Comment: In Defence of Feminism

Photo: huffingtonpost.com

I like to think that we live in the second coming of the 1960s. While the 60s had the hippie movement, the 2010s has the Occupy movement. Ours, at least in the western world, is the first of several generations to grow up more progressive (for the most part) than their parents. The internet is a clear example of this. One only needs to see the millions of views that left-leaning political comedians like John Oliver or Stephen Colbert receive on their YouTube videos to see that their views are very popular. This is true in all areas, except the notion of gender equality.

One of the Occupy protests. Photo: ibtimes.com
One of the Occupy protests. Photo: ibtimes.com

I know that by writing this article and using this title, I will attract a heavily partisan group of people, those who click because they want someone to agree with them, and those who click because they want to get angry. I’m not trying to hate on either group, studies have shown that we do enjoy when people agree with us, but we enjoy it even more when they make us angry. Anger provides a catharsis of sorts, a feeling of relief after a negative circumstance. Because of this, I am not writing to change people’s opinions, because I know their opinions won’t change. I am writing this because I want to, and that’s all that you’ll get from me (for now).

One thing that is always pointed out to people when they read pro-feminist articles is that many say “I’m not a feminist. I believe in equality.” Of course, then the article goes on to rant about how the two are the same thing. This has been repeated time and time again, and many arguments have been made from this, with the anti-feminists usually saying “Feminism has changed. It’s only focused on female rights, not full equality.” Many people will expect me to pick the pro-feminist side of this argument, based on the title and all. I’m sorry to disappoint you.

You can call me what you want, feminist, equalist, humanist, feminazi, whatever. It’s a name, and nothing more.

I won’t take the feminist side of the ‘naming of feminism’ argument because I think it’s a stupid argument to begin with. People are yelling at each other over something as silly as a name. This argument is a pointless one, because no moral points are brought up. You can call me what you want, feminist, equalist, humanist, feminazi, whatever. It’s a name, and nothing more.

That’s not to say that good points aren’t made in said argument. Feminism, after all, is derived from the word female. Many have asked “How can a movement that claims it is pro-equality for all genders be derived from the word ‘female’? Shouldn’t it call itself egalitarianism?” This is a good point. After all, feminism may have began as a pro-woman movement only, but that doesn’t mean its name shouldn’t change. And it’s not like feminism hasn’t changed names already.

The word feminism was coined by French philosopher Charles Fourier, and was first used in English in the 1890s. Despite this, what we today call “first-wave feminists” (the people who pushed for women to have the vote in the early 1900s) were actually called suffragists at the time. Going on this, the modern anti-feminist slur ‘feminazi’ may be seen as derogatory, but so was the term suffragette, the word most commonly used to describe suffragists. Suffragette was a slur to begin with, no self-respecting suffragist would call her/himself that. Yet, it’s the word most people use to describe the movement, a movement usually described as a good thing.

These women were the 'feminazis' of their time. Photo: theguardian.com
These women were the ‘feminazis’ of their time. Photo: theguardian.com

Going on that point, I have heard the argument said that “feminism, as a movement, needs to change. While [other movements] have changed in the last century, feminism has not. It is still about female empowerment. Women weren’t in power then, but they can be now.” Many people say this to some extent. Feminism needs to change with the times. The thing is, hasn’t it? First-wave feminism was about giving women the vote. That ended, then there was second-wave feminism (c. 1960s-1980s), which was about righting social inequalities. Now there is third-wave feminism (c. 1990s onwards, fixing up things that weren’t covered in the second wave and extending those freedoms to women of different colours, sexuality etc.). In fact, I would make the argument that it is not feminism that needs to change, but anti-feminism that does. After all, here are some anti-suffragist posters circa the 1920s.

These are literally some of the same arguments and jokes used by anti-feminists today. Of course, these posters look ridiculous nowadays, but people genuinely believed in these arguments once. Now, I am not saying that modern anti-feminists are the same today as they were in the 1920s. What I am saying is that the movement’s arguments mustn’t be that strong if they can’t think of a new argument in almost 100 years.

Fun Fact: Women didn’t have universal voting rights in Switzerland until 1990. Cool Beans!

Of course, I would be contradicting myself and building somewhat of a strawman if I claimed that anti-feminism hasn’t changed its arguments. While general arguments seemingly haven’t changed, specific issues have, and thus debates have arisen around those. One of the most talked about is the pay gap.

A literal 'gender gap'. Photo: womeninastronomy.blogspot.com
A literal ‘gender gap’. Photo: womeninastronomy.blogspot.com

Just by my mentioning of the pay gap, I have angered many people on both sides. That has always confounded me. Why do people care so much about an economic theory? Do people get this angry about stuff like Keynesian systems or Game Theory? But I digress.

The pay gap burst into the public consciousness after Barack Obama claimed that, in America, a woman will earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. This created a, and I am using the technical term, s***storm of controversy. People came out with sound responses, saying “That figure doesn’t account for equal employees. Saying a woman who is a maid makes less than a man who is a CEO isn’t a fair comparison.” These are good points. Many of these people tend to offer up higher figures, be they 85 cents, 93 cents, 97 cents or even 99.6 cents. I won’t get myself involved in this argument either, for the same reason I didn’t get involved in the ‘name of feminism’ one. It’s a stupid argument. Who cares what the exact comparison rate is? It’s just splitting hairs. The fact that should be taken is that the inequality in pay exists no matter which study you choose. That’s the important factor. John Oliver summed up this point by saying, “If a man were to take a dump on my desk, the size of the dump isn’t the [problem].”

