*Types “Feminism definition” into Google*. “Feminism, noun, the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”.
I attended a mixed-sex primary school, in which I remember a boy in my class telling a group of girls, myself included, to be quiet and return to our knitting. No one in my vicinity was holding wool or knitting needles, alas we giggled at this sexist comment. It’s strange the memories that stick with you. I continued on to a single-sex secondary school, female dominated university course (approximate ratio 32:1) and in turn a female dominated career. It is only recently that I have realised the sheltered experience I have had in my adolescent to adult years. I had allowed this experience to feed my ignorance of the ever prevalent existence of sexism in today’s society and the importance of understanding and supporting feminism.
In a conversation at work, a female colleague exclaimed, “I bet you’re one of those men hating feminists”. Feminism is not a weapon with which to attack men or release suppressed anger or hate. It is a call for equality where there is stark inequality. Hate has no place in the fight for equality. “Manhood and masculinity” are plights embroiled in a fierce and unforgiving social construct that has bred hate and bullying. Meanwhile, “womanhood and femininity” have been branded with expectations that separate women from the social stature of men.
Women’s right to vote, women’s right to work after marriage, women’s right to serve on a jury, women’s right to equal pay and opportunity, women’s right to contraception and abortion have all been fought for within the last 100 years. The span of our grandmothers, mothers and our lifetime. Victories have come in stages. Rights have had to be granted as if they were privileges, rather than human rights.
Such laws have had an impact on culture. Sexism was, and in some countries still is, validated by law and constitution. The Marriage Bar in Ireland banned married women from working in the public sector as it was deemed negligent towards duties in the home. My grandmothers were subjected to this law. It remained in place until 1973. How were women to be seen as equal to men when their constitution enforced inequality? When law supports inequality it breeds grounds for gender-specific roles, gender-specific jobs, discrimination, misogynistic attitudes and sexual harassment within society.
How is society today? In a 2019 study by Ipsos MORI, in collaboration with the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership and International Women’s Day (IWD), on global attitudes towards gender equality, sexual harassment, sexual violence, physical violence, equal pay, domestic abuse, workplace discrimination, balancing work and care responsibilities, sexualisation of women and girls in media, the amount of unpaid work that women do, gender stereotyping, lack of women in leadership roles, lack of financial/econonmic independence, access to employment, support for pregnant women and new mothers, abuse on social media, forced/child marriage, access to childcare, parental leave rights, access to healthcare, access to family planning services, access to education and access to sanitary products were listed as issues which women currently face on a global level. How can we fight this ever present tide of issues facing gender equality? Awareness is a start. We don’t need to be experts. We just need to be open to learning, and understanding will follow. I was recently gifted with a starter pack – see picture below. Instagram pages can be a source of inspiration. Let posts filter positive thoughts and evoke change. I personally enjoy @freeda_en for their daily doses of support for equality, acceptance and encouragement for change.
A recent accolade in female equality can be seen in the #MeToo movement in which women began to speak up about their experience of sexual harassment and assault. Sexual harassment and assault are a by product of extreme sexism. This movement gave many women the courage to speak for the first time. It aided the creation of a society in which women are listened to rather than interrogated and supported rather than judged. A unity of survivors and allies formed, trials commenced and justice was granted proving that raising awareness can impact change and there is still change to be had.
As women we have been influenced by society to be jealous and despising of other women. We target other women for being prettier, slimmer, more stylish and nothing is thought of men holding the equivalent aesthetics – because they are not our competition. Why are we more concerned with beating another woman rather than being enough for ourselves? Do not allow this aspect of anti-feminism to trick you into thinking you have to alter yourself to be enough. If we maintain this attitude we will continue to isolate not only ourselves but all women.
Feminism is a stigmatised concept. Feminism has evolved through different movements and feminists have varying belief systems and differentiate between one another based on their core ideologies, but feminism is not an out of reach concept. You are not required to shout from a podium, burn your bra or bin your razors. Feminism at its core is a desire for equality. If you support equality you support feminism. Fight the stigma. Know your worth.
By Orla Friel
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