Yesterday I committed one of the biggest internet sins; I self diagnosed. To my horror I discovered I had a disease commonly known as Feminism. I’ve been suffering the most terrible symptoms: desire for equality, freedom of expression and a chronic case of “isolating [myself] from mainstream society”.1 No matter how I try I can’t seem to find a cure for this terrible disease, however the more I come to think of the more I begin to wonder if I need a cure.
Since the first coining of the phrase “feminist” in 1837 by philosopher Charles Fourier women have consistently and tirelessly been fighting for the right to an equal society.2 Make no mistake about it patriarchy is alive and well, its function within society is still as focused and driven as it has been in previous years. There is well rounded and documented evidence to suggest that this phenomena has been tackled to some extent; to argue otherwise would be foolish. We have obviously progressed forward from the tight constraints of thousands of years of history. However the question that I often find myself asking is: does feminism sill have a place in contemporary society?
The only logical answer seems to be yes. Before we begin to look at mirco examples within society the existence of such groups as ‘Everyday Feminism’ and ‘Ten Million Rising’ demonstrate a need for a continued push of feminist ideals. Those who are perhaps arguing that feminism is a dud cause may argue that such groups are minority collectives, obsolete and small in number. At the time of this publication ‘Everyday Feminism’ had 40,514 likes on its Facebook page,3 with a general interest page entitled ‘Feminism’ clocking up 103,549 likes.4 I can assure any doubters out there that there are many people willing to push forward to fight for equal rights and freedom of expression. The idea that it is a “small minority” is now greatly outdated.
There are so many ongoing issues that relate directly back to gender issues that I cannot possibly discuss them all here. Therefore I have chosen to focus on a time weary debate and perhaps some of you will groan to hear; women and self image.
Some of you may ask why I would want to rake back over something so completely battered to death. Everyone has heard the consistent arguments against photo editing and the exposure of young girls to overly sexualised ideals. All of this is greatly important to me on a personal level. Being a young woman who at least once an annum for approximately six years has had to deal with inappropriate behaviour from male acquaintances or friends, I want to know what it is that has created this phenomena.
For a long time I believed as many others will on a first reading of the above statement, that I somehow “deserved” or “encouraged” whatever I happened to be on the receiving end of. We’ve all seen the pictures ‘how to avoid rape/sexual harassment’ in which the voice of wisdom tells us a woman must not dress provocatively, drink to excess or even most absurdly, not to wear her hair in a pony tail for fear of it being used against her in an attack. Instead of arguing against all of these points, I want to explore how society makes us feel as though we need to achieve these things and then strip them away from us.
For example, we are taught through advertising, peer pressure and the societal values that we need to be beautiful and more often than not sexualised to boot. We all scramble over having flawless skin, perfect hair, a short skirt, the perfect bikini body and a push up bra, I’m generalising of course but I feel most heterosexual women I have had the pleasure to meet have felt this pressure to conform to societal expectations at some point in their lives. Generally speaking one can argue that this is a form of competition; we must be the most beautiful in order to attract our desired mate over all of the other women he could choose from. Therefore at the core of this I deduce that a great majority of this behaviour is to attract a life and sexual partner.
How is it then, that in order to avoid unwanted male attention we must cease to do all of these things? We’ve done what society told us to do in order to find that caring, loving man of our dreams that we so desperately seek. When we find men who are more than eager to take advantage of our susceptibility to conformation suddenly we are in the wrong for simply fulfilling societies criteria? I must look a certain way if I don’t want to die a lonely cat lady but the minute some odd guy begins to bother me someone will always say, “well you must have done something to encourage the boy.” Why would I want to do that? No one enjoys being the subject of unwanted attraction, especially when it pushes the boundaries into stalking. So are people so instant on the fact that I did something to encourage the man?
Surely it is derogatory to the man to take this point of view? Is no man capable of thinking for himself? Is no man capable of stopping himself? They all have a brain and reason; in my personal experience there have been multiple times I could not have made it more clear that the behaviour that I was witnessing concerned me deeply. In times past a man has asked if he could “beat up my boyfriend” in order to get me to date him. Anyone in their right mind knows that this kind of behaviour is wrong. As many a feminist has claimed: “no means no,not convince me”, it seems to be this doctrine that certain people find difficult to comprehend. I’m beginning to think that some men do understand this and are simply ignoring it. It may be simpler to just blame the woman’s behaviour but surely this means that a man has no free will. It seems to almost suggest that they are victim to their hormones that we women tease and drive wild on purpose with our tempting sexualised bodies; helpless in the gripping vice of the evil woman.
I personally believe that we are all taught from a young age that women can be and by and large are sexualised objects. In almost every advert, in almost every movie, in almost every publication there is a women in a sexual sense playing a part. Has this blurred the lines? Are women now merging into one huge representation, a piece of plastic without a face? Are we all one and the same to these kinds of men? No personalities, no differentiations, just women and women mean sex. We allow this to happen, we fulfil our own prophecy, we allow men to wolf whistle at us, ask to see our breasts and such and pass it off as “banter”, an all too common argument I have heard.
Not one to shirk a giant, cheesy quote of deep and meaningful proportions, I feel that this quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ to be most appropriate to most situations I come across in life.
It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.
When I read this in terms of feminism and the failing gender equality that I experience I find it to be incredibly inspirational and moving. Try it, I hope you’ll derive the same meaning out of it as I do.
In no way are the perceptions I have detailed here relevant to everyone, nor are they meant as an attack on all men. I use the word ‘men’ here in relation to the men I have met personally in my life and not all men.