An, unfortunately real, visual demonstration of said argument. Photo: Youtube
An, unfortunately real, visual demonstration of said argument. Photo: YouTube

Many of the anti-feminists who claim that the gender gap doesn’t even exist will say “If it does exist, then why won’t businesses only hire women; after all it would be cheaper for them?” I really don’t like this argument, because it is hopelessly shallow. It only takes into account starting pay (most of the pay gap is due to unequal handing out of raises) and assumes that the people who create this pay gap are Vaudevillian mustachio-twirling big business owners. Most people do not realize they are, on average, giving female employees fewer raises than their male counterparts for equal work (sexism today has been called “Sexism without sexists”. Most forms of inequality are subconscious).

Most people hold sexist views without realizing it. Like the song says in Avenue Q, “Everybody’s a little bit Racist”

Another, again, valid point brought up by the anti-feminists is what issues are being targeted specifically? Women can’t even drive in Saudi Arabia, so why should feminism focus on far more trivial topics like how ‘history’ should be called ‘herstory’? First of all, history is derived from the French word ‘histoire’, or story, and has nothing to do with the English word ‘his’ (sorry, just had to get that out of the way). This argument has more weight than most, as modern third-wave feminism is devoted to the idea of equality for all, regardless of colour, gender, which genitalia you want where etc. I have a feminist friend who agrees with this argument that we should focus on the large problems first. I will defend it though (totally didn’t see that coming *points to the title*).

While it may seem trivial to focus on small things rather than bigger global issues, I will ask those people whether or not they think there should be more black people in governance. I’m not talking about quotas or affirmative action, just in general. Odds are they would say yes. Then I would ask, “But why are you focusing on something like governmental representation when there are ethnic cleansings happening in Darfur? Why would you focus on something so trivial?” I think people who make this argument tend to forget that people can focus on more than one issue at once.

The final thing I would like to focus on is inclusion, perception and equality for all. There are numerous studies showing that, while crime has been decreasing in the Western world, people’s perception of crime is at a high point. Why is this? The answer, is this magical and mysterious thing called…

The INTERNET! (Cue ominous music)

Why does this exist? Because INTERNET! Photo: imgur.com
Why does this exist? Because INTERNET! Photo: imgur.com

The internet has increased people’s perception of everything, in particular, things we want to know. Crime and the like is interesting. A book about a gruesome murder will sell more copies than a book about a shiny happy land where everything is perfect.

North Korea, the only true paradise on earth. Photo: reddit.com
North Korea, the only true paradise on earth. Photo: reddit.com

This ability to access more information than we can dream of has given rise to the ‘echo chamber’. An echo chamber is what happens when a bunch of like-minded people all agree about the same issue over and over again in the same area. Eventually, people’s opinions become more radical, as they hear the same talking points repeated again and again.

Echo chambers have only been negative to third-wave feminism. That is one of the few absolutes I feel I can claim. They have intensified and radicalized both feminists and anti-feminists. People on both sides start making ridiculous claims and points, while the rest of the people are caught in the middle, dodging the crossfire.

It has led to many people being unable to defend feminism as an indefensible, extremist example will be brought up. Rather than try to say “We’re not all like that” or some cliché like that, I will simply say that this is a bit of a double-standard. If I were to judge all Muslims by the actions of a small minority, I would be calling over a billion people suicide bombers. I would be labelled a racist. So then, why do we judge all of feminism the same way, yet aren’t called sexist or prejudiced? I’m sure some are, but the double-standard stands strong.

Similarly, saying that these extremists “aren’t real feminists” is the same as saying that the mentioned Islamic Terror Groups “aren’t real Muslims”. Both are Muslims and feminists, but are radical and not at all representative of the entire group.

Everyone has prejudice, we just have to acknowledge it.

Earlier I said that many feminists claim that “all who support equal rights are de facto feminists.” I don’t believe this. I have heard many people say that they “are all for equality” yet hold deeply misogynistic views, in a somewhat contradictory manner. These people do not call themselves feminists, and most feminists would not want them to. I know some of these examples personally, and I know that, although they might not think it, they do not support equality. Not because they don’t call themselves feminists, but because of their internalized prejudices and sexism.

If you want to test your own prejudice, here’s a test by Harvard. It only takes 10 minutes. Select Gender-Career when you get to the page. I got ‘slight male association with career and slight female association with family’. Everyone has prejudice, we just have to acknowledge it.

I wanted to finish by saying that feminism is, in my view, a movement for equality, but not the sole one. There is no universal movement for equality, due to people seeing inequalities in different places. It would be nearly impossible to create a movement for that. Feminism is, rather, a movement for equality between the sexes. Just because a person doesn’t call themselves a feminist, doesn’t mean they don’t hold the same views of equality, nor does it mean they are against equality.

I was not asked to write this article. This article is not in response to anything in particular. I wrote this because I wanted to say that I am not a feminist because I believe in equal rights, nor do I believe in equal rights because I am a feminist.

I am a feminist and believe in equal rights because I am not an ass.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily endorsed by The Update. We encourage anyone who would like to send an opinion piece to sign up in the join us section of the website.