Feminism: What Is It and Why We Need It

Not too long ago I was at a bar with my friends, and somehow the conversation got steered towards feminism. I was asked a simple question are you a feminist?. Without even thinking about it twice I said Yes. The response was laughter, comments like you don’t LOOK like a feminist, and judgmental looks. After a very heated debate I ended up leaving that conversation due to the ignorance and made up “statistics”. I spent the rest of the night walking around asking my other friends if they considered themselves feminist. 90% of them said no, some of them even said men can’t be feminist and men and women aren’t the same.

So I realized no one actually knew what feminism was. Everyone considered feminism the hatred of men, a cry for attention, and a made up story. They associated feminism with strong, forceful and angry women, and our society continues to punish forceful women. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie perfectly put it into words in her book We Should All Be Feminists: “. . . What it shows is how that word feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage: you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, you think women should always be in charge, you don’t wear make-up, you don’t shave, you’re always angry, you don’t have a sense of humour, you don’t use deodorant.” But that’s not what feminism really is.

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What is Feminism?

Feminism is a movement fighting for women’s right for political, social, and economic equality with men.

Feminism is about the equality of men and women. Feminism is not about “sameness” between men and women. The argument is that women are not the same as men due to the different physical capabilities, so there can’t be equality. So does that mean that weak men don’t have the same rights as strong men? No. It only applies to women. The issue is about equal rights and equal access to opportunities. Men and women don’t have to be the same physically to have the same rights.

These physical differences are what make us human. Women have the ability to bear children, mostly men have the ability to lift a 72kg mannequin and drag it for 45 meters (firefighter physical strength test). So women are fighting for the right to have maternity leave after childbirth without being shamed for it or pushed back at work, we’re not fighting to have the same amount of women and men as firefighters because generally men are more capable of that type of work. We all understand the differences and we’re not fighting for these differences to disappear. We are fighting for the same rights as men despite our physical differences because that shouldn’t define us.

The corporate world is being controlled by men, and women are told that since they want equal treatment as men, then they shouldn’t ask for maternity leave after childbirth. Seems like men use the physical differences as its more convenient for them. You can’t ask for maternity leave after you give birth but you also can’t ask to be paid the same as a man because you’re a woman. See the graph below for different countries and their maternity leave policies, and the one below it for gender wage gaps by race.

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Why ‘Feminism’?

“Some people ask, ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.”

We can’t deny that women weren’t oppressed for centuries, we can’t deny that women are being oppressed the same way now in underdeveloped countries. So yes, it is a part of human rights, but this is a specific issue related to women.

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Do We Have Gender Equality?

I often hear people say that gender equality was achieved. And there’s definitely huge progress in the west, but equality still hasn’t been achieved fully.

In the West, besides from wage gaps and other issues, there’s still psychological prejudices against women. “There is evidence of widespread prejudice against women and girls from decades of psychological research. For instance, an experiment was conducted in which participants watched an entrepreneurial pitch video of images relating to a new venture, narrated by the voice of the entrepreneur. Participants were randomly assigned to a group in which either a male or female voice narrated the pitch, which was otherwise identical. When a male voice pitched the venture, 68% of participants thought it was worthy of funding, compared to only 32% when pitched by a female voice.”

In the East gender equality generally doesn’t exist. In some countries women can’t drive. Young girls are forced into marriage. Rape culture is a common phenomenon. So we, feminists, are also fighting for those women who have less rights in other countries.

Feminism is fighting for the right to choose. If a woman chooses to stay at home and care for her children, then she’s considered “conservative,” if a woman decides not to have a family and to pursue her career then she’s considered an “unwanted woman.” Feminism is fighting for women to have the right to choose their lives without being called names.

Feminism is fighting for women’s sexuality. If a woman loves sex then she’s a whore, if a woman doesn’t like sex then she’s a prude. Feminism is fighting for women’s sexual freedom. Men don’t get shamed for having a lot of sex, they get praised for. Why not women?

If women show their bodies in pictures or with revealing clothes then they’re “asking for it,” but if they’re covered in a burka by choice, then they’re “controlled by men”. Let us wear what we want without objectifying us.

Feminism is fighting for protection against sexual assault and objectification. Women are told to be ashamed if they’re raped, as if it’s their fault. Women are told to smile when catcalled, because it’s a compliment. Women are told to stay silent because that’s what we’ve been doing for centuries. “If a wealthy baron gropes you in the castle, be quiet and let him do his business,” well not anymore.

Feminism is fighting for women to have the right to choose what to do with their bodies. If they want to get an abortion, they should. If they want to get lip injections, they should. If they want to walk around without make up, they should. No one should have the right to tell women what to do with their bodies, and for some reason we get told how to change ourselves every day.

