What Does Feminism Mean to You?
HOME / PUBLICATION / FEMINISM TEAM PIECE
Published on 30.07.2019 | By Women in Commerce and Politics
Feminism is quite the buzzword nowadays, but it can mean very different things to very different people. Within the broader feminist movement there lie many definitions of the word, some at odds with others. Last semester, we asked a group of our writers to each describe their own conception of feminism. Here’s what they had to say:
I remember learning about the ritual of sati, which involves a woman committing suicide as a form of devotion after her husband dies. It scared me to know that this practice determined whether a woman was a “good wife”. Finding out how women in society were defined by their capabilities as wives did not ease my discomfort. While the ritual has mostly been rendered obsolete, many societies still view women as incomplete without men. Feminism refers to equality between men and women, but I also associate it with “opportunity”. Feminism is the opportunity for women to live their own lives without being dependent on a man. It is the opportunity for women to carve their own career paths and show that they are as capable as men in achieving success. In the same class that taught me about sati, I also later learned about the Grameen Bank. This bank was originally founded in Bangladesh with the goal of providing financial and career support to impoverished women. For me, this bank is an example of the change the feminist movement aims to create around the world. It is the progression towards a future where women will not be disregarded, and where they will be free to support their families, contribute to societies and change the world.
Feminism is such a common word nowadays, to the point that it has become mainstream. However, or perhaps because of such popularity, people continue criticising it. Many think that being a feminist is equal to being a “man-hater” or that feminism goes against being feminine. Maybe some have become bored of the word from hearing and seeing it everywhere, even in publicity campaigns for expensive clothing brands. But for me, feminism has nothing to do with the current mainstreaming it has gone through. It signifies respect in all senses of the word. It is about respecting men just as much as respecting women, but being acutely aware of how respect for women has continually taken a backseat when being faced with men’s ideas and ideals. It means questioning the pre-existing social, political, cultural and economic hierarchies, whether they are evident at first glance or not. It is admitting the social biases by which I – and probably everybody else as well – live and making the utmost effort to flip them on their heads.
I consider myself a feminine feminist that likes questioning everything. I have met, and will most certainly continue encountering, people that are against this image or that maybe have just become weary of it. But if I don’t do it, no one will do it for me. I believe it is the work of every one of us to fight for what we believe in, in any way we can. And I am a firm believer that women are as much human beings as men, and thus we deserve equal rights, equal pay, equal division of (hint here: domestic) labour, equal treatment. We deserve equality.
Feminism has been invaluable in giving me a way to articulate my frustrations and navigate patriarchy. As a young girl, I always had some kind of understanding of sexism and inequality, but I was never really able to fully express why I thought it was harmful beyond ‘it’s just not right to treat men and women differently’. Learning that there was a space solely focused on developing understandings of gender was very enlightening and, most of all, comforting for me. It was reassuring to know that my experiences with the world were universal, that there were answers to my questions and most importantly, that there were people dedicated to dismantling harmful structures, institutions and systems.
My understandings of feminism have also changed the more I read, learn and speak to others. The nuances between different schools of feminism have shaped my understanding of society and have constantly challenged my ways of thinking. I am also really grateful to be surrounded by friends who share the same views as me and are always so generous with their time in discussing different topics. I love having solidarity with them. Feminism is ultimately something highly personal to me. That’s not to say that I ignore analyses of structural and systemic sexism and live in my own bubble. I just mean that feminism is something that has radically changed my views and is rooted in my daily life – I really don’t know what I’d do without feminism.
To me, feminism is a straightforward concept: everyone, regardless of gender, deserves to be treated equally. Of course, it is not that simple in practice; gender inequality is an issue that requires nuanced discussion and thoughtful action, in order to change ingrained notions that have existed since the formation of society.
In Australia, gender inequality is significantly less pronounced than it has been historically. However, because of this progress, there is a sense of complacency, a sentiment that what’s been accomplished is ‘good enough’. Unfortunately, gender inequality still adversely affects the daily lives of Australian women – we are afraid of walking alone to our own homes at night, we are dissuaded from ambitiously seeking leadership positions, and we are taught from a young age that our appearance defines us. In fact, rigid gender roles are detrimental to everyone, as they create expectations that severely impedes on our right to individuality.
The need for feminism is incredibly apparent to me, but much to my dismay, it is not a movement that is at the forefront of many people’s minds. Instead, I have found that there are a rather large number of misconceptions out there. Feminism is about inclusivity and lending everyone the same opportunities in life. It is not about elevating females above other genders, giving so-called “free passes” to women just for the sake of it, or dictating how women should behave. It is absolutely not an ‘us vs them’ movement that needs to be feared, and feminists should not be shamed or made conscious of their call for equality. Everyone stands to benefit from feminism, and I hope that my involvement with WCP will help facilitate the change that we should all want to see.
Feminism to me strays a little from its current radical ideas. At its core, feminism is about equality between the sexes. In different situations this inequality changes, and can include inequality for men as well as women. Although men don’t face as many issues with equality, there are still issues for them, just of a different sort. Some of these issues can include custody of children after divorce, and the upsetting rates of suicide of men who have faced sexual assault allegations. In my short 18 years, I have never experienced what would be considered ‘oppression’, but that doesn’t mean I won’t, nor that others don’t. I believe that I have the same opportunities as my male counterparts and for that I am grateful. Feminism is about protecting those who don’t have these opportunities, where oppression does impact their day-to-day lives. I believe if we focus on solving individual cases, and targeting specific issues instead of radical protests and violent ideologies against men, we will achieve universal equality between the sexes. February 2019 statistics show that Victoria has the lowest pay gap in the country (9.3%) without factoring the ‘motherhood penalty’ adjustments. In comparison, the national gender pay gap is 14.1%, a decrease of 1.1% since November 2017.
Considering the global average gender gap is 32%, Australia is on the right track. It’s important to remember that good things take time!
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this piece. Do you agree? What does feminism mean to you? Feel free to message us either on Facebook or at email@example.com.