Feminism: the real “F” word

I literally just took a deep breath before starting to type, as Feminism – yes, that F word – has received so much stick and misunderstanding lately that I almost know this will be met with either a groan or a “here we go again” attitude. I mean, it’s great that it’s being TALKED about, but it’s not so great that there is still so much confusion and, strangely, anger towards the term, which in fact can be seen as another word for ‘equality’. I guess the ‘fem’ in front of ‘inism’ is what is influencing the assumption it’s about man-hating, or women being treated more fairly than men, yet I do not remember the same assumption or uproar towards the use of the word ‘mankind’. Yet another example of the need for feminism? Meh, maybe I’m clutching. But still, I liked the point.

Feminism is almost a wave that fights against sexism, and whilst I do not disagree there is sexist treatment towards men I do not (obviously) have the same direct experience of this and nor do I feel that it is as common or regular as that which a woman receives. How I, as a female, am left feeling vulnerable when a man in a bar casually threatens to rape me because I “disturbed” his game of pool, smug in the knowledge of the power and intimidation he has over me; how I am referred to as “girl” in comparison to my male work colleague of similar age and status being referred to as a “man”; how, when ordering a pint, I am told by the barman that I can only order a half as I am a woman; how I get shouted at and whistled at and followed by men in cars or vans as I walk home; how my confidence and self-assured attitude was labelled as “too comfortable” and “intimidating” whereas a man with the same qualities was labelled as having “presence” and being “assertive”; how I am often told to “crack a smile” by men, whilst males are permitted to contort their face as they so wish by women… Even the vocal expectation of women to settle down and have children – a pet peeve that I discuss in another article – is something that very few of my male friends have experienced.

The above list isn’t exhaustive and nor does it necessarily cover the worst scenarios – and, I admit, at times falls within the realms of mild gender stereotype – but it does demonstrate the day-to-day sexism that happens towards women without question or challenge. I am not saying men do not have their share of unequal treatment and that this, too, needs fighting; women automatically receives rights to their children and are assumed they will be able to raise a baby, whereas men have their ability questioned before the baby is even born and often have to prove their aptitude. But I am saying it happens to women; it happens A LOT (more often than I think men realise – in fact, more often than I think women themselves realise as a lot of it has become the norm that we, quite frighteningly, almost just expect and accept it), it happens every day, and it happens with the imbedded notion of ‘why would it be any different?’ Well, because it should be.

I saw a video recently where a woman defended herself when she came under fire after claiming she was not a feminist. Not, she states, because she doesn’t believe in women having equality to men but because she believes men also are not given equal treatment to women in other situations. I can’t help but feel the point is still being missed, and perhaps that is exactly what she believes is the problem with modern feminism. Saying you believe women should be treated equally to men and have the same rights as men is not saying we shouldn’t also address the issues where men are at a disadvantage, such as the one I mentioned above.

People seem to forget, however, that feminism started when men were superior – and had an advantage above women – in every situation. This is why feminism had to exist – to fight the very clear-cut split treatment between men and women. The fact that this is no longer the case for some women or the fact that it happens less is because of feminism. So when people say feminism isn’t important or it doesn’t affect them – yes it is and yes it does. You wouldn’t be living the life you are now, or being able to have the job you do and express yourself in the way you can as a woman, if it wasn’t for feminism. You wouldn’t be having the same relationships with women in the way you can now as a man, nor have the same opportunities for your wife, your mum, your daughter that you can now, if it wasn’t for feminism.

British writer Matt Haig recently took to Twitter to talk about writing a book around masculinity; about the expectations of what being masculine is and the direct relationship this has to the expectations of what being feminine is, which in turn impacts sexism and therefore feminism. He received a lot of backlash, with people questioning what he, as a man, knows about feminism. His response was “Unless you want to DO AWAY WITH MEN, then we need to look at what masculinity is and why its current interpretation causes problems” and I couldn’t agree more. Sexism is born from having both male and female species, where one impacts and influences the other. What is expected of women is intrinsically linked to what is expected of men, and vice versa. Without masculinity – and all the societal, environmental and genetic expectations that comes with it – you wouldn’t have femininity (and vice versa). How can you possibly expect to fight something that by nature requires the involvement of both men and women whilst directly ad explicitly excluding the input and exploration of men?

With feminism these days it’s almost as though we refuse to allow men to be a part of it, refuse to allow them to have a voice and refuse to allow their position to be made better, too. Wasn’t that the very thing feminism was fighting against for women?

LS.

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