7 Dec 2013

Feminism Is Not A Bad Thing

Hello, I have a vagina. I identify as female. I'm heterosexual. I'm a mother of two. I gave up work to look after my children. I live with my male partner, who is the main breadwinner. I have been married. I dye my hair. I shave my legs and armpits. I wear a bra.
And I am unequivocally feminist.

Women comprise about half the population of the world. Women come in all races, all sizes, all sexualities, all manner of gender identity. Women are all different - there is no overarching definition of womanhood. However, there are certain scions of society that believe women come in two types:

Now, regardless of your gender, you can probably appreciate that ideologies come in many different degrees. Nobody rational would say someone whose politics fall centre left is a Maoist. Nobody rational would say someone who supports the Conservative party are neo-Nazis. Nobody rational would say all Muslims are terrorists, or all Christians are Westboro Baptists. But plenty of usually rational people think feminism means extremism.
"Feminists don't want me to wear pink." "Feminists want me to be a hairy beast." "Feminists want me to suffer in childbirth." "Feminists hate men." "Feminist are all ugly lesbians." "Feminists abhor beauty."

Erm. No. Feminists want women to be on an equal standing as men. And that's not happened yet.

Radical feminism has been responsible, among other social factors, for revolutions in women's rights. It is difficult to fathom for young women now JUST HOW MUCH has changed in relatively recent years. Fifty years ago, the contraceptive pill was only available to married women. Abortion was illegal. Women were expected to give up work on marrying in order to have children. Thirty five years ago, illegitimacy made a young mother a social pariah. Twenty five years ago, marital rape was legal. Domestic violence against women was seen as a waste of police time well into the 1990s. Equal pay, despite being legislated for since 1970, is still widely ignored - indeed, Wimbledon didn't start paying equal prize money until 2007.

Women are regularly discriminated against, due to likelihood of pregnancy, by employers. This is becoming more of a problem as jobs demand increases. Personally, I was passed over for promotion to a salaried managerial role because I was engaged. Realising that work were unlikely to give me any job opportunities while I remained a pregnancy risk, I went ahead and had my children, with the rationale that when they were older, I'd still be young enough to establish a career. Five years on, I hope that's true.
In the UK, women are fortunate to have the reproductive rights they do, although many would argue that they are still too restrictive. In the US, supposedly the most developed country in the world, states deny women abortions. The same states also deny any sort of financial support to women raising these unwanted children. The lack of women's rights in less developed countries is highlighted as an action point by the US, while they simultaneously enact misogynist policies.

Look at our government. 508 male MPs, versus 147 female MPs. This is a country that considers women to be equal with men, yet they constitute just 22% of our government. We have a country that is so concerned that female doctors will outnumber male doctors in a few years that the DoH has recommended an emergency policy. And why is this a problem? Because despite this so-called equality, women are still expected to do the bulk of childcare, and when a child is sick, the childminder/nursery/school/nanny can't help. Despite this equality, women still do more housework than men, regardless of their working status. My marriage was not the finest in the world, and not a perfect example, but it was expected of me to do the majority of the housework, even when working full time, because I worked slightly less hours than my ex husband. Once my eldest was born, I was expected to do ALL the housework, ALL the childcare AND work part time. I mean, this was a man who cited my lack of doing the washing up as a reason for adultery, but I don't think his expectation of women is uncommon.

Then there is the aspect that seems to divide feminists and anti-feminists most deeply: makeup, hair dye, pink toys, youth.
The simple truth is that this is ACTUALLY a problem. Professor Mary Beard is a stunningly intelligent woman, a professor at a major university, with a real art for presenting history programmes. And people HATE her because she has the TEMERITY to turn up on TV screens with white hair. People threatened to kill her for daring to exist in a form she was comfortable with. Women, mainly those in the public eye, are expected to maintain their youth regardless of their actual age. When was the last time you saw a female presenter over 45 on your screens, that actually LOOKED her age? Ageism is a constant row in the media, but really it's a argument of sexism. Women are simply expected to remain young. If men don't, that's fine - they're silver foxes or distinguished. But a white haired woman on TV is worthy of death threats.
In the Early Learning Centre, which is normally pretty fair on gendering of toys, the doctor's kit comes in blue, but the nurse's kit comes in red or pink. The doctor's outfit is white and blue, but you can also have a pink nurse's outfit. The idea that men = doctors, women = nurses is so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness (despite evidence to the contrary) that its pervading children's toys.
Some women wear makeup. Personally, I don't, for all kinds of reasons - chiefly, I shouldn't have to create a mirage image to be socially acceptable - but I'm not against people who DO. I'm very against the media message that women MUST wear makeup; that pimples or imperfections are crimes against humanity; that only the beautiful are capable of personal relationships. THAT is worth fighting against. I dye my hair because I like it red instead of dirty blonde, not because I'm FIGHTING THE SIGNS OF AGEING. My self worth is based around more than what I look like, but due to the media pushing perfection as standard, millions of women feel very differently. Men, however, just need Lynx to get women. Nothing oozes sex appeal like smelling of teenager-on-a-date.
The ideal size for women varies vastly with the fashion. A few years ago, the trend was for stick thin women, now it's for stick thin women with big boobs. Fifty years ago, curves were sexy. The fact that this is all a media illusion, and that personality will win out over looks 70% of the time, is irrelevant. Women suffer from body dysmorphia from a ridiculously young age, and again, it's because the media push perfection from childhood. Barbie may seem innocuous enough, but when her utterly unrealistic and anatomically impossible form becomes the target size of a young girl, things are seriously wrong. Fat is seen as universally Evil: unattractive, with connotations of sloth, of greed, ill health and poverty. Again, it is mainly women who suffer from this portrayal. Men don't usually struggle to buy clothes in larger sizes. Women are faced with dress racks in size 6-12, with a small 'fat' section at the back, for those in sizes 14+. Petite clothing far exceeds tall clothing, because small is feminine, and tall is EVIL. I speak from the point of view of a tall (175cm) woman who is also a size 18 - buying clothes is an absolute nightmare. Most shops which list sizes as S M and L consider L a 12. A size 12 is not large.

All this considered, all these ways in society in which women are made to loathe themselves, in which women are given less opportunities than men, in which women are punished for a solitary chromosome, is feminism REALLY that abhorrent a concept?

I leave you with something to think about. The majority of women menstruate from the age of around 12 until they are in middle age. I spend a quarter of the year, on average, bleeding. This will work out to about nine years of my life - quite a substantial amount of time. Historically, this has been used as an excuse to call women feeble, incapable and inadequate. However, I think society has now reached a point where menstruation is no longer a vile symptom of feminine weakness.
So tell me, in our equal society, where women have no need to be feminist because everything is so wonderful, why are sanitary products taxed as a luxury?