So I recently read the book Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies) by Scarlett Curtis – it is a collection of essays in which various wonderful women talk about their experiences with feminism; things that made them angry, things that give them hope and things that inspire them to keep pushing for equality. It was a great read and I was particularly a fan of the short sections that I could gradually chip away at whilst on a break, travelling, before bed etc. There were some great stories in there and by reading it I felt empowered, fired up and inspired to consider what I would say if I was asked to write about my experiences with feminism… and what would some of my friends say… So here are a few thoughts from some wonderful women I know.
Feminism is the fight for gender equality. Until recently I thought it was a simple as “women used to be oppressed by men, therefore we must empower women to be as powerful as men”. However, in recent years I have realised that feminism is much more complex than that. Yes, women are the most obvious victims of patriarchy but men are also damaged by the strict and damaging standards set for them.
Sexism gets even more complex when you consider the existence of trans people. Surely gender equality should include people of all genders rather than just cis women? Sexism is the basis for a lot of homophobia. We are raised in a society that says “feminine = bad” and that everything must revolve around cis/hetero men and their feelings. Many LGBTQ+ people stand in direct contrast to that. If feminine = bad then surely a man who chooses to express himself in a feminine way is also bad. If everything should revolve around the feelings of cishet men then lesbian relationships must equal bad because cishet men are largely uninvolved. Sexism has strong ties to racism. Intersectional feminism (the kind of feminism I strive to practise) is in direct contrast to “white feminism” – a movement largely by white, middle-class women who have taken over the feminist movement to make their problems seem more important than those of WOC, LGBTQ+ women and poorer women.
To me, there is no point in practising feminism without also trying to fight racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, fatphobia, poverty and so many other social injustices. On paper, in most of the western world, white middle-class women are equal to white middle-class men. The fight now is to dismantle the inherently unjust society we live in so that all people are seen as equal, not just in the eyes of the law but in the eyes of society at large.
It honestly baffles me that in this day and age we still don’t have equality and that people can actually support the ridiculous ideas of the patriarchy. I know these words can seem triggering to people because there’s so much hype/criticism around ‘crazy militant feminists’ but the thing is, just because you don’t feel the direct effects of gender-based discrimination, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. We cannot be passive!
Being in the western world we all have a level of privilege that means we don’t really see the full extent of the sexism that exists in some parts of the world. But even here, in our oh-so-evolved society, there is still huge gender pay and wealth gaps and vast amounts of sexual abuse.
We may think that things are fine but these reasons and the far more terrifying circumstances in developing countries is precisely why we still need to be fighting for gender equality. We’re not there yet, but the tide is changing.
I find myself drawn to women’s stories – in films, books, history and the news – and I think it’s because it feels rare to hear about the female experience. Generally, men are the leaders, spokespeople and tastemakers, they have controlled the majority of all the stories we’ve ever heard. Some of my favourite people in history are women who, despite the societal odds of their time, managed to excel, succeed and be respected for their skills, talents and personalities, for example, Josephine Baker, Williamina Fleming or Ruth Bater-Ginsberg to name a few. I think representation and relatability feed into that – when we see people more like ourselves doing things we admire, it makes us believe more in our possibilities
The final part of my rant and the thing that makes me most angry is that when men have been in the position of power, women’s issues, as a result, are generally underfunded and under-researched. Reproductive health issues tend to have little to no research or solutions and it seems to come from this idea that we, as women, are supposed to suffer in pain each month. They (the patriarchy) continues to use this “weakness” to keep women under the thumb as inferiors because that’s how they (the patriarchy) prefer it.
Feminism to me means standing up for yourself and other women/non-binary people whenever you can. It means practising to love your body, mind and heart no matter what condition it’s in. It’s about seeing every woman in this world as your sister rather than your competition and making decisions about your physical, mental and spiritual life for you and no one else.
The most important thing to me is that feminism HAS to be intersectional. It must include cis women standing up for trans women, able-bodied women standing up for disabled women, straight women standing up for queer women, white women standing up for women of colour etc. It’s about recognising and accepting what privilege the former have over the latter and trying to dismantle that. Because we are all one womanhood who must stick together. It’s also about welcoming the men who want to fight for our equality and educating the ones that don’t, without hate.
I also always remember learning about the suffragettes and being so moved and inspired. Then learning that there was still a great deal of racism involved within the movement. So I feel kind of conflicted about that. They took incredible steps for some women’s rights but we must remember how important it is not to leave anyone behind.
Each of these paragraphs only touches the surface of what feminism means to each of these women, these were simply the first rants that popped to mind when I asked. But now I ask you, dear reader, what does feminism mean to you?