I am a woman, not unlike some of you. Not unlike your mothers, your sisters; not unlike your future daughters. Both globally and historically, we have most certainly not been treated fairly, respectfully, or even humanely. In fact, we have been forced to accept quite the opposite. If you haven't already guessed, I will be exploring the vastly opinionated world of feminism. More specifically, why we still so badly need it.
I became familiar with the term not too long ago, and the more interested I’ve become with feminism, the harder it has become to ignore the fact that advocating for women’s rights has become synonymous with man-hating. If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this article, it is that this needs to stop. Being a feminist, contrary to other seemingly popular opinions, has nothing to do with viewing women as oppressed victims, hating and punishing men, or believing that women deserve special privileges. By definition, it is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. In the eyes of the media, however, feminism is very rarely viewed as such. Apparently, expressing the idea that my gender should be every bit as equal as yours is frowned upon, seen as anti-men, too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and unattractive. This in itself, is exactly why we still need feminism.
“I don’t need feminism because I already have equal rights.”
“Feminism doesn’t help anyone anymore, so we don’t need it.”
“I don’t need female empowerment because I’m not weak!”
These are statements that, regretfully, are not as uncommon to encounter as you’d probably think. They serve as a frightening and alarming reminder to anyone who has previously familiarized themselves with worldwide feminism that not everybody else has. Women and girls, you are ignorant to the fact that your freedom is the result of the women who came before you. Of the feminists who came before you. The women who were imprisoned and arrested and shot at and beaten for you. The women who put their lives on hold for you; who refused to back down and fought tirelessly for you. For your freedom. For a more equal society. Elizabeth Stanton for your right to work. Margaret Fuller for your equal education. Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony for your right to vote. Molly Dewson and Eleanor Roosevelt for your ability to work in and affect politics. Maud Wood Park for your identity outside of your husband and prenatal care. Nellie McClung, Rose Schneiderman, Emmeline Pankhurst, Margaret Sanger. Bell Hooks, Rosa Parks, Emily Murphy, Malala Yousafzai. The fact that women need to be reminded to thank the feminists responsible for their lives is why we still need feminism.
Although we’ve certainly come a long way in our journey of feminism, I hope you will not be blinded by the “equality” that you may feel. To the women all over the world who refuse to believe that you and I are second-class citizens, I say this: open your eyes. Open them big. Your equality is an illusion. You are systematically oppressed. You still make less than a man for the same work in healthcare, in entertainment, in government. You make less as a doctor, as a lawyer, as an athlete, as an artist, as a CEO. You still don’t have full rights over your own body. Men are debating over your unborn child. Over your prenatal care. Over your choices. You still pay taxes for basic sanitary products-that is, if you have access to them at all. You still have to carry pepper spray with you when you’re alone at night; you still have to justify to the court why you were drunk on the night you were raped. You are still being abused by your by your own husband, you are still being murdered by your "soulmate." You don’t get paid, or even unpaid, maternity leave. You are still forced to work while your body is healing, while you suffer from postpartum depression. You still have to prove why it is your right to breastfeed in public; a part of your body still offends other people. You are still sexualised. You are still catcalled. You are still objectified. You have it twice as tough if you are a gay woman, a woman of colour, a transgender woman. Your daughters are told that they are beautiful before they are told that they are smart. They are told not to worry because “boys will be boys,” and that they tug at their bra straps because they like them. You are still harassed, belittled, dehumanized. You are not equal, even if you feel like you are. Because people are still blindly turning their heads away from these issues is why we still need feminism.
While the word itself may seem like it is reluctant to address anyone other than females, I assure you, the message behind it is not. Boys, feminism is your issue too. Gender equality is your issue too. If not for your mothers, for your sisters, or for your future daughters, support feminism for yourself. For a sense of improving our bias society. Support gender equality for yourself. For your future sons. For your freedom of the otherwise prescribed gender stereotypes. Because you’ve seen your fathers role as a parent being viewed as less important by our society even though as a child, you needed his love and support as much as your mothers. Because you’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness resist the urge to ask for help out of fear of looking less “manly.” Men are imprisoned by these stereotypes, but the moment they feel free, things will change for women as a result. If men no longer feel the need to be aggressive in order to be heard, women will not be victimized. If men don’t have to be in charge to fit in, women won’t have to be controlled. The reason why men are hesitant to call themselves feminists is why we still need feminism.
I cannot speak on behalf of every woman in the world, or even in this room, but I can argue for her rights. We still need feminism because many still refuse to see its true meaning, because it is our duty to honour the brave women who came before us. We still need feminism because women have accepted their inequality as an unquestionable part of life, and because men are judged for calling themselves feminists. Feminism, sexism, women’s rights. Whatever you want to call it, however you feel about the term, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is the movement and ambition behind it. As Emma Watson once said, “Ask yourself if not me, who? If not now, when?”