Do you call yourself a feminist?
Do you call yourself a feminist? A 2016 survey by equalities charity The Fawcett Society described the UK as a 'nation of hidden feminists' (http://www.fawcettsociety.
What is feminism?
So what's feminism really all about, and why do so many of us shy away from the label? According to Google, feminism is defined as "the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes", and a feminist is simply "a person who supports feminism". Pretty simple, eh?
Of course, like all social and political movements, it gets a bit murkier and more complicated than that – but, at it's core, feminism is all about the fight for gender equality. Feminism recognises that women have historically been at a disadvantage, discriminated against on the grounds of their sex, and that sexist stereotypes around what's 'male' and 'female' hold us all back in one way or another.
What do feminists believe?
Different branches of feminism take different approaches to this, and have different priorities about how to achieve equality. If you were to ask 100 feminists what feminism means to them, you'd probably get 100 different responses.
You might have heard some of the different labels – radical feminists, liberal feminists, Marxist feminists, corporate feminists, and so on. These explain the political and theoretical differences between particular groups of feminists, but there's no need to get bogged down in the terminology – many people are happy simply to call themselves 'a feminist', without any extra labels!
Key issues for many feminists include: sexist stereotyping; violence against women; abortion and reproductive rights; poverty and cuts to public services; equal rights in education and the workplace; and equal representation in sports, media, politics and business.
What have feminists achieved?
We typically talk about the history of feminism in waves, the first wave having been the suffragettes and suffragists who successfully campaigned to win votes for women.
Second wave feminists, during the 1970s and 1980s had seven key demands: equal pay now, equal education and job opportunities, free contraception and abortion on demand, free 24 hour nurseries, financial and legal independence, an end to discrimination against lesbians and a woman's right to define her own sexuality, and freedom from intimidation by threat or use of violence or sexual coercion. While women have moved forward in many of these areas, the issues feminists continue to campaign on today remain very similar.
Is feminism sexist?
This is a common misconception, but feminism recognises that gender equality would be better for everyone – by empowering more women to be themselves, and freeing men from the tyranny of 'masculine' stereotypes dictating how they should act, feel and behave. For third and fourth wave feminists, typically younger women of the social media era, a key concept in modern feminism is known as 'intersectionality' – which simply means acknowledging the way that factors like race, disability, age, class, and education impact on the disadvantages we face.
In other words, a disabled man will face discrimination on the grounds of his disability but not his gender; a black or minority ethnic (BME) woman will face discrimination on the grounds of her race and her gender. Meanwhile, a privileged white woman may only face discrimination on gender grounds, but will have an advantage over working class or BME women and men. Intersectional feminism is about recognising that inequality is more complex than simply men vs. women – and tackling all the overlapping and intersecting issues that hold people back.
Can I do… and be a feminist?
The internet is full of articles tackling this popular misconception – that feminism is made up of endless rules and anyone not adhering to them has no right to claim the label. Can I wear lipstick and be a feminist? Can a feminist get married and change her name? Do feminists all have to wear dungarees and stop shaving their body hair?
The easy answer is it really doesn't matter. As long as you're not actively harming other people, you can keep your lifestyle pretty much unchanged and still call yourself a feminist. Of course, as you learn more about feminism it will affect your perceptions of the world, from how you think about films and TV shows to why you make the choices you make in your daily life.
Some choices are obviously more or less feminist than others: Do you support or sabotage other women at work? Do you speak up when you witness your best friend's husband calling her abusive names? Do you stereotype other women as weak and over emotional, while believing that men should be tough and never cry? Other choices, like your preferred shade of lipstick – or the choice not to wear lipstick at all, are more inconsequential.
Ultimately feminism is a belief system, an internal learning process, and a desire to create change in the world around you – whether on a big, global scale or a tiny, hyper-local one.
So, do you call yourself a feminist?