who doesn't love a feminist rant?
about two years ago i proclaimed myself a feminist. five years ago i wouldn’t have been able to define the word for you. it wasn’t a term i heard much growing up, and when i did it was portrayed as something that existed within a moment in time. feminism seemed to be one event that took place forty years ago. my current stance on the situation is all caitlin moran’s fault. her mainstream bestseller “how to be a woman” unlocked a door for me into a world of solidarity amongst the people who genuinely want what’s best for both men and women. having virtually no previous exposure to the ideology and knowing that the same was true of the people closest to me, i expected that if i proclaimed myself a feminist to the ‘wrong’ person i would be interrogated about books i hadn’t read, names i didn’t know or societies i wasn’t part of. either that or i would be subjected to an eye-rolling response from many people who would instantly label me a humourless shrew, a view of feminists that has successfully permeated amongst the general population and ensured that nothing said under that banner will want to be heard except by those who stand beside you beneath it. this ‘humourless’ idea is nonsense of course, but if I’m being truthful, i am angry. really fucking angry actually. but i’ve come to realise that my frustration is rooted not so much in the things i want to change, but in the misinterpretations that exist between the feminist community and mainstream society. i cant help but feel that if the right facts were laid out clearly for everyone to see and comprehensive, inclusive information was readily available, we would be living in a world of feminists.
adjective Sometimes, fem·i·nis·tic.
1. advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.
2. an advocate of such rights.
see that? equal to. not better than, equal to. any ‘feminist’ who claims otherwise is betraying the cause to which she or he claims to be a part of. in relation to that, one feminist does not speak for all feminists on any one issue within the incredibly broad spectrum of beliefs and ideas. we all have the same aim, gender equality, but a different idea of how to get there and what it will look like. this is why feminist debates are so interesting to watch and be a part of. once I understood the true meaning of that definition, as presented to me in moran’s book and, incidentally, the dictionary, it began to sink in that there is no test to pass, no amount of books to read, no ten commandments you must follow and no great deed to be done for humanity in order to take that title. man, woman, transgender, it doesn’t matter. all you have to do is believe, in no uncertain terms, in gender equality. ‘feminist’ is a mantle you can claim for yourself. now that’s out of the way, lets look at why we need feminism.
It is undeniable that in legal terms, women have come a long way since the 19th century. we can vote, hold jobs, and own property. three things that strongly contribute to your right to ‘personhood.’ but what if we look at those things more closely? voting, for example. yes we can do it but who are we voting for? according to the 2011 UK census, the UK is 51% female. parliament, however, is 77% male. one of the many reasons this bothers me is that different factions of society face different issues in their lives. women, for example are the group of people who will be impacted the most by the rights surrounding paid maternity leave, sexual violence, abortion, child support & related benefits (women account for 92% of one-parent households) and the people debating all of these issues in parliament are 77% male. even if you’re not completely on board with this point, even if you believe that men can have intricate understandings of issues that largely effect women, the question still remains, why there are fewer women in positions of power than men?
now, hold tight, because we’re about to jump down the rabbit-hole. the easy answer to that question is generally something to the effect of “women are natural born care providers rather than leaders.” hmm, no. as many neuroscientists the world over repeatedly point out, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever proving that there are any structural differences in the male and female brains. professor gina rippon is an especially great advocate for bringing down this neurotrash myth. she speaks out against ‘neuro-marketers’ and sensationalist media headlines that twist and often falsify the findings of the scientific community. you can watch her in action here.
“okay, what about testosterone?” again, many of the psychological characteristics we typically associate with men have nothing to do with testosterone. to break it down, testosterone is a steroid hormone from the androgen group and is the principal male sex hormone. It is responsible for many physiological changes during puberty which account for body hair, increased muscle mass (men are generally physically stronger than women), and deeper voices to name a few. here’s the important part. there is no evidence that the testosterone levels in your body relate to anything psychological, not even basic aggression, let alone the drive to succeed or lead countries. there have been quite a few studies to this effect but here’s an excerpt from one which was published by the journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism which examines the relationship between testosterone and aggression.
“the effects of supraphysiological levels of testosterone, used for male contraception, on sexual behaviour and mood were studied in a single-blind, placebo-controlled manner in a group of 31 normal men. After 4 weeks of baseline observations, the men were randomized into two groups: one group received 200 mg testosterone enanthate (TE) weekly by I’m injection for 8 weeks, the other received placebo injections once weekly for the first 4 weeks followed by TE 200 mg weekly for the following 4 weeks. the testosterone administration increased trough plasma testosterone levels by 80%, compatible with peak testosterone levels 400-500% above baseline. various aspects of sexuality were assessed using sexuality experience scales (SES) questionnaires at the end of each 4-week period while sexual activity and mood states were recorded by daily dairies and self-rating scales. in both groups there were no changes in frequency of sexual intercourse, masturbation, or penile erection on waking nor in any of the moods reported. there was no evidence to suggest an alteration in any of the mood states studied, in particular those associated with increased aggression. we conclude that supraphysiological levels of testosterone maintained for up to 2 months can promote some aspects of sexual arousability without stimulating sexual activity in eugonadal men within stable heterosexual relationships. raising testosterone does not increase self-reported ratings of aggressive feelings.”
and no, before anyone asks, oestrogen does not make people submissive or caring. research into the psychological effects of testosterone didn’t really begin until the 1960s but it has become synonymous with, and as a result held accountable for, our traditional construct of masculinity when the fact is that there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that it is responsible for anything other than physical changes. the only benefit it gives to men is greater physical strength. you could in turn look at the physical differences between men and women and argue that men are better suited to leadership roles because of that. here’s an excerpt from chimamanda ngozi adichie’s TEDx talk which I think counters that point incredibly well.
