Trigger warning: rape, rape threats.
The first thing that I find myself doing when women talk about their non-feminist tendencies is questioning why any woman wouldn’t be a feminist – or how any man wouldn’t support feminism too, for that matter. So when Angela Epstein declared that feminism in no longer relevant, it made me feel quite sad. The idea that feminism is misunderstood is well documented, but feminism boils down to “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. Its aim, to “define, establish, and defend equal political, economic, and social rights for woman”. Why wouldn’t you support that? And even those who do – Ellen Page asked why people are so reluctant to say they are feminists; since when did it become such a dirty word?
I have a new favourite feminist now, and her name is Ruby Tandoh. I loved her in the Great British Bake Off, and I love her even more after she wrote an article for The Guardian entitled “When a woman says she’s not feminist, we can do better than shout her down”. And she’s right – expelling women like Angela Epstein from the sisterhood does nothing to further the feminist cause. Instead, we need to find out why women don’t feel in touch with feminism, and work out a way to include those women in our movement for equality. Sometimes, it is women who feel feminism does nothing for them, more often than not, its women who don’t recognise the liberation that feminism can bring. It’s our job to change that.
It’s our job to change that because feminism still is, and still should be, very, very relevant to women. Here are three whopping great reasons why:
1) The gender pay gap:
As of the 7th of November, because of the gap in wages between men and women, women are effectively working for free for the rest of the year. That’s a 15% pay gap between men and women – anything from £5,000 to £16,000. That’s a hell of a lot women are losing out on over the course of a career.
The TUC found that out of 35 major occupations, women earn less than men in 32 jobs. Thirty two! Frances O’Grady summed it up best – “four decades on from the Equal Pay Act, it’s clear we need to take a tougher approach so that future generations of women don’t suffer the same penalties”.
Women may be more likely to be in work today than they were forty years ago, but there’s a still long way to go before we can claim that women are equal. Indeed, a lot of people – and dare I say, lot of men – write-off the idea of women being unequal in the world of work. Of course the glass ceiling no longer exists – but of course it does. And hey, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and she was a woman (wait, one woman in how long, from how many women politicians? Way to go, Britain, a pitiful 56 in the world rankings of women politicians)
2) The only way a woman’s rape could have been avoided was if the rapist had not raped them:
I’ve written before about sexism, victim blaming and rape culture here, here and here previously, and whilst rape culture and victim blaming is not an issue restricted solely to women, it is a major issue which continues to dominate women’s safe spaces on a daily basis.
I read a terrifying article about Barbara Hewson, where she questioned at a university debate whether rape victims are “utterly innocent” and argued that they can have “moral responsibility”. I wrote a blog back in 2012 following George Galloway’s appalling rape apologism, as to why sex without consent, whatever the situation, is rape, although only one explanation should ever be needed – if you have sex with someone against their will, it is rape.
Van Badham captured my sentiments closely – “It’s an horrific conversation, but a necessary one” – a necessary conversation to have to demonstrate the real impact that victim blaming can have on women. That suggesting a woman should have drunk less, or not walked home alone, or worn a longer skirt, could have prevented her rape serves no purpose other than to further torment a rape victim in their ordeal. The rape of a woman is nobody’s fault but the rapist’s, and sex offenders are often experts in rationalising their behaviour. The saddest part about having a conversation of this type is that many of the women who are most qualified to do so are, understandably, often the least willing to do so.
“As long as public focus remains on the behaviour of victims, rather than what’s causing the perpetrators, those monsters will continue to destroy the lives of women, emotionally ruin families and weaken entire societies with the menace of violence.” Ignoring the idea that rape is a gendered crime is ludicrous, because it is an undeniable fact. That victim blaming is played out in the media in the way that it is demonstrates the long road we still have to walk in order to liberate our women from the destructive idea that they are not to be believed in their experiences. That society still teaches women not to be raped, rather than men not to rape, shows a very big, very real need for feminism.
3) Everyday sexism is still a bloody big issue:
Sexism is something I experience on an almost daily basis, whether as a joke or not. Men who offer to vote for me if I’ll give them a blowjob, shop workers who comment on the size/look of my breasts, men who find it acceptable to grope me in pubs or clubs.
And then I read rage-inducing posts such as this one, which claims that “most women have done nothing to deserve self-esteem” or that “women’s independence makes romantic relationships impossible”. This guy is one of the bigger idiots I’ve come across on the internet, but he’s not the only one.
Whilst Page 3 still exists and boobs are still considered news – although I hope you’ll join the campaign to get rid of it – and whilst lad mags are showing an unnerving overlap with statements used by rapists or telling men to “go and smash her on a park bench”, not to mention this vile vile vile quote from Loaded magazine, women will continue to be seen as pieces of meat, put on earth to please men.
A lot of people suggest I’m not a victim of sexism because I’ve achieved things, I haven’t been held back by my gender -but that’s a lie. I have smashed through a lot of discrimination – I remember being put off by a careers advisor at school from applying to serve the military as a medic because “didn’t I want to do something a little bit less demanding?”, but the feminist in me hadn’t quite kicked in yet, so I took that advice and did something else instead – to get to where I am; a lot of people who think I’m not worthy of where I am because of my gender. On the opposite side of the same coin, I’ve been told by numerous men that I intimidate them – which is sad, because I don’t want my success to make me undesirable.
There is still an expectation, although not as it was, that women need to make a choice between being attractive and successful, between a career and children, when this doesn’t have to be the case. Feminism should be letting people know that – that it is possible, Angela Epstein, to have blow-dried hair and a figure-hugging dress and be a feminist, that you don’t have to hate men or even remotely dislike men to challenge the societal shackles which still exist for women. I bloody love men, I love looking at them, I love talking to them, I love touching them, I love smelling them – but I hate patriarchy and the glass ceiling and rape threats. And that’s ok!
It’s easy to find out if you’re a feminist. Partly because this cute little website tells you, but also because if you believe that women are human beings, and that they should be treated the same as men. I won’t join Angela Epstein, as a sensible woman, in feeling saddened by how irrelevant and niche modern feminism has become. I will continue to fight for women’s liberation and for their equal standing in our society. I will continue to promote intersectionality, because with issues of gender come issues of race, of sexuality, of disability, which too need to be addressed within the context of feminism. And I will continue to promote the feminist movement and hand-deliver that message until everyone realises they can make their own sandwiches…