THIS YEAR’S INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY THEME IS ‘CHOOSE TO CHALLENGE’. I’D LIKE TO CHALLENGE YOU, DEAR READER TO REVISIT THE ‘F’ WORD TODAY. YES, I’M TALKING ABOUT FEMINISM.
How many times have you heard – maybe you’ve said it yourself – I’m not a feminist but … I believe in equality? I’m not a feminist but … I think women should have the same opportunities as men … etc.? Maybe the term ‘feminist’ makes you feel uncomfortable. Then again, some folks enthusiastically claim it. Black American writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou says, “I am a feminist. I’ve been female for a long time now. I’d be stupid not to be on my own side.”
But being a feminist isn’t the exclusive domain of women. The dictionary says feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Feminism espouses the idea of all women having choices – of careers, over their bodies, over money, and if and who they marry. So I guess anyone who believes those things is a feminist, right?
Interestingly there’s a whole bunch of young women out there who identify with a ‘movement’ called ‘Women against feminism’. I find this puzzling and kind of insulting as a woman who remembers the time BEFORE women had the rights we all enjoy now, like voting, or getting a loan or a mortgage.
One young woman on the antifeminism Facebook page (I’ll call her Fran) opines: ‘I do not need feminism because:
1. I RESPECT MEN.
(Feminism doesn’t disrespect men. Feminists love men. Feminists enjoy having sex with men and we even have babies with them. I agree with you, fran! Let’s hear it for men!)
2. BEING A WOMAN IS NOT A DISADVANTAGE.
(In a perfect world and in some societies that’s true. But tell that to a woman who wants to walk home late at night through a park after her Pilates class; or to a young girl in Syria who is married off at twelve to a man old enough to be her father. That said, feminists celebrate our womanhood. Fran – are you sure you’re not a feminist?)
3. I’VE GOT MY OWN OPINION.
(Fran … um … what on earth does this have to do with being a feminist?)
4. I TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MYSELF AND MY DECISIONS.
(Sorry Fran. You mean you choose? Oh, dear, you’re sounding dangerously like a feminist).
5. I DON’T FEEL LIKE A VICTIM.
(Good for you fran. And have you thought about all the battles won by the women who came before you? These victories have made the world a better place for young women like you, precisely so you don’t feel like a victim.)
6. THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT IS FULL OF SH*T.’
(Now Fran – you’ve gone too far. I want you to hand over your credit card and your pay check. And your right to vote. Oh and I’ll have those contraceptive pills too. And your degree … the one you got from QUT because you went to school.) Just a hundred years ago, British women weren’t eligible to vote and they and their children were considered the property of their husbands. No education for these women. Unskilled work and more hard yakka at home.
Feminism is all about choice. Be grateful you have it. Feminism allows us all to choose to challenge and have the life we want. Feminism is also about political, social and economic equality. So to those of you who still aren’t sure about the ‘f’ word, consider this: If you enjoy aspects of equality it’s because of feminism and the work of the women who fought for it. I’m sure some people still believe feminists look and sound a certain way. So it may surprise you to know that that country singer Dolly Parton happily embraces feminism. She chose to challenge the stereotypes in a male-dominated industry and became hugely successful in her own right.
So when I’m thinking about the challenges of being a woman I channel Dolly’s wisdom. Most of her ideas are about choice and challenge. Here are a few:
1. I’m very secure about my talents and about who I am.
2. You’ll never do a whole lot unless you’re brave enough to try.
3. There are certainly a lot of things that still need to change when it comes to women in the workforce.
4. I dress to be comfortable for me, and you shouldn’t be blamed because you want to look pretty. If I can get my dress on, my weight is under control.
5. I know who I am, I know what I can and can’t do. I know what I will and won’t do. I know what I’m capable of and I don’t agree to do things that I don’t think I can pull off.
6. I think that I’m perfect. Both men and women can choose to rise to the many challenges of modern life. I think this anonymous quote says it all: ‘Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.’