A Response to ‘Women Against Feminism.’
The year is 2014. You are a white Western woman. You wake up in the morning in a comfortably sized house or flat. You have a full or part-time job that enables you to pay your rent or mortgage. You have been to school and maybe even college or university as well. You can read and write and count. You own a car or have a driver’s licence. You have enough money in your own bank account to feed and clothe yourself. You have access to the Internet. You can vote. You have a boyfriend or girlfriend of your choosing, who you can also marry if you want to, and raise a family with. You walk down the street wearing whatever you feel like wearing. You can go to bars and clubs and sleep with whomever you want.
Your world is full of freedom and possibility.
Then you pick up a newspaper or go online. You read about angry women ranting about sexism and inequality. You see phrases like ‘rape-culture’ and ‘slut-shaming.’ You furrow your brow and think to yourself: ‘What are they so angry about? There is no such thing as sexism anymore.’
Now imagine this:
The year is 2013. You are a 25 year-old Pakistani woman. A few months ago, you married the man you love. A man you choose for yourself. You are also pregnant with his child. You see your life stretching out before you, filled with hope and happiness. Suddenly, you and your husband are dragged away from each other. You are both beaten with bricks and batons. You can’t fight back. You can’t escape. No one comes to help you. Through your fading vision, you look up, and look into the eyes of one of your assailants: into the eyes of your father.
The year is 2013. You are a 23 year-old Indian woman. You are a physiotherapy student with a promising career ahead of you. You are sitting on a private bus travelling home alone on a warm December evening. You gaze out of the window as the buildings of New Dheli rush past you and feel content. Suddenly, a blunt force hits the back of your head and you fall to the floor of the bus. A group of strange men are standing over you. They bring the metal bar down on you again and again and again until all you can taste is the blood filling up your mouth. You pray that you will die soon. And you do, but not then. You are raped, beaten, and tortured over and over again. Death is slow and agonising.
The year is 2014. You are a 13 year-old girl from Niger. You no longer live there though. You are now living in the neighbouring country Nigeria, sitting alone in small room on a small bed in a small apartment high above the city of Kano. You are not allowed to leave. Your stomach is swollen from the unwanted life growing inside of it. You had no choice. The father is a man in his 40s. He is a businessman. He has bought you as his wife. You were a penniless, uneducated girl when he came for you. You don’t know of any life you could have had. Neither did your family: just one less mouth for them to feed. You still have the body of a child, and it’s straining under the pressure from the one inside of you. You feel like you’re about to be split in two. You don’t wonder if you will survive the birth. A part of you doesn’t want to.
These are fictionalised accounts of real events that have happened to real women living in our world today. They follow the past 250 years of women and men campaigning for women to be given equal rights to men to prevent these kinds of injustices and abuses on the grounds of gender taking place. Over the course of this time, campaigners – Feminists, both female and male – have been locked up, beaten, tortured, and even killed, in the pursuit of equality. They did this with pen and ink and print; they did this with their voices; they did this with their bodies; they did this with art and music; they did in courts of law and halls and houses of government that they fought be to allowed into.
They did this so that women would no longer been seen as property, livestock, breeding machines, sex objects, punching bags, or infantile morons. They did this not just for themselves, but also for their daughters, and their daughters, and their daughters for generations to come. They did this for women they would never meet – women who lived across countries, across vast oceans, across the entire globe, and even across time.
They did this so that women like me – a white Western woman – could attend school and university; to learn to read, write, and think critically; to gain a degree; to get a job and be paid an equal salary to a man in the same position; and to sit here with my own computer and type all of this.
Feminism is a movement for freedom, equality, choice, love, compassion, respect, solidarity, and education. We may argue, we may disagree, we may struggle to understand the choices and perspectives of others sometimes, but these core beliefs of the movement have never changed, and they never will.
That is why I am a Feminist.
If you feel that you have so far lived your life unaffected by even the mildest form of sexism – anything from feeling uncomfortable when a man catcalls you in the street, to feeling scared walking home alone at night in a secluded area – and are treated with love and respect by every man in your life, then to you I say: I’m glad for you. If you don’t think you need feminism, then that is a victory for the movement. You have fulfilled all those dreams that every suffragette being force-fed in prison and every ‘witch’ burnt at the stake dreamed you would one day.
But perhaps take a second to consider the life of the Pakistani woman who was beaten to death by her own family for marrying a man of her choosing. Or the life of the Indian woman who was raped, beaten, and murdered on a bus by a gang of men. Or the life of the little girl in Niger who was sold to a man more than twice her own age and forced to carry a baby that may kill her to deliver. Do they still need feminism?
And perhaps take a second to consider this too: Even in our liberal, Western world, why do women still only fill 24% of senior management jobs? Why are more women than men domestically abused or even killed every week at the hands of their male partner or ex-partner? Why is there still a pay gap (in the UK specifically) of 15% for women doing the same jobs and working the same hours as men?
And what about on a cultural level? Have you ever noticed how comedy panel shows usually only have one female panellist compared to 4-5 male ones? That almost every dieting product on the market is solely aimed at women? How a lot of newspapers and advertising campaigns will use a sexualised or pornographic image of a woman to sell news or products that have nothing to do with sex?
