Kelsie White on feminism in the 21st Century
We live in the twenty first century. There are women that have risen above the glass ceiling, women that have been elected to the highest political ranks and women that have fought on front lines all over the world. Prominent politicians like John Howard have told me, as a young woman born in the 90s, that ‘we are in the post-feminist stage of the debate’ and that there is basically no need for radicalism, protests and change anymore.
To that, I ask, why not feminism?
I question those that doubt the need for feminism and those that render it a non-issue in their mind. Why is it that I am made to feel unsafe when I wear a skirt above my knees and why is it that sometimes I need to be chaperoned at night? Why is it that I am complimented on my eyelashes/figure/cleavage/hair before my achievements? Why is it that my sexual partners are important in a different way to a males and why is it that I am more likely to be sexually assaulted both verbally and physically? Why is it that I will always be the butt of blonde jokes, make-me-a-sandwich and get-in-the-kitchen jokes?
Sometimes I sympathize with those that play the ‘humanist’ card. These people claim that they are for the equality of all, irrelevant of gender, race, religion et cetera. I empathize with their plight and I empathize with their thinking, but until they can see that the world we live in disproportionately disadvantages women (among other minorities) I can’t help them. This disadvantage does call for an –ism to correct it and feminism is the appropriate answer. To simply dismiss feminism is giving our society far too much credit.
I want to take a second and remind everyone that feminism is the idea that women are human, yes human. Remember back, only 100 years ago, when women in Australia didn’t have the right to vote and where treated to some extent as property of men? Feminism in its first stages was important then and I completely agree that we have come a very, very long way since that time. We have progressively moved into a world with very different women-identifying centric issues.
Today, those issues have been shoved in our face. Let’s look at the Slut Walks occurring all over the world. Their aim: reclaim the word slut. While I admit that this is somewhat of a polarising issue amongst self-identifying feminists, the reclamation of the word slut comes from a very important place – rape culture. This is a war that today’s feminists have to fight. We live in a world where women are taught to be modest, conservative, to be chaperoned, to be careful at night, to live without attracting negative attention, to watch out for our drinks at night clubs, to self defend and to carry pepper spray and rape whistles. We are taught all of this simply because men are never taught that my body, and any woman’s body, does not belong to them. Men are not told not to rape; women are simply given a thousand ways to avoid it. This is not the only war that today’s feminists must fight.
We are still fighting and searching for the science behind socialised gender identity and sex. Gender, one of the weirdest constructs I have ever examined, is how you identify yourself and how you portray yourself to the world. Ultimately it depends if you personally wish to be or act in a masculine or feminine way. Sex, on the other hand, refers to your biological anatomy. Today, men who portray feminine characteristics and women who portray masculine characteristics are laughable. They are weird, wrong and in some people’s minds, abominations. What we have to fight against is the idea that a man acting femininely is bad. It isn’t bad; in fact it’s perfectly normal. The stereotypes of men being men and women being women are outdated and zip me straight back to the 50s. It shouldn’t shock us when young boys play with Barbie dolls, or when young girls play with army figurines. Ultimately, this will be achieved when men wearing skirts, (think Kevin Rudd, John Howard, any sports player, any businessman) won’t be a laughable image.
Judging by the laughter in your head, we aren’t there yet.
Feminism purports the idea that women and men are equal and that women deserve equality in the eyes of the law, society at large and amongst other women. I don’t see anything wrong with this idea, and I will continue to call myself a feminist until things like rigid stereotypes and rape culture are corrected within our 21st century, developed state world.