Feminism 101: What it is and why we need it today

Hello painters! This week I chose to talk about a topic that is very important to me – and that is feminism.

This is a very controversial topic, and it has been so ever since it was brought up in the first place. Many people think feminism is about hating men and discriminating or alienating them and about submitting them to the will of women. So I feel like there’s a lot of misinformation about what feminism is and what it stands for – and who better to clear it up than a white, lower middle class, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied woman? Well, probably a lot of other people, but since feminism is all about inclusion and support, extremists probably won’t show up around here telling me to shut up (contrary to popular belief!).

So what really is feminism?

Definition of feminism in English:

noun

[MASS NOUN]

The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.

You heard it from Oxford Dictionaries and no other, people! So, you see, it’s not really about power or dominance – it’s about equality. Whereas patriarchy (“a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it”) is about men holding all the resources and owning women (through marriage, for example), feminism is about thinking critically about our society to find the ways in which it still gives more power to men, and then changing them.
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If it’s about equality, why is it called “feminism”?

This is a popular question nowadays, specially because our society isn’t as blatantly and openly sexist as it used to be. But just because it’s not forward and honest, it doesn’t mean sexism and misogyny are things of the past – not at all! More than women being discriminated over men (which does still happen, sorry to burst your bubble), feminine qualities, activities or traits are still very undermined in comparison to their masculine counterparts (think of phrases like “run like a girl” vs. “run like a man”).

And that is why we still need the fem– in feminism, because it’s still about leveling the play field for women and, most of all, liberating femininity from its sexist stigma, so that anyone who feels feminine, in the slightest way, can safely express that part of themselves (talking about everyone, from trans women to cisgender women, from boys who like to play with dolls to men who want to be stay-at-home dads).

Should I call myself a feminist?


Well, I have to say I don’t see it as clear-cut as this – after all feminism is a movement, and you should feel like you identify and belong to that movement before taking up its name.
Also, who cares about labels, right? At the end of the day, it’s about whether or not you care about equality and are willing to change and think critically about your prejudices, actions and thoughts in order to help that change happen. Having the movement to support you through it is helpful, in my experience, but it’s cool if you don’t want it.
But you shouldn’t say “oh, I’m not a feminist” as if that’s a really bad word that describes a bunch of crazy people, because…
Feminists are people who believe in equality. Really, that’s it!

History of women’s rights


All this talk about feminism and we still haven’t covered how it first came to be! I have to say I don’t know the timeline of legal rights and such by heart (not even close, so I’m going to link you to a wikipedia article, where you can find out more!), I just know generally how the movement has appeared and evolved.

The first thing I want you to know about this, despite my somewhat imprecise knowledge, is that women have been seen and treated as property throughout most of human history. We were seen as valuable only because we could bare children and were passed down from father to husband, unable to have any ownership of our lives or bodies.

“A ‘scolds bridle’ used to silence wives and legal up to the 19th century.”

Virginity itself is only a thing because men needed to be sure that the children their wives were carrying were theirs and no one else’s, so that their heirs were legitimate (and never mind the girls: the male heirs, particularly the eldest one, were who would be getting all the riches; women had to be either married off or become nuns in order to have a claim to any sort of assets, household or even food).

Women have been forced into marriages for ages and kept off of any possible businesses, professions or political attachments. There was even a theory, the “vital strength” theory, that said girls shouldn’t be able to study or learn anything outside of the household, because their vital strength should be spared so that their reproductive organs formed healthily and they were able to have children. And so the boys had a right to go to school and even get higher degrees, while women could only learn arts and crafts that were light and feminine enough for them.

Sounds unfair? Well, it sure did to suffragette’s, once they started realizing that the French Revolution’s principles (Freedom, Equality and Fraternity) were only meant for men – and not women, since they weren’t actually considered citizens or, you know, “first class” women beings. The movement for equal rights mostly kicked off in the 19th century, with the fight for the right to vote – and that is usually what people know as the “first wave of feminism”.

A lot of rights have been conquered since then (including the acknowledgment of marital rape – before that, a woman was forced, under any circumstances, to have sex with her husband when he wanted to, because that was her “duty”), but they still don’t exist everywhere and aren’t always as well applied and upheld as they should be. Hello, covert sexism!


Yeah, but why do we need feminism today?


Lately, a lot of people have been saying the difference in rights is a thing of the past and feminism isn’t necessary anymore, because all legal rights have been assured for women.

Problem 1 with that statement: Hmm, no. In places like Yemen or Saudi Arabia, women don’t have nearly the same rights men do.

Problem 2: Also, no again!, because even in most of the “developed” countries, women still don’t have reproductive rights they should have (yes, I’m talking about abortion, contraceptives, and all that jazz).

Problem 3: No for the third time, because life isn’t all about legal rights – there a lot of other social dynamics to think about in questions like these, and freedom isn’t just about not being thrown in jail.

