I identify as feminist, and not any alternative description. I’d like to be clear though, in my white, middle class, Australian upbringing, and my privileged adulthood afforded to me due to my heterosexual, middle class, white life my feminism has it’s limitations. I don’t hide this, I am far from the perfect feminist. We all have our own problems in life, and not all of them can be appropriated to the inequality I face just because I was born a woman. I do try to learn from the experiences of others – particularly my sisters who suffer abominable oppression, and that which often goes beyond just that of being female.
I have reasons for identifying as feminism instead of equalist, but mostly feminism is important to me on a personal level. After I stopped hiding from describing myself as a feminist my life flipped. I became more aware of the world, and in general my confidence grew. I no longer felt shamed or belittled for my beliefs, I found an entire sisterhood to watch out for me and have my back. And I have theirs. As a group, feminists – particularly women – deal with a heap of shit from people who don’t share our enthusiasm for equality between the genders. Constantly being questioned on the validity for my belief that women be treated as equal citizens in the world isn’t easy. In fact, most days I just want to punch people in the face. It can be hard to respond to arguments and questions, mostly because nine times out of ten I am mortally offended by them. My opinions and beliefs are so much a part of me that it can be hard to remember to keep my emotions in check when battling Twitter trolls and Facebook fiends. It can be even harder to explain them to people who are genuinely interested in knowing more. One of the biggest lessons I am still learning is how to effectively shut down arguments against feminism.
“WOMEN ALREADY HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS.”
One of the more common arguments usually spouted at the beginning of a conversation. Usually one of the first things I notice about this one is that it operates on the notion that the speaker operates on the male/female gender binary, and right there is where we have a problem. Discounting anyone who identifies as trans, gender fluid, or gender non-conforming is no way to start a conversation that is supposed to be about the equality of the genderS. Note the plural. There are more than two genders, like it or not. Now, having established that – let us consider the following. It certainly is not true that women, and other non-cis male genders have equal protection under the laws of this country. Nor is is true that cis-males have equal opportunity for fairness in family court matters. Trans individuals can’t even necessarily use the bathroom for their gender, and women still do not have equality in pay structure.
When I get this one thrown at me, I like to remind the other party that in the US the Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be passed. For my American sisters, this amendment would mean that it would be unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of sex at work. Men already have this right; women do not. This is just one example of how on a global scale, there is a difference in our rights, and how we are treated in society based solely on the fact that we have boobs. Even in my own travels, I am questioned on matters that people wouldn’t dream of asking my male counterparts. Am I married, do I have children, and because I am over the age of 30 – why the hell not? My answer, how the hell is that relevant?
“YOU ARE TOO ANGRY AND AGGRESSIVE.”
You’re damn right I’m fucking angry. I am angry about the fact that I can’t walk down the street without being harassed. I am angry about the fact that when I feel uncomfortable I have to keep lookout for women also by themselves, who could pretend to be my friend to ward off potential harassment. I am angry about the fact that I can’t just walk to my corner shop at night for some milk. I have to drive, because if something were to happen and I was raped and I went to the police, one of the first things I would be asked is “Why were you walking along at night?” I am angry that I have to stop and consider ways I can make my life safer, just because some men cannot just be pleasant. I am angry that I have to pretend to be friendly to men who hit on me because I worry that by rejecting him he will become aggressive and potentially violent. I am angry that when I do reject offers from potential suitors, I am told that I should be lucky he’s even taken the time to talk to me in the first place. I am angry that women in rural Australia don’t have access to safe abortions. I am angry that when I tell people I have had an abortion, I am instantly labeled as a slut. I am angry that almost half of transgender people will be sexually abused in their lifetime. I am angry that my male counterparts are compensated more for doing the same work that I do. I am angry that my gay friends can’t legally marry. I am angry that men who repeatedly rape and sexually abuse women are given free rein in our society to rape and abuse again and again. I am angry that in order to be a feminist blogger I have to write under a false name (hint: my real name isn’t Emma) and create an entire online persona so that I can keep my privacy and not be tracked down by aggressive and angry men. I am angry that when I broach these topics online, I am given death and rape threats and told to “shut my fat whore mouth.” And I am really angry that when women do put themselves out there, both online and in the real world, and receive abuse, the police do nothing to protect them.
And mostly, I am angry that these topics (and others) are painful and difficult for people to understand. I am sorry that sometimes you just don’t want to deal with it. Because as a society, we have to move as slowly as our slowest link, it can be frustrating at times to get across to the masses that the above topics are things that are wrong with the world – but that as a society we can fix. So yeah, feminists, like most people who care about the world they live in, get angry sometimes. There is nothing wrong with being angry, our feelings don’t make us wrong – they make us passionate. When people tell me I am too aggressive in my approach to feminism, I like to tell them that as part of a movement I don’t have time to pat anyone’s shoulder or hold anyone’s hand. This year alone, 59 women in Australia have died in violent and traumatic attacks. We’re only in the beginning of September, and women are being killed at a rate of 1.7 deaths per week. The rate in Argentina is dramatically higher. Mothers in the USA don’t have a legal right to paid leave after they give birth. They’re literally giving life, but they can’t get time off with pay. Globally, people are literally getting away with murder and rape – the majority of rapists will never see the inside of a jail cell. People’s lives are at stake, and you want me to keep my angry inside because it’s more convenient for you? Anger, and urgency is the only appropriate response.
