Opinion

A Fight For All: Why Feminism Is Still Necessary In The 21st Century

Bethany Dawson writes about the continued need for feminism in a society in which equality has been achieved in theory, while in reality pressing gender issues are still at stake.

By Bethany Dawson 

In the 21st century, where all women have the right to vote and where 47% of the labour force is made up of women, many people believe the battle for gender equality has been won – but they couldn’t be further from the truth. The aim of this article is to focus on issues such as the sexualisation of young girls, domestic violence against men, the gender pay gap, birth control, and the school playground, to address why feminism is still a useful and necessary lens through which to observe and critique the world.

Many consider feminism a woman’s issue, a fight to be fought by bra burners and placard holders – but many people forget the fact that feminism is a fight to be fought for children who are socialised into a patriarchal society. From a young age, girls are taught to understand that their bodies are not just bodies, but sexual entities which should be hidden away. This can be seen through the abhorrent sexualisation of young girls, who are sent home from school for showing prepubescent knee caps and shoulders.  This sexualisation issue is partly caused by the omnipresence of ideas relayed by mass media and porn, which leads girls as young as nine – who often have not started their first period and have not left primary school – to ask their GP for cosmetic vaginal reconstructive surgery. They wish to alter their bodies from such a young age because they despise their genital appearance, which doesn’t fit unrealistic expectations put forth by the media and wider society (The Independent, 2017). This demonstrates how the objectification of girls is an all too real and undeniable issue, and in a world where actual children are asking for cosmetic vaginal surgery to feel prettier and worthier – we need feminism.

Many reasons offered for the fight for gender equality focuses on the plight of women within a patriarchal system, but what about men? Within a patriarchal society, men are taught that they must be strong and assertive breadwinners. However, this patriarchal definition of masculinity means that the 18% of boys who suffer abuse at the hands of their girlfriends and the 119,000 men who report abuse (Mankind, 2017) are told to put up with it, which effectively makes the situation far worse and far more hazardous for the victims. When men are in abusive relationships, they often have a limited range of options available to them for escape. For example, within the UK, only 11 safe houses exist for male victims, rendering the option to flee troublesome, impractical or even virtually impossible. The feminist battle to dismantle the patriarchal structures within our society and achieve gender equality is not just a female issue, but one for all people of all genders to face up against. In a world where men are trapped by patriarchal definitions of what it means to be a man, we need feminism.

Oftentimes the feminist issue of the pay gap is considered an issue contained within a pre-2010 Equality Act era, as we supposedly live in a time where such quandaries simply do not arise. However, the pay gap is still a prominent issue in 21st century Britain, as demonstrated by the current dispute within the BBC, which emerged when the network’s China Editor Carrie Gracie  stepped down from her position to protest unequal pay. The pay gap should not just be regarded as creating financial inequality, but also as a restriction on female independence. Women who undeservingly earn less than men are not just economically struggling, they are also forced to be dependent on another person, often a man, as their own wage will not support them or their family. In a similar vein, the dependency issue created by the gender pay gap often compels women to become stay-at-home mothers, when some of them would rather be working. In a world where  women’s work is not valued as much as men’s, we need feminism.

In the US, Congress is taking the issue of female reproductive rights into their own unqualified hands, by debating if birth control should be supplied under the Affordable Care Act. The reasoning behind restricting access to contraception would be to ensure that less premarital sexual activity would occur. However, it is almost guaranteed that this would not be the result. In contrast, the true effect of repealing contraception would mean women would lose their cost-free access to smear and HIV tests, meaning that women would face a 60% higher risk of developing cervical cancer (Women’s Health Magazine, 2016) and be at a far greater risk of developing HIV and AIDS. In addition to this, women would have reduced access to prenatal care, meaning a 31% increased risk of premature and low-weight births, and maternal mortality rates could triple. More generally, women would be denied the right to safe sex. Many arguments against repealing the Affordable Care Act reference the numerous dangers to women’s health, an issue which does not seem to concern the administration.  It is important to recognise that one of the greatest superpowers in the world is aiming to limit women’s freedom of choice, in the name of outdated traditional values. In a world where a predominantly elitist government is undermining women’s reproductive rights, we need feminism.

The school playground is a place where secondary socialisation occurs, and – often – this socialisation process teaches girls submissive attitudes which are held dear by the patriarchy. For example, when a little girl gets pushed over or punched by a male classmate, the girl is told that the boy fancies her, and that she ought to accept and even appreciate this attention. Whilst this instance of playground behaviour may seem harmless, it is in fact teaching girls from a young age that boys – and consequently men – display affection through violent and often controlling behaviour, and that girls should welcome these as loving acts. This ‘boys will be boys’ attitude leads women to accept degrading and coercive behaviour from partners, lovers, husbands, and co-workers, thus putting said women into dangerous and vulnerable positions. In a world where girls are taught to submit to the violent behaviour of boys – we need feminism.

The notion that feminism is just a woman’s issue, an issue for angry, man-hating women needs to be abolished. Feminism is a fight for the bruised men and sexualised girls, a fight for women forced into dependency through unfair and discriminatory paychecks, a fight for all. For people of colour, for LGBT+ people and other minorities, feminism is a fight for all. In the world we live in today, where the president of the United States alleges that it is okay to “grab [women] by the pussy”, where Olympic athletes are being sexually assaulted under the pretence of treatment, where rapists are not charged sufficiently simply to ensure that their reputation stays intact – we still need feminism.

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