesn’t mean those issues do not exist, they exist, and they need to be solved, and feminism is all about addressing those issues.

If being a feminist, taught me anything, it’s to base my self-worth on my ability to hold a conversation, my willingness to ask hard questions of myself, of my peers, and my awareness of

Current issues regarding women all around the world, to stand up for others, which is a very simple concept. It’s essentially “love thy neighbor as yourself.”  Feminism encouraged me to use my voice and my privilege to stand in solidarity with those who cannot. We can come together and advocate for those in need of help.  I’ve learned that the more I use my voice, the more there can be done to fix the injustices of the world.

 

I will conclude this by a quote from Australian feminist scholar and writer Dale spender.

 

‘Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no opponents. It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practiced no cruelties. Its battles have been for education, for better working conditions, for safety on the streets, for child care, for social welfare, for rape crisis centers, women’s refuges, reforms in the law. If someone says, ‘Oh, I’m not a feminist,’ I ask ‘Why? What’s your problem?’

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