“I’M A MAN, I CAN’T BE FEMINIST.”
Uhh… what? Anyone can be feminist. This is a very common misconception that to be feminist is to be a white cis woman. In reality, this is far from true. Feminism by definition is open and inviting. I define feminism as the belief that people should be considered equal regardless of the gender they identify with and and having a desire to replace the harmful aspects of the patriarchy with systems that empower, celebrate, and respect women, trans individuals, gender fluid and gender nonconforming people. Being a man in no way precludes you from also holding the same beliefs as me.
That said, men definitely have a different path to walk when it comes to how they voice their feminism. Men can be allies, but your main role should be to listen to women and other oppressed individuals when they are voicing their concerns with the patriarchy. As well as this, you need to prove yourself. It is not enough to state that you are a feminist, your actions need to back you up. Hanging with the boys at the pub and someone tells a misogynist joke? Don’t laugh just to be cool. Call them out on it. Tell them why you are offended. Use your male privilege to educate others. Always remember that feminism is a movement for ALL, and that it doesn’t belong to you.
“FEMINISM IS A LOST CAUSE. IT’S OVER.”
I am fairly realistic. I am not optimistic that we will see gender equality in my lifetime. But the same way feminism doesn’t belong to men, it doesn’t belong solely to my generation, or to me. The struggle is for the benefit of all women; not just the ones I might meet while I’m alive, and more importantly there is a long and rich history of feminism – it started well before I was even a twinkle in my parent’s eyes. It’s important that we push for equality, even if we won’t necessarily see our hard work come fully to fruition. What I tell others (and even myself, because I get frustrated with slow progress, too) is that the end goal of feminism isn’t always necessarily to turn the world into a feminist paradise. We have different goals at different times. Sometimes the goal is to protect our sisters in the Middle East and Africa (I’m thinking of those captured and raped by ISIL and Boko Haram), sometimes it’s to get safe housing for victims of violence, and sometimes it’s to tell our little sisters not to let the boys at school pick on her because she’s just as good as they are.
We need to remember how far we have come, in order to get the motivation to continue. Just little things can help. For me, it’s remembering that when my grandmother was a single mum in the 50’s and 60’s there was no pension for single mums to help her make ends meet. And when my mother was my age there was no such thing as compulsory superannuation contributions for women. We fought those battles, and we won. But the fight continues.
“FEMINISM IS JUST REVERSE SEXISM. YOU’RE SEXIST AGAINST MEN.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Really wrong, but it is one of the arguments I hear too much of. It’s one of the first things someone who doesn’t understand oppression will claim in an attempt to tear down arguments for gender equality. The only real way to address this assertion is to have a discussion about how oppression works.
At it’s most basic, oppression flows in one direction only, from the privileged oppressor to the oppressed. Thats’ it. It’s a socially and culturally supported misuse of power that keeps one group at the top and others beneath them in many different ways — financially, physically, etc. Can women be biased against men, say rude things to them, or treat them poorly? Yes, no doubt. But because women are not in a greater position of social power, these are incidents of discrimination, not oppression or sexism. Sexism by it’s definition is the oppression of gender. It is when a certain sex or gender (in the case of contemporary society, this gender is women and anyone who doesn’t identify as male) is systematically discriminated against, to the point that they are treated as subordinate or otherwise less than the dominant group. As long as men are the dominant group, they cannot be victims of sexism. That is not to say that men cannot be hurt by misogyny and patriarchy (there are unfair expectations of men in our society as a result of patriarchy), but men are not culturally, socially, or legally oppressed by women. This also means that “reverse sexism” isn’t a thing. Stop using it as an excuse for not looking at your own behavior.
“I AM A WOMAN AND I DON’T NEED FEMINISM.”
This is something I have seen bandied about online a lot lately and frankly, this is the argument that hurts me the most. There is no woman on the face of this Earth that doesn’t need feminism. What you’re actually stating here is that in your white, middle class, young, heterosexual, educated background, you just need reminding of your own privilege. And lucky you, if you’ve never experienced any of the more brutal effects of a patriarchal society. Whether you realise it or not, just because you haven’t experienced the harsher side of the society we live in doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced sexism. I like to ask women who tell me this is she knows how much money the men at her workplace make, and if it’s the same pay as hers. Or if men dismiss her opinion or interrupt her on a regular basis both at work and at home? Does she get catcalled walking down the street? Has she ever felt uncomfortable walking home, either at night or during the day? Has she ever been coerced into or forced to have sex? Has she ever had to pretend to already have a boyfriend to ward off men when she’s just sitting in a bar with a friend?
Even if the answer to all of these questions is “no,” then I like to remind her that feminism isn’t about the individual. It’s not about you on your own — it’s about all of us. Women need feminism not only because your life has been made more difficult due to your gender, but also because there isn’t a person on the planet who would be better off without feminism. Feminism is the construction of gender equality, meaning that we would not live in a society that condones and perpetuates oppression. Put simply, all of our lives would be better, every man, woman and child. What about that sounds like it isn’t necessary?