Feminism is fighting for the freedom to wear whatever we want. If women wear girly clothes, they’re viewed as weak and are underestimated. If women wear manly clothes, they’re told to dress girly. “I knew that because I was female, I would automatically have to prove my worth. And I was worried that if I looked too feminine, I would not be taken seriously. I really wanted to wear my shiny lip gloss and my girly skirt, but I decided not to. I wore a very serious, very manly and very ugly suit.”

The list keeps going. But the point is the same:

Feminism is fighting for the basic human rights for women.

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Men’s Role in Feminism

Men are generally seen as a part of the problem, but instead we need to see them also as a part of the solution. We, the society, must raise men differently.

Men also face gender inequalities in their lives, they can’t express themselves for they will be shamed for it. They have to make more money, they have to pay for everything. So then let’s change that. “We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian speak, a hard man . . .What if both boys and girls were raised not to link masculinity and money? What if their attitude was not ‘the boy has to pay’ but rather, ‘whoever has more should pay?”

We need to teach little boys its okay to cry if you fall. We need to teach boys that bullying girls is not okay. We need them to treat girls right at a young age.

We need to help men understand that their involvement in their children’s lives makes a difference. Their involvement in their house makes a difference. Their involvement in their wives lives makes a difference.

We need to help men understand that there’s not a part in this world where men and women do the same unpaid housework, whether it’s raising children or cleaning the house, and that it’s not okay. “I know a woman who has the same degree and same job as her husband. When they get back from work, she does most of the housework, which is true for many marriages, but what struck me was that whenever he changed the baby’s nappy, she said thank you. What if she saw it as something normal and natural, that he should help care for his child?”

Men and women need to stand side by side to achieve equality, because so much more work can be done if we fight together. If girls are treated right as they grow up, they grow up stronger and independent, more successful, better mothers. If boys are treated right as they grow up, they grow up stronger and independent, more successful, better fathers. Better mothers and fathers raise better generations. Better generations create a better world.

It makes me sad that the only way men understand sexism is if you tell them “what if this happened to your sister? Or your mom? Your daughter?” If any woman that you are close with had to go through the same struggles as someone in Africa, or Syria, or even at an office job in New York City, you would get mad. So why is it funny to you when I say that a project I proposed at work was given to a man because he’s more “emotionally stable”? Or that I have to wear manly clothes to work to be taken seriously and not get sexually harassed by my male boss? Or that some women in China aren’t marriage-material because they are “too educated”?

I want to bring a quote from a recently released song by Kanye West, Violent Crimes as an example. “Father, forgive me / I’m scared of the karma / because now I see women as something to nurture, / not something to conquer” [1:21]. Men treat women as something to conquer until they have a woman to nurture. They are taught that women need to be conquered because women are objects, but when they realize that their daughters – little women – are actually more than what they’ve been taught, men realize their mistakes and worry about other men treating their daughters the way they treated women all their lives.

Stop teaching boys to conquer women, teach them to nurture them from the very start, just like women are taught to nurture boys. “We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case. We don’t teach boys to care about being likeable. We spend too much time telling girls that they cannot be angry or aggressive or tough, which is bad enough, but then we turn around and either praise or excuse men for the same reasons. All over the world, there are so many magazine articles and books telling women what to do, how to be and not be, in order to attract and please men. There are far fewer guides for men about pleasing women.”

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This is not the end, and we need to keep fighting for each other’s sake. It’s not a shame to be a feminist for either a woman, or a man, and no one should be shamed or laughed at for supporting gender equality. It’s apparent that women are not treated the same way as men, whether it’s materially or psychologically. We perceive men as better than women, and that’s what feminism is trying to change, because it’s not true.

The purpose of this post was to give a general explanation of feminism, what it is and why we need it. In my next post I will speak about the history of feminism and some important historical figures. The post will be published June 13 at 9 am (EDT).

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Graphs and Citations:

Adichie, Chimamanda N. We Should All Be Feminists. Fourth Estate, 2017.

Alba, Beatrice. “To Achieve Gender Equality, We Must First Tackle Our Unconscious Biases.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 6 June 2018, theconversation.com/to-achieve-gender-equality-we-must-first-tackle-our-unconscious-biases-92848.

MarcieBianco. “6 Battles Feminists Everywhere Are Still Fighting for Women’s Rights.” Mic, Mic Network Inc., 26 Oct. 2015, mic.com/articles/111530/6-ways-women-s-progress-is-being-stifled#.kJZ8l1Xb9.

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