By Laura Thomas
I once got into an argument with a male friend over feminism. Well, that’s a bit of a lie – I’ve gotten into many arguments with many male friends over feminism, but this one really stands out. I am a woman, and I have three sisters, so when it comes to ‘all things girl’ I consider myself quite the expert. Therefore, when asked by this friend to explain why women have it harder in life, it took all I had to remain at least somewhat calm.
After listing the usual reasons (periods, pregnancy, wage gaps, unwanted sexual advances, slut shaming, body shaming, shaming for being too ‘masculine’, shaming for being too ‘feminine’, the tampon tax, the pressure to look a certain way, the pressure to act a certain way, the pressure to BE a certain way, really I could go on), this friend was still adamant that my reasons weren’t quite reason enough.
At this point I was just about ready to storm out in a fit of ‘unfeminine’ rage, but if every feminist stormed out of every room that they had ever had an argument with a man in, slammed doors would be the soundtrack to society. As I tried to explain myself, it slowly became clear that I was fighting what seemed to be a losing battle when in reality, it should not have been a battle at all. Because when you put the social media, the slandering and the societal expectation aside, feminism is simply a call for equality – a call that cannot be answered by only 50% of the population.
It seems that ‘feminism’ as a phrase has been branded with the actions of extremists, morphing into a monster of sorts as both men and women alike are scared to associate with it. The issue with modern feminism is that radical feminists, or those who call for ‘death to all men’ and the eventual takeover of the planet, have been given a spotlight that while important in raising awareness, needs to be refocused on the real issues at hand.
Feminism is not the elevation of women above men. It is a call for equality. Simple as that.
The issue that a lot of people tend to site with feminism is that it points out harsh differences between men and women where so-called differences are not always evident. Critics argue that feminism paints men as the enemy, ignoring the fact that men too face a plethora of problems within society that need to be urgently addressed. And this is true. In Australia, one in twenty men have been physically or sexually abused from the age of 15 while one in six men experienced emotional abuse by a current or previous partner and one in twenty men have been sexually assaulted or threatened. There are serious issues that do affect men, but feminism is not a cause which comes at the cost of these issues. The call for equality on one issue does not threaten the attention of another.
Feminism calls for a world where a woman can walk home on her own without fear. It calls for a world where skirts do not signify an invitation for seduction. It calls for equality, and with equality being a basic human right, it calls for everyone to be accountable, not just women. Feminism should not be a choice but an obligation.
In July 2018, Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern stated in an interview that “men not only can be feminists, they should be feminists, and if they feel they believe in basic principles of equality, then they need to get on board and start rowing as well.” On the 1st of August 2018, France passed a bill in the lower house of parliament which allows for fines of approximately $145-$1,400 to be given out for gender based harassment on streets and public transport. Even after the Australian leadership spill, reports of the bullying and shaming of female MP’s made headlines, where an opinion piece by the ABC’s Chris Wallace poignantly recognised that “the Liberal’s don’t have a ‘woman problem’. They have a ‘man problem’, and they need to fix it.”
These actions among many others highlight the fact that the divide should not necessarily be seen as between men and women, but between human and human. We all possess basic human rights, and the fact that some people don’t have access to these rights because of their gender is a fundamental issue that all individuals, regardless of their gender, have an obligation to address.
We as a society need to move away from the idea that feminism is synonymous with the oppression of men. To all those out there who are scared, confused or just plain disinterested, know that us feminists are not here to steal your thunder. We are not here to reduce your individual concerns under the weight of our demands. We are not here to say that all parliamentarians, CEO’s and business owners should be women. Feminism is equality. And equality is a basic human right; not a choice, but an obligation.
Illustration: Nicole Nordström