Last week, I was sitting in my form classroom and a friend of mine asked if we could watch Emma Watson’s UN speech, which has become the topic of many discussions recently. Whilst I hastily agreed with her suggestion, being a personal fan of the HeForShe campaign and everything that it stands for, I was disheartened to hear groans of discontent, and comments on Emma Watson’s appearance rather than the situation at hand. As it was a bleak Thursday morning, I gave my peers the benefit of the doubt, hoping that as the video of Watson lit up the sleepy room, her words would spark an interest, or at least break down the stereotypes of feminism.
However, as the minutes rolled on, the majority of my class seemed less and less interested, and some people were even laughing off the matters being raised. Despite wanting to stand up for something I believe so passionately in, I felt uncomfortable in doing so. Though, as Watson herself questions – why is the word so uncomfortable? The fact that ‘no country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality’ is really nothing to joke about, or treat lightly – is it?
On a couple of occasions where I’ve raised my beliefs amongst friends, they were thrown back at me as though I’d just cracked the joke of the year, leaving me questioning whether it was even worth speaking up in the first place. When I turned to social media for moral support, whilst I found many people who believe in the same basic principles of equality as I do, I was saddened to see many others, females included, calling feminists ‘man-haters,’ ‘nuts’ and my personal favourite, endorsing the ‘feminism is awful’ hashtag.
The whole ordeal left me pondering why feminism is so tragically misunderstood and often the target of ignorant abuse. To me, and millions of others, feminism represents nothing more than peace and equality. How can this be something that people have come to loathe so passionately?
I’ve tried to come up with answers to such a question – perhaps it’s the name – some may claim that it seems exclusive to the female population, but in fact, males should and do support gender equality too. Perhaps it’s the actions and accusations of radical feminists, but then again, there are extremists within any political movement, usually a misrepresentative minority. I personally believe that the reason why the word has left such a sour taste in the mouths of many is because of the lack of communication and understanding between both genders, which has led to the irrational shame in taking pride in the concept of feminism.
The dictionary definition of feminism is ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.’ Someone recently told me that the gender pay gap ‘doesn’t exist’ in the UK anymore, and whilst some institutions may support equal pay amongst genders, a recent report by the Guardian found that female bosses in the workplace are still earning up to 35 per cent less than their male counterparts. Similarly, the normality of women in politics seems to be nothing other than a distant myth – in 2012, women were holding a mere 20 per cent of the world’s political power. In terms of political and economic matters, there is simply no use denying that women are painfully underrepresented.
However, the social equality of the sexes is a far more complex issue – whilst women deserve equality to men in all three tiers of life, men deserve the same in return. Males are fortunate in politics and the economy, but in terms of social matters, for both men and women, there is a long way to go.
It’s likely that we’ve heard the continuous social battles that women face – body image and weight, sexual assault, abuse and even the fear of speaking out are sensitive issues that are universal to women all over the world. Yet, male social inequality seems to be ignored. Men are expected to prove their strength constantly, play up to the demands of ‘lad culture’ and never show emotion. The tragic reality is that 77 per cent of all suicides are males, and 10 per cent of sexual assault victims are male – serious matters that the world chooses to ignore. It is socially acceptable, if not completely normal for women to openly express their emotions – why does this tolerance not extend itself to the male population? Why has our society evolved to class men and women not only as different genders, but as different species altogether?
The bottom line is, feminism not only stands for the equality of the female population, but also the fight against male discrimination and stereotypes too. Yet, how can we ever expect to move forward if we are labelling the very campaign that is trying to eradicate stereotyping? If you are a human being, regardless of your gender, who supports equality amongst all people of the human race, then you are, undoubtedly, a supporter of gender equality – a feminist.
• http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/aug/19/gender-pay-gap-women-bosses-earn-35-percent- less-than-men