A brief history of feminism
Since the 15th Century, women have fought for equal rights to citizenship, the right to own property, the right to vote and the right to equal pay. These campaigns have come in three waves over the centuries.
- First Wave: the start of the Suffrage Movement in the 19th century, which focused on political and legal equality;
- Second Wave: the civil rights movement in the 1960’s for social equality; and
- Third Wave: this began in the 1990’s and hasn’t exactly been defined, but seems to have encompassed further social equality movements.
Any mention of the Suffrage movement conjures images of women chained to railings or carrying out violent protest. In the 1960’s, women were angry about being confined to the home and fought to break free from this stereotype. As a result of these movements, the word ‘feminism’ probably still evokes memories of hunger strikes and burning bras. Is this the reason why feminism remains tinged with unpopularity?
What is the definition of feminism?
The dictionary defines feminism as “The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”
Beyoncé sampled a speech from the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her song ‘Flawless’. In this speech, she states that the definition of a feminist is “the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes”.
Why is this an issue in the 21st Century?
In the UK, there is still a 19% pay gap between men and women. In the USA, women make 78 cents to every dollar a man makes for doing the same job.
Women still suffer sexual harassment and discrimination in the work place. They continue to be objectified and treated as a sexual commodity in the media.
It took years of campaigning from the brilliant ‘No More Page 3’, to stop a British newspaper called ‘The Sun’ from featuring topless models on a regular basis.
Through A Bloody Good Cause, Sophie and I discovered that the Government made provision for condoms and razors for men but did not provide sanitary products for women. Women also continue to be taxed on sanitary products as a non-essential luxury item.
Furthermore, as a global concept the essential role of feminism is even more pronounced, as women still strive for the same rights to education as men. FGM, forced marriage, child marriage, sex slavery, female infanticide and more, are major standalone issues which continue to plague the fight towards gender equality.
So while in the Western world, women may have the right to vote, may be reaching high positions in the workplace and may even be leaders of state, feminism still needs to exist because gender equality does not exist.
How did I become a feminist?
I assume that I have at some point been referred to as ‘the feminist one’ by people who know me. It has been used to introduce me and to explain me. In some cases, it has even been used to excuse and insult me – “oh don’t mind Sanya, she’s a bit of a feminist”.
Growing up, I had many amazing role models. Some of them are fake (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), some of them are famous (Beyoncé) and some of them raised me (my parents and my secondary school).
As a law student, I was often given the impression that as an Asian woman I was doubly likely to be held back. Apparently, it’s not only a man’s world, but a white man’s world. As things stand today, I may not be the cleverest or the most successful, but the attitude and the standards I developed during these years have shaped everything about my personality and progression.
In September 2014, I watched Emma Watson’s fantastic speech launching the ‘He for She’ campaign. In her speech she highlights the need for men and boys to play as big of a role in feminism, as women have up until now. She smashes the assumption that feminists are man haters and states that gender should be viewed as a spectrum. When I heard her speech, I felt that everything I had ever thought about feminism had finally been articulated and it left me moved, inspired and strengthened.
In March 2015, I attended the Women of the World Festival in London. Once again my eyes were opened to the incredible diversity of the feminist struggle and I learnt so much about the factors that can affect the growth of a woman’s potential from birth.
Finally, in July 2015 I launched my own project with my friend Sophie Harrold, as we campaigned for gender equality through the provision of sanitary products to homeless shelters. We were given wonderful opportunities to share our message with the public through social media, TV, radio, print and now through this blog.
So, why are some people anti-Feminism?
Many people are still uncomfortable associating themselves with feminism regardless of their age, gender or upbringing. I wonder whether this has something to do with the automatic segregation the word implies.
There have been many occasions where I have commented on something, only to be met with the question “oh you’re not one of those feminists are you?” To which I reply, “of course I am, aren’t you?!” Because for me the concept is very simple; feminism is about gender equality. If you don’t support gender equality then in my opinion you need to be educated on why that is wrong.
Some comment that they don’t approve of feminism because it encourages women to hate men. This is ill informed and simply incorrect. Some women don’t want to be called feminists because they want to wear makeup and look pretty. While this raises a whole host of arguments regarding society’s standards of beauty, I still don’t see the relevance to gender equality.
What I’m really trying to say is that while people are getting bogged down in the minutiae of every little argument, 66 million girls in the world aren’t receiving an education. 80% of human trafficking victims are girls. So does it really matter who pays on the first date?
As Emma Watson points out in her speech, feminism is as much of an issue for men as it is for women. As an example, it has to be noted that women get up to 52 weeks of maternity leave following the birth of a child, while men get only 2 weeks of paternity leave. While the law seems to occasionally take baby steps towards more rights for the father, it remains obvious that the Government is comfortable with society’s engrained gender roles. If we are working on the spectrum that Ms. Watson suggests, we need to be able to meet in the middle.
There are many comparisons I could make between the different types of men and women and their chosen lifestyles, but at the end of the day, if you support equal rights between the sexes then you are a feminist, whether you choose to accept that label or not.
So go forth and support each other! Just remember, feminist isn’t a dirty word. 🙂
Thanks for reading,