What does the word ‘feminism’ actually mean? For me it is simply a synonym for ‘political, economic and social gender equality’, however others think of feminists as wanting supremacy over men. You might think “this is written by a woman so obviously it’s going to idealise feminism,” however much too often I see videos created by women called ‘Why I’m Not a Feminist’ that use arguments such as ‘men are raped too’ or ‘feminists are just man haters’ and it is disappointing that some women won’t define themselves as a feminist solely because of the negative connotations of the word. In fact, a poll taken at the end of 2014 displayed that only 36% of British adults would consider themselves a feminist, yet 76% of adults support gender equality (which is terrifying in itself). The poll also gave statements such as “feminists are anti-men” which 26% of voters agreed with, and 35% agreed that the word ‘feminist’ is a negative term.
Now to talk about the ‘men are raped too’ argument. Obviously both men and women are raped. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice estimate that from the years 2009 – 2012, 78,000 people per year were victims of sexual assault; 69,000 women and 9,000 men. In 2011, 99% of sexual offenders were found to be male, with a large amount of male sexual assault victims having been assaulted by men. In 2013 it was also recorded that there were 170 accounts of male to male rape in UK prisons, which shows that while men are also subjected to sexual assault, it is often at the hands of another man. However, it is a serious issue that women still make up around 1% of sex offenders, which is why the Feminists Majority Foundation started a campaign to change the definition of rape in the US from “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will” to include male rape victims and have female sexual offenders receive the same sentences as males.
Many women don’t consider themselves a feminist because of the privilege they have, but what about women of colour? What about women who are literally beaten to death for not obeying their husband? It is selfish of women to not support feminism because it’s not as necessary to them. Amnesty International found that women and young girls in India and other parts of south Asia are too regularly victims of abuse. In India marital rape is legal as long as the victim is above 15 years of age, and the amount of Indian women assaulted by their husbands is 40 times higher than the amount of Indian women assaulted by others. The law is similar in countries such as Singapore and Malta, and it was not until 1991 that marital rape became illegal in England.
However in most Western societies, the issues are more to do with the wage gap, objectification through the media and unrealistic expectations of body image. Throughout the years there have been a number of women trying to give this wider acknowledgement through being feminist icons; one of the first names coming to mind being Marilyn Monroe. Again more recently, celebrities have been using their social status to talk about feminist issues and gain further support for the movement. For example, Emma Watson became the UN Goodwill Ambassador in July 2014, where she advocates the HeforShe campaign to promote gender equality, and encourage men to become more involved in the issue to help eliminate the negative connotations of the word.
The HeforShe campaign states that gender equality is not just a feminist issue, but a human rights issue, which everybody can be involved in. Taylor Swift has spoken out about how she used to see other women as her competition, and how she now thinks that women need to support and empower each other for feminism to really mean something, and she used her video for Blank Space to highlight how the media mistreats women by only focusing on their love life. Male celebrities and politicians including Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Benedict Cumberbatch were photographed wearing “This is what a feminist looks like” by Elle Magazine to promote men supporting gender equality. Patricia Arquette used her Oscar’s acceptance speech to talk about the wage gap which gained a lot of publicity.
We need to stop saying ‘yes, I am a feminist’ and start saying ‘are you not?’ to make not being a feminist seem more absurd. We need to stop teaching people to cover up because showing skin will get you sexually harassed, and start teaching people that just because somebody is showing skin, it does not give you the right to comment on it. We need to realise that feminism is not about shutting men down, but pulling women up to an equal level. And we need to start representing humans as humans, and not as genders.