What words spring to your mind when the term ‘feminism’ is brought up? The dictionary definition of feminism is ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’. Yet many people associate feminism with inequality.
Yes, some view feminism not as a movement which liberates women, but one which seeks to make them superior to men. Others reject feminism because mainstream feminism has been a very exclusive movement, which has marginalised women of colour, LGBTQ+ women, and poor women, amongst others. However, the rise of intersectional feminism has arguably addressed these issues, presenting itself as a very relevant ideology in today’s society.
It is important to distinguish intersectional feminism from the other branches of feminism. First devised by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the theory of intersectionality acknowledges the fact that oppression and privilege operate on a multi-dimensional basis. Factors such as class, race, sexuality, religion and physical/mental disability can intersect, and are all used to understand how ‘systematic inequality occurs’. Conversely, the traditional branches of feminism, such as liberal and radical, have arguably failed to understand that it is not just one factor which contributes to the oppression of women, but a range. Therefore, intersectional feminism is still a relevant concept in today’s global political climate.
So why is feminism still relevant?
There is a plethora of reasons why a movement that exists to combat inequality is needed. The recent rise in acid attacks has exemplified the need for justice for women of colour and ethnic minorities, who are compelled to live in fear of being attacked for their identity. Since 2016, there have been over 450 cases where corrosive substances were used to attack a person. However, the underlying issue there is also the fact that many of these attacks are being carried out with Islamophobic intentions. Whilst Muslims are at a greater risk, the perception that South Asians are interchangeable with Muslims also means that they can be racially profiled as targets.
Feminism not only seeks to end the ostracization of ethnic minorities, but also to liberate such groups from having to repress their identity in order to stay safe. A Muslim woman should not have to take off her hijab due to the fear of being attacked, nor should a Sikh man with his turban. Therefore, a movement which seeks to protect ethnic minorities is absolutely necessary.
Feminism also extends to tackling global issues
Feminism plays a vital role in raising awareness about such issues and educating citizens about cohesion in society. According to the Avon Global Centre for women and justice, ‘feminist research and women’s activism of the past three decades have shattered the understanding that violence against women is a natural aspect of gender relations’. It has put a spotlight on misogynistic actions which were not otherwise condemned.
Furthermore, austerity cuts under the Conservative government have put a burden on the working class, especially young women and single parents. According to Shami Chakrabarti, a Labour peer, ‘austerity is a feminist issue’. The House of Commons Library revealed that 85 per cent of all the cuts have been at the expense of women — most of whom are low earners. An average low-earning single parent working 20 hours a week, at £9.35 an hour to support one child, was predicted to be £1000 worse off each year. Austerity is unquestionably a feminist issue, because women — specifically poor women and women of colour — have been affected the hardest.
We shouldn’t be afraid of labelling ourselves as ‘feminists’
The feminist movement has been highly controversial throughout its existence as many arguably found it difficult to stomach the idea of women gaining autonomy. Today, the movement has developed from fighting for its somewhat monolithic target group, to providing a voice for the completely voiceless. The validity of the movement has rightly been questioned due to the unnecessary focus on issues such as mansplaining and manspreading. However, that doesn’t justify why the core issues that the movement actually tackles, get derailed. We, as a generation, need to embrace the ‘F’ word. Because it has never been more relevant in today’s society.