Saturday, 8 March 2014

A Feminist Education: The Relevance of Feminism

The relevance of feminism - can it be relevant in a modern day context? In a society in which women are working, earning money, not necessarily forced into being the primary caregiver to children, are able to be educated to a high standard, can attend university, are eligible for the army and for many other things?

Yes. Of course feminism is relevant. Feminism is relevant because woman are not equal.

This is a pretty indisputable fact. Women still earn less than men for the same jobs. Women still have to endure the stupidity of claims like this. So many women have to endure sexual harassment because men have not learnt that women are not there solely for their enjoyment, and are not objects with which they may do whatever they please, and society has still not accepted that a woman should be able to wear what she wants without worrying about a man being unable to suppress or control his desires and hurt her. Feminism cannot be irrelevant in a society in which women are sexualised, objectified, attacked, beaten, and discriminated against, simply because they have vaginas and sometimes wear dresses. Any claim against this cannot be justified - feminism is relevant until the day absolute equality of opportunity and status is achieved for women.

Some people think that feminism is not relevant in a white, middle-class dominated society, mainly because there are more pressing issues such as female genital mutilation and the suppression of women's rights in third world countries. These issues are huge, and they are important, and they have to be addressed, there is no denying this. But why can these issues not be included in feminism, and why does feminism in developed countries have to be dismissed because of wider issues? It is comparable to saying that because there are child soldiers across Africa, campaigning for higher pay for service men and women is irrelevant, as children are being forced into the military. It is absurd - yes, some issues exist on a smaller scale, but they are issues nonetheless. I am in no way trying to gloss over the monumental importance of ending FGM, or helping women in less developed countries improve their status and their rights, but I am asking why these issues must be mutually exclusive to 21st century feminism in countries such as England and America.

Modern day feminism is not about man-bashing and promoting women as the superior race, it is about elevating the status of women to that of men.  Feminism is about ending the pay gap, it is about stopping discrimination, it is about educating men as to why they cannot touch women inappropriately because they are wearing a short skirt, it is about ensuring that women and men have the same opportunities. Feminism is also about raising awareness of these wider issues - it is about helping women in worse places than us to see that it is possible to be treated as an equal to men, and that women are not born inferior. We cannot seek to end the atrocities committed against women worldwide without fixing our own issues as well. We cannot justify dismissing feminism in our own country's context, as it is important that women are equal worldwide. We cannot overlook the local issues, although they are less horrendous than FGM and the experiences of women who have even fewer opportunities than us.

Moreover, if women in more developed countries start having more equal access to higher positions in the workplace, and if representation becomes more equal in government and across society, then hopefully these bigger issues will gain more awareness, and we can help women in worse situations than us to combat the problems they are encountering.

What I'm trying to say is this: feminism is relevant worldwide. Feminism is relevant in developed countries, because women are still not equal to men. Feminism is also relevant in less developed countries, as it is here that women need to see a serious improvement in their rights and how they are seen in society. There is no reason why both our own internal issues and the issues of women worldwide cannot be addressed in tandem.

Also, don't forget to celebrate International Women's Day today!