Some of the issues feminism is dealing with today are:

  • Gendered violence (Including gendercide – ever heard of the “50 million missing campaign”? In India, there are about 50 million women who, according to the average male-to-female ratio, should be in the population but are nowhere to be found. They have been eliminated due to their gender.);
  • The wage gap (spoiler alert: it’s not a myth, people);
  • The “double shift” problem – or how working women still have to invest more in household and domestic chores than their male counterparts, even after a full work day (also leaving the men “free” to take up extra hours around the office, whereas women don’t usually have the time to do the same);
  • Sexual objectification – or how women’s bodies are used to sell pretty much everything, from beer to cars, to clothing to magazines and newspapers. If sex sells, women’s bodies are the go-to “item” to symbolize it;
  • Rape culture – ever heard how a lot of rapes go unreported because the victim is afraid of not being taken seriously?
  • Lack of representation – think of a typical national parliament or government: how many women do you see in it? Probably much less than half. This also happens in the media – from fictional characters to behind-the-scenes workers, much less than half are women;

  • Street harassment – you know how women don’t walk alone at night because, unlike most men, they are not afraid of being robbed as much as they are of being raped? Well, it’s understandable in a society that allows them to be insulted and harassed in broad daylight, isn’t it?

And if you’re not convinced yet, here’s a Laci Green video I absolutely love!


Intersectional feminism and the third wave


If you’ve been online reading up on feminism, you’ve probably come across the accusations being thrown at third wave feminism – mostly that it’s pointless, superficial and unnecessary. I think we’ve covered why this isn’t the case, but we haven’t looked at what really is third-wave feminism. The first two waves were more focused on political processes and legal rights, but this latest wave has been about identity and individuality – and it’s greatest contribution has been intersectionality.

The movement of third-wave feminism focused less on laws and the political process and more on individual identity. The movement of third-wave feminism is said to have arisen out of the realization that women are of many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds.

With this wave of feminism what can be seen is a desire to challenge or avoid the assumption that there is a universal female identity and over-emphasizing of the experience of the upper-middle class white woman. (…)

Proponents of third-wave feminism claim that it allows women to define feminism for themselves by incorporating their own identities into their belief system of what feminism is and what it can become.

(From: https://beingfeministblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/todays-feminism-a-brief-look-at-third-wave-feminism/)

Intersectionality is mostly about acknowledging that oppression doesn’t just happen in regards to gender, but that other groups of belonging are also oppressed: ethnic minorities, trans folk, people with pretty much any sexual orientation that isn’t heterosexual, people with disabilities, poor people, older people, people of religions other than Christianity… Yeah, it’s a big list. The point is that all these qualities intersect and create a person’s identity – not by the sum of their parts, but in their total. And we can’t used generalized statements, say about oppression experiences of white women, and pretend they apply to black women in the same way (and that is how Black Feminism came to light, by the way). We should understand, validate and talk about how individual identities are complex and how oppression can impact that complexity and shape people’s life experiences.

It’s all about human diversity – and that has always been the point!


If you want to know more…


I’m going to leave you guys with a few resources where you can find out more about feminism, feminist issues and feminists themselves, in case you got curious 😉

  • Everyday Feminism – an online magazine with fantastic articles;
  • Marinashutup, aka Marina Watanabe’s YT channel – sarcastic, humorous and thought-provoking;
  • Stuff Mom Never Told You, aka Cristen Conger’s YT – super amusing, positive and informative (isn’t limited to feminist topics, y’all!);
  • Laci Green’s YT – Laci is just made up of awesome in general.

Marta’s note


When I was reading Sofia’s post after she asked me if I’d like to add anything I quickly realised that everything I could say regarding feminism was covered by her already – in an amazing way, I must add. So there’s not much else I can bring to the table, other than that I fully support feminism. Nowadays it seems like it’s somehow “cool” to “diss” on feminism, by misinterpreting its definition and goals, insulting those who actively support it or calling it “unnecessary” and “ridiculous”. Well, feminism as a movement that strives for equal rights is just as valid and relevant today as it was in the past. We need feminism because despite all the advancements we’ve conquered throughout the decades, there’s still a lot left to be done. We need feminism because the wage gap is not a myth, and so isn’t catcalling, sexual harrassment and rape culture, or the lack of representation in so many things from the political field to the media (as it was mentioned before), or the overall difference in rights and opportunities women still face on a daily basis (and are forced to deal with from a very young age). I can’t help but feel bothered when people misinterpret feminism to the point they think it’s about attacking men or elevating women’s interests above men’s, when it’s definitely not about that! Instead of focusing our energy on being “anti-feminism” I think it would be so much better and more productive if everyone tried to understand what feminism truly means. I’d like to end this note by reinforcing once again that feminism is about equality for all! And who wouldn’t want to support that?

I hope we helped you to understand this topic a bit more! Tell us if you have any doubts left in the comment section.

Stay awesome,

Sofia

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