Responses to two common arguments against feminism
By Atiya Chowdhury
“I’m not a feminist but I believe in equality”
In recent years, it has become somewhat of an edgy trend not to brand yourself as a feminist and to even be against it. The term “feminazi” is notably used to demean and demonise anyone speaking up about feminism and gender inequality. To be a feminist can sometimes feel like wearing a target on your head and distinguishing yourself as different, which has led to more and more people becoming hesitant to calling themselves one.
While the rise of feminism has brought with it many incredible feats, within the last few decades a sense of shame and stigma towards calling yourself a feminist has emerged alongside it. Nowadays, it is quite common to find people wanting equality but not associating themselves with the likes of a feminist.
But this opposition to feminism stems from either a wilful or accidental misunderstanding of what feminism actually is. Merriam-Webster provides two definitions for the word ‘feminism’; the first is ‘the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes’ and the second is the ‘organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests’. Both definitions suggest that feminism is built on the foundations of wanting gender equality with a focus on advocating for equal rights for women. This brings to question the paradox of the initial statement: “I’m not a feminist but I believe in equality.” Both are connected by their core fundamentals, so if you are one how could you not be the other?
“We have equality so why do we need feminists?”
In the Western world, many believe that equality has already been achieved which has resulted in the belief that feminism is not as vital as it was in the 20th century when women were still not allowed to vote. However, while our reality may not be that of a 1950s housewife who was not supposed to be seen or heard unless it was to tend to the children, that doesn’t mean the same for all women.
Around the world, more than 12 million girls are married before they are 18. In the developing world one in nine girls are married before they are 15 in order to prevent them from receiving an education and later gaining financial independence.
The fact that we can vote also doesn’t mean being a woman in the world is any easier. In the UK, one in five women is likely to have experienced sexual harassment, with women being five times more likely to experience it than men. Harvey Weinstein, who ruled the film industry with his connections and power, spent decades sexually assaulting women until allegations finally surfaced in 2017. Survivors deciding to speak out – after having kept silent for years in fear of losing their job and damaging their reputation – ushered in the MeToo era of reckoning we live in right now. Feminism has therefore allowed a conversation to take place regarding these injustices and mistreatment of women, which in turn has resulted in the prosecution of people like Harvey Weinstein.
Whether it is as personal as the tampon tax and the stigma around periods or as serious as the banning of abortion and birth control, feminism is what allows these topics to be engaged with. While it may seem like we have achieved equality, the reality is that just because we might not see women being oppressed on a day-to-day basis, it does not mean it does not happen. It just means it is being done more covertly, more insidiously.
So why call yourself a feminist?
Contrary to what some try to advocate, feminism is meant to be confrontational, because otherwise the same problems will be swept under the rug as they previously have been. It is supposed to be uncomfortable because the norms which had been in place to disadvantage women are now being challenged. While this has led some people to imagine feminists as bra-burning misandrists, truly the essence of being a feminist is being passionate about equality for all genders.
So if you have been reading this article and have identified the following symptom in yourself: a belief that all genders should be equal, then I am happy to diagnose you as a feminist.