Or perhaps on a personal level: Do you choose to wear certain clothes because you want to or because you feel ‘unfeminine’ if you don’t? Do you choose to cover yourself up because you want to or because you feel ashamed or intimidated by a man looking at your body? Do you shave your legs and underarm hair because you want to or because you will look ‘ugly’ if you don’t? Did you parents dress you in pink as a baby because they liked the colour or because you were born a girl? Do you want to have children because you want to or because you are a woman?
When you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning, do you see yourself through your own eyes, or through the eyes of the men that will look at you when you walk out the door?
The fact is, like it or not, you still live a world where gender matters. Where gender controls not just the entire course of your life – but the lives of women all over the world. Every second, a child will be born female in a country where she will persecuted for this random biological occurrence for the rest of her life. So before you hold up your anti-Feminist placard proudly and smile at your own sense of empowerment, think not what Feminism can do for you, but what it can do for that one girl. She needs someone to stand up for her. That someone could be you.
[ x ]
The above sums up pretty well why many women of colour within the so-called ‘Western countries’ and those outside are very alienated with the [mainstream] feminism.
The idea that to show a White young woman in the West why and how she needs feminism, or why and how she has benefited from feminism, you have to appeal to the ‘tragic plight’ of Women of Colour ‘elsewhere’, turn these Women of Colour into caricatures of victimhood while contrasting it with White, middle-class women as ‘empowered subjects’, is simply condescending in the best case and outright racist in the worst case.
Do you want to talk about why we need feminism in North America or Europe? Talk about how they are more likely to be raped than to receive equal pay. Talk about how domestic violence is a very real danger that they are more likely than not to face before they die. Talk about how they will be shunned or belittled solely because they dared to like something, a subculture or a profession often associated with men. Talk about how people and the society will value them only based on how close their bodies come to some imaginary, nonexistent beauty standard.
You don’t have to stroke the egos of these women rejecting feminism by turning billions of others into mere victims, into a hierarchical category in which they are fundamentally ‘less’.
Also: no, you are not leading a comfortable life because of only feminist history in Europe and North America. You don’t have a decent job, a nice home, or enough money, or access to internet because of feminism. In fact, there are many, million and millions of people in your country who don’t have those luxuries. You are living a comfortable middle class life in the US or wherever else in the oh-so-developed-West because your civilisation has plundered, colonised, and exploited other countries and peoples for decades in a scale that is unprecedented in human history. Enslavement of millions built the US, allowed many luxuries to the mostly White middle and upper classes of the US; not White Feminist women from 19th century. You owe your wifi and car and comfortable living to a genocidal history, not to Anna Howard Shaw or Mary Wollstonecraft. There are many still in these ‘developed’ portions of our world constantly exploited, often people of colour, especially women of colour, who will not only earn less than White men but also less than White women. The idea of erasing class, race, religion, ethnic, sexual and myriad other aspects of social, cultural, economic, and political realities and reducing a state solely to the earning of a single movement is not just ignorant, but unjust because it will allow you to ignore the injustices your luxuries are based on and the injustices that are still affecting you and those around you in varying degrees.
Also: about those ‘women elsewhere’, have you thought about how much of their plight is actually an end-result of the politics in your country, in your history? Gender does not live in a vacuum, neither does sexuality as emphasised previously. Experiences of these women are marred with injustices perpetrated in the past and wars still waged, a cultural hegemony imposed upon them greatly still. I alongside many were denied access to education, am still denied access to equal work opportunities and discriminated de jure and de facto solely because I wear ‘hijab’ in my own country somewhere in Middle East, and the inspiration of this discrimination is a staunchly hateful concept of laïcité imported from France. Many queer people in Middle East and Indian subcontinent are targeted and discriminated not on the basis of their authentic and original cultural attitudes towards queer sexuality and gender, but the 19th century colonialist-imposed heteronormative norms.
Also: why do we never hear the positive contributions of women of colour, their achievements or some of the better attitudes in non-Western world? Hear about these women who contributed a lot to the global feminist movement? About feminist worker rights movements in early 20th century Ottoman Empire? Why do we never, for example, see the contrast made in the above post, just in opposite order? My country had a female Prime Minister in the 90s and while I despise her political stance and the fact that she was able to achieve that status had a lot to do with her socioeconomic privilege, it does not change the fact that nobody debated her gender in regards to her competency. Yet, I see the stupidest kinds of debates still happening in the US, arguments of whether or not PMS makes a woman a bad candidate for leadership; why do we never see the contrast made above, with same hierarchical tone in this case? “Oh, imagine if you were in a country in 2014 where they still debated if the fact that you bleed from your vagina once in a while makes you less reliable as a leader.” We don’t. There is a reason we don’t: race. Racism. Cultural hegemony stemming from that racism. That ‘there must be’ hierarchical comparisons and the oh-so-superior-West shall never be the one that’s less.
I am a feminist. I have defined myself as a feminist for years now. But there are moments, when I see posts like above and the title of “feminist” suddenly feels like a disgusting piece of clothing smothering me. I feel the urge to peel it off me as fast as I can. It is alienating to know that we will forever be only the victim in the eyes of many other women who call themselves feminists; we will be poster-child of “what if this was you”, that our contributions will forever be ignored, that the contributions of your society, your government, your ideas of race, your civilisation in our past and current issues will never be acknowledged while our cultures and societies are considered monolithic and shallowly vilified.
If this is your feminism, I want no part in it.