“men ruling the world made sense a thousand years ago. because human beings lived then in a world in which physical strength was the most important attribute for survival. the physically stronger person was more likely to lead. and men in general are physically stronger, of course, there are many exceptions. but today we live in a vastly different world. the person more likely to lead is not the physically stronger person, it is the more creative person, the more intelligent person, the more innovative person, and there are no hormones for those attributes. a man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, to be creative, to be innovative. We have evolved, but it seems to me that our ideas of gender have not evolved.”
so, once we’ve de-bunked the myth that these hormones are responsible for the vast differences in the current social circumstances of men and women, we have no choice but to look into our own culture for the answer. relating back to the original example of women in parliament, given that there are no pre-existing differences in the psychology of men and women, what is it that encourages more men than women to enter into positions of power? something i hear all the time is the idea this is about choice. women choose not to enter leadership roles and yeah, i think that’s true. far be it from me to deny someone their right to choose, but as intelligent, highly evolved humanoids, it is essential that we take a look at the context in which these choices are made. our society assigns polar opposite characteristics to each gender, so much so in fact, that the vast majority of people can walk into any toy store and instantly recognise, from just a glance, the products marketed towards girls and those marketed towards boys. in this ingrained segregation we put an incredible amount of pressure on children to conform to those ideals. we teach them from year naught that boys and girls are from different planets with completely conflicting ideals. and this obvious, undeniable male/female separation is not just in the toys kids play with, but in everything. it looks a little something like this.
i mean, come on. these two ideals could not be further apart. the extent of the severity of gender separation will of course vary by each individual household, but the arm of parenting only reaches so far. no child is an island. different forms of socialisation are a natural part of life which every child will eventually come into contact with at some point. when examining the sometimes nuanced messages our culture is sending (and by ‘culture’ i mean the inescapable behaviours of the society in which you live) it’s important to note that looking at the ideas we internalise, even on a subconscious level is not a new concept, we hear it and we see it and we live in it every day to the extent that we don’t even question it. toys, advertising, film, tv, and story books are littered with clear gender patterns in which action, adventure, heroism, building and power are all trademarks of traditional masculinity and in turn we attach care, homeliness, demureness, concerns with appearance and stories of finding love to girls. it boggles the mind that anyone could doubt that this will have an effect on the way children view gender both now and later on in life. let’s take a look at how gender ideals come into play in adulthood
these are just a handful of examples that can grow and develop from something as simple as how greatly we emphasise the gender divide to children. different aspects of statistics like these and what they mean to a wider social context is what feminism is about at its core. when we take a step back and look at issues that, for the most part, affect women – political representation, leadership role imbalances, the pay gap, overwhelming emphasis placed on physical appearances, media representation, domestic violence, sexual double standards, rape, sexual assault, street harassment, consent-debating, objectification, sex trafficking, eating disorders, FGM, abortion rights, child marriage, sexual violence in conflict – as all connected, all part of one massive issue (the oppression and exploitation of women) it’s much easier to see that there is something wrong with our culture at the moment isn’t there. this is the reason that feminists call themselves by that name instead of something along the lines of ‘gender equalitarian’. we recognise that nine times out of ten, its women who are left holding the short straw when we look at our current imbalance. i would like to note, however, that feminism benefits men just as much as women. our traditional construct of masculinity makes it impossible for men to be emotionally open, vulnerable or submissive without the worry of appearing ‘weak’ or ‘effeminate’, a word, incidentally, that i have never understood the negative connotations of. this construct also means that an act of violence or abuse committed by a woman towards a man may not be taken seriously enough. our culture puts so much emphasis on male dominance and female submission that if the roles are reversed we do not recognise potential danger. these gender characteristics are so ingrained in our collective subconscious that research into american storms over the past 62 years found that on average, female-named hurricanes claim around twice as many lives as hurricanes with male names because, for some reason, people are less likely to evacuate or take proper precautions before the event of a storm with a woman’s name. i swear i am not making that up. this is insanity!
i am not saying that we need to erase all signs of distinction between the genders in order to achieve equality. there are many key differences in men and women that ought to be taught and celebrated, but we must remember that the very concepts of “masculinity” and “femininity” are socially defined, meaning that it is US defining them. and right now, our definitions are way too narrow and opposing. i would argue that we ought to base these concepts on the physical and sexual differences between men and women rather than attaching intellectual, logical or emotional characteristics to them. to do so is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
we should all be pissed off that these things are happening within our culture and we need to take ownership of it and effect change in every way we can. there are so many things we can do to take action and the most important way of doing so is to SPEAK UP.
SPEAK UP when you see advertisers trying to sell this bullshit, the idea that a woman’s sexuality is a commodity that can essentially be bought with cars and jewellery. fuck. that. shit. get yourself on twitter use the hashtag #NotBuyingIt to be a part of a wonderful movement set up to call out this utter creepery.
SPEAK UP about the media’s refusal to look beyond the superficial almost every time a woman steps into an important spotlight. tweet @vagendamagazine to make your voice heard.
SPEAK UP when the clothing brands we love use two completely different standards of advertising for the genders – even for the same unisex shirt!
SPEAK UP if you notice women being cat called or harassed in public. no one has the right to make people feel uncomfortable or unsafe and no one is entitled to a person’s time.
SPEAK UP about the ways in which we should be trying to prevent rape in our culture. challenge the people around you who would tell women to change their appearances or drinking habits instead of telling rapists to stop raping.
SPEAK UP about feminism as a topic. its not about hating men. it’s about questioning the one size fits all boxes that we separate the genders into from early childhood and striving to fight the knock on effect that this has later on down the line.
BE A FEMINIST. CHANGE THE WORLD.