Written by Aashka Murdeshwar
Ever since I can remember I’ve identified as a feminist. I never really understood what this term meant but I guess through various medias such as television, social media, school, etc. I just blindly adopted the term; my thought process being, “Well I think being a woman is awesome so of course I’m a feminist” For me, an understanding of equality was always omnipresent, mostly due to the privileged lifestyle I grew up in where gender discrimination wasn’t ever blatantly present. However, one day when I was sixteen in my Extension English class, one of my male classmates said, “Feminists are so annoying, they all hate men. Men and women should be treated equally”. This statement left me slightly perplexed; I believed in gender equality, and I definitely wasn’t a “man- hater”, was I not a feminist?
After years of hesitation, late night Internet research, and then some more hesitation I can proudly say I’m a Feminist as opposed to an equalist, humanist or any other common variant of the word. The simple reason being that Feminism is defined as the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. (I’m not just saying this, it’s in the Oxford Dictionary and that’s as legitimate as you can get!).
So why call it Feminism? Many would argue that this term is irrelevant and to some extent almost contradictory to what feminist claims advocate. Why does a term that is defined as the belief of gender equality skew to one gender? To understand this it is important to understand where this term originated from. The word Feminism comes from the French word ‘feminisme’, and was first used in English during the 1890s in association with the movement for equal political and legal rights for women. Now before you stop reading this article and think, “See! It’s all about women, not about equality” just think about what exactly the equality of both genders means. Gender equality is what I believe to be the right for any person to make decisions without pre-conceived notions of gender influencing those decisions. Throughout history this did not exist, and it was the female gender and stereotypically ‘feminine’ attributes that were undermined. Yes, Feminism was originally a movement begun by women for women, but its aim was to uplift women to the same position of power men were already in.
If you flip through the pages of any history book, it is very evident that men had acquired a position of power from the very beginning and did everything in their power to maintain this position of privilege. However, within their desperation to maintain their privilege, they inadvertently begun to damage their own gender by demeaning qualities that were not hyper masculine, i.e. any expression of sensitivity or emotion other than that of dominance and aggression. Feminism was the only movement in past times and -to a certain extent even in today’s time- that aimed to educate and advocate that the exhibition of emotions other than of dominance was not a sign of weakness but just a sign of being a fully functioning human. Furthermore, feminists also tried to demonstrate that just because some women were less likely to exhibit aggressive and dominating behaviour; it did not mean they were incapable of holding positions of influence or being of equal or higher intellect than their male counterparts.
In our present times, Feminism is still a relevant movement. I agree that in comparison to the past, both men and women have reached a position of greater equality; for example there is less stigma associated with people entering careers that were originally associated with genders opposite their own and the wage gap has significantly decreased (though it still does exist; according to Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in 2015, women earned 79c for every 1 dollar a man earned in the US). However, a disparity still exists. For example, in 2015 only 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women (according to CNN Money) suggesting that in the corporate world the glass ceiling does exist, sure it’s higher than what it was 20 years ago but it is still present. These examples just encompass the status of the privileged women in the West, however, in other parts of the world, many women are still fighting for basic voting rights, education and driving privileges.