Disclaimer: this article focuses on sexism generally seen in the developed world. I in no way intend to undermine the rampant and tangible forms of misogyny seen elsewhere globally. I will explore those in future articles on my blog, and you can find out more about this on The Guardian.
21st Century Feminism
“You’re so like… LIKE, NOT A FEMINIST, but you really hate it when people say things that are against women”. This was something said to me as an 18 year old working at a bar, following my outrage at a blatantly sexist remark.
The exchange actually turned out to be a serious defining moment in my feminism journey – I hadn’t really given the label much thought before, at least not in terms of how I would define myself, and yet here it was staring me in the face. I began to ponder, if I detested misogyny so much, was I not thus a feminist? And why was this seen as a bad thing?
Well, you see, feminism is pretty much still the second F word. Admitting you’re a feminist can feel comparable to coming out as a satanist, garnering as much controversy as pineapple on pizza (something that is actually satanic) and inviting questions about how many bras you have burned.
The idea that the age of feminism is over has unfortunately become inherently woven in today’s social fabric. There is a prevailing attitude that feminism’s goals have been achieved and it’s time for us lefties to sit down and shut up. Still, I will wear the label, and I will wear it proudly as a 21 year old woman who still sees systematic gender injustices left, right and centre.
My name is Emma, and I am LIKE, A FEMINIST. Bra burn count: 0.
Contrary to popular belief, the age of feminism is not over. Inequality may not be so easy for the eye to see, but it still lurks in all the dark corners. Here are just a few of the examples of why feminism is so important to me, still in 2016, and the reason I will continue to be associated with that dirty F word.
For many people, feminism is seen as irrelevant in today’s world. Women can vote and it’s (technically) illegal to pay us less, but that doesn’t mean misogyny has been eradicated. Instead, sexism just easier to ignore because it’s taken a new, more subtle form. Take, for example, the prevailing ‘can women really have it all?!’ narrative, constant dismissing of emotions as PMS, being told to ‘smile honey, you’d look better!’, or random middle aged guys ‘mansplaining’ a book you actually wrote yourself.
Perhaps one of the most identifiable and widely experienced forms of 21st century sexism is street harassment. Imagine you’re going for a run, you’ve got sweat in your eyelashes and you’re facing the mental debate of ‘MAKE IT STOP’ and ‘what would Beyonce do?’. This is tough enough without being rudely interrupted by a vehicle-bound stranger between the ages of 15-80, screaming ‘nice ass’, right? If I had a dime for every variation of this I’ve heard, I wouldn’t be paying off a HECS debt.
Women aren’t walking to their car or going for a run seeking validation from random men in cars. Alsom we can’t even hear what you’re saying, given the fact you are IN. A. VEHICLE. Yet the harassment keeps on comin’, and we’re usually told to take it as a compliment.
The internet is a double aged sword in the plight for gender equality. On one hand it provides a space for people to come together and discuss their experiences and politics, promote programs aimed at improving gender equality, and generally support and encourage one another on a globally accessible scale. However, the internet is largely uncensored and also gives equal space to people whose opinions are not at all conducive to overcoming inequalities. You have the classic MRAs who read the #notallmen thread on twitter, look at Dan Bilzerian’s Facebook and think they’re entitled to the same attention, hop on over to reddit and are validated by like-minded men.
This is a recipe for disaster, because it gives them the courage to troll women’s rights Facebook pages (which are supposed to be a safe space for feminists), word vomit the most offensive, misogynistic thing that comes to mind, and even harass prominent feminists with a large online following – take Clementine Ford, for example. This is usually done while wearing a fedora and watching My Little Pony in their parents’ basement (Roosh V, anybody?).
This doesn’t just affect large pages or people with an extensive following though. Women are targeted online for a plethora of offences – existing while female, holding opinions while female – and often by complete strangers. According to Dr Jane, a senior researcher at UNSW, ‘misogyny has gone viral. Rape threats have become a sort of lingua franca – the ‘go-to’ response for men who disagree with something a woman says.’
I totally agree with this – just before the Abbott/Rudd election in 2013, I retweeted something that was vaguely anti-Abbott. Next thing I know, a random middle aged dude is tweeting me that I should GET OUT OF THE COUNTRY RIGHT NOW, and that it’s not men’s fault if I’m sexually frustrated. Like, firstly I think we can calm down with the assumptions about my sex life which have nothing to do with the election, and secondly tysm for you concern but I think I’ll stay put in Aus (although I didn’t particularly want to post-Abbott win).
Workplace disparities have been at the forefront of feminist argument since forever, and unfortunately continue to be today. In 2014 women were still sitting on a wage gap of 21 per cent, earning only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. The stats sadly haven’t improved much since. Even in fields where more women are studying and qualifying, like journalism, jobs and income are still dominated by men. The laws may have changed, but the practices have not.
At this point it’s only fair to point out that women are more inclined to choose less demanding career paths and to take time out from their careers in order to balance work with family commitments. So it is so unreasonable that these people might find themselves earning a little less than their male counterparts? Yes, because (generally speaking) for every woman who has a family there’s a man who has a family – why is it that these men don’t feel the same need to relax their career ambitions when kids come along? We will probably never know, because while successful women, from Hollywood actresses to business executives, are constantly asked how they balance work and family, this question is rarely posed to men.
Feminism is not a new idea. Its history spans across decades, with feminists all over the world paving the way for women today and creating a more diverse and equal world for us to live in. However the mission is far from over, with sexism presenting itself constantly in new ways that are often harder to detect and dismantle. Being a current twenty something feminist is not a pointless and old fashion endeavour – it is imperative to improving the status of women and understanding that even for us spring chickens, the glass ceiling has not been broken.