Today, Thursday March 8, is International Women’s Day. The annual event has been formally celebrated on this day (in Western societies) since 1975, but its origins trace back to women’s movements in New York in 1909, and women’s suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917. Each year the United Nations assigns a theme to the day, and 2018’s theme is:
Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives
The relevant #hashtags associated with this theme include #PressforProgress (reducing the wage gap) and of course #MeToo and #TimesUp in relation to sexual harassment and male abuse of power.
However, many people criticize the movement known as feminism, and often for very complex reasons. For example, the 2017 documentary film The Red Pill saw proud feminist Cassie Jaye renounce her allegiance to the cause. The reasons why are plenty, as the movie explores the negative impacts the movement has had on men, and how in current years the feminist movement has leaned towards ‘man hating’ or ignoring certain issues in light of only working towards specific women’s issues.
One such example is that we readily fight for women to be CEOs in white-collar jobs, but we seldom fight for equality when discussing women in blue-collar working class roles. Furthermore, the feminist movement often groups men together at the same time it calls for all women to unite; promoting a somewhat us-versus-them gender war and suggesting that all individuals are the same because of their gender.
The documentary also explores how men are more likely to commit suicide, and how repressed races, much like blacks and Hispanics in the US, face similar battles that women are also fighting against, but that the label of feminism keeps us from uniting in the same battle; and instead focusing purely on gender.
This reminds me of the 2014 movie ‘Pride’, based on a true story, in which LGBTQ activists approached the men in the miner’s strike (in Britain in 1984) as the gay activists realized the battle of segregation and treatment of people in both cases were of a similar nature. The two groups eventually formed allies, meaning the miner’s themselves had to confront their own prejudices against the LGBTQ community when they themselves were fighting against a similar prejudice of their own.
When we use the label of feminism, we sometimes forget we are fighting the battle for all who cannot speak or fight for themselves. However, criticisms of its movement have also centered on first-world privilege, and that western women have ‘no idea’ what true oppression is like compared to women in the East and the third-world.
The Feminist Divide
Whenever I hear people debate the relevancy of feminism, regardless of its geographic place, I am reminded of something that Author Michael Crichton said in one of his books, which was “If you don’t know history, then you’re a leaf who doesn’t know it is part of a tree”.
As a white western women, I know that I live in what is considered “a radically feminist” society. The opportunities and rights I am afforded, including my ability to express my opinion in this blog post, are thanks to the countless women who came before my time, and who I now stand alongside with today, in our ongoing fight for equity.
I say equity rather than equality because feminism is really about everyone, not just the female gender, and equity treats all lives as equal and strives for a sense of fairness, rather than equality for the sake of equality. An example of equality would be to hire a woman in a job just because a company thinks they need to meet a gender quota, rather than equity being the hiring of the best candidate for the job regardless of their age, race or gender. Equity, however, only works when everyone is given the same and equal opportunities in life, which is why equality often becomes the focus. Women and certain races are not yet afforded the equal opportunities for equity to be built upon.
A lot of the ‘heat ‘ from feminism in Western contexts also comes from the first-world stance in which we are afforded a voice that millions of women (and children) elsewhere are not. Who could forget Iranian Vida Movahed who unwittingly began a movement for women taking off their hijabs in protest against the Shah’s regime; in which a dress code has been enforced on women since 1979.
Or even still, according to one report:
- In Guatemala, women are murdered purely because of their gender. They are also raped, beaten and prone to high rates of HIV/AIDS.
- In West African nations, over 50% of females are subject to ‘breast ironing’ where they are beaten and burned to try and stop their breasts from developing.
- In Pakistan and Afghanistan, women face acid attacks and are not permitted to drive or leave the house without their husbands.
Arguably, the divide in feminism has become two-fold. There is a divide among women in the West about the aim and purpose of the movement, as well as a divide in a literal sense with the experience of being a woman depending on your geography and degree of oppression. Many westerners believe women are already equal (in the first-world), and also believe that our fighting for more first-world privilege is disrespectful to the women who suffer far worse outcomes in their oppression at the hands of the patriarchy.
What I wanted to do was suggest five reminders about some of the conflicts discussed above which can help keep the foundational spirit of feminism alive.
- We can fight more than one battle at once
There is nothing stopping women, in the West, from fighting their own feminist battle whilst also turning their attention to the problems women face elsewhere in the world. We also forget that the rise of women in power in the West has the potential to help address the problems that other women face elsewhere in the world.
Feminism in the West keeps the conversation alive for the millions of voiceless women in the world who need their stories told.
- Suffering is still suffering
Yes, of course, some people suffer more than others in this world, but saying one suffers more than the other denies the feelings of those who still suffer. Extremities of suffering should be no reason not to fight for something. Debating that we should focus on third-world suffering over first-world problems promotes the belief the two exist in literally separate worlds, which of course they do not.
- Women hold existential power that men do not
Women are the gatekeepers of life itself; both human life and of course material life (aka technology) thanks to mother nature. If women were in power, we could – hypothetically speaking – only use men for their ‘seed’. Men are the seed in the ground, but women grow the resultant tree. Sadly, women forget how much power we actually hold in life. Imagine what we could do if we banded together and realized that existential power is largely our own.
- All life unfolds via the female (yin) and the male (yang)
It is sad that parts of feminism have turned to man-hating, when we forget that we only know our position as females in society in light of also knowing the position of men in society. This is also true for men – in their need to acknowledge that part of their identity has allowed to be forged by the historical oppression of women.
- For the feminist cause to have impact, more men need to join the movement, and women need to have camaraderie among themselves
Regardless of how you brand or label the movement, at its core it strives for equity. Part of the battle is however getting men to realise the role they play in helping society become more just – for all of us, not just women. And the other part is women realizing that part of our disunity contributes to the problems of oppression.