Image by Petra Eriksson
Feminism is a topic that I’m constantly writing or reading about, and both as a movement and as a literary genre, it has become a primary focus of my day-to-day life. However, ironically, it remains a topic that I don’t think is taught about nearly enough. Overall, feminism is becoming a field of study already widely regarded with the same sort of political legitimacy as general elections – it did all start with the suffragettes after all – and immigration laws. But while Women’s Studies’ courses are certainly a step in the right direction, the fact that mostly female students tend to take them seems to me a clear example of the need to extend feminism to a wider audience, not just young women who already know a fair bit about women’s rights.
Despite the different mediums through which feminism can be expressed, it sometimes seems as though feminist texts such as ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman exist within their own exclusive field, only known to those who know where to look. Perhaps one of the reasons why feminism appears to be so readily available to me is because I’ve subconsciously made it so. Therefore, it seems obvious that we need to push feminism further into the mainstream by actively promoting resources for people who are still unaware of them – in a social, inclusive sense rather than radically. Women whom I love and respect and I still experience sexism on a day to day basis, hence the importance of feminist resources and education in the fight for female empowerment and equal rights. It seems ludicrous to me that someone aware of the misogynist prejudices against women could still partake in the concept of the patriarchy by victimising or sexualising women.
As well as feminist literature, a lot of feminist inspiration now comes from social media and public figures, such as @rubyrare or @neutralfleur on Instagram. There is a wide discussion around the use of online platforms like Facebook and Instagram to raise awareness of recent news stories or current political events. The fact that social media has become the main source of news online proves that it serves not only as a positive teaching tool reaching more people who may not otherwise become aware of current events, but also that there is no reason why more of us shouldn’t use these platforms to educate each other and express our views about topics of importance, such as gender equality. Social media must therefore serve as a public space for teaching people about feminism its values, from equal pay to general respect for women, as well as for feminists to support feminists. In this way, feminism can be promoted as a movement I consider to be essential, not only for gender equality but also for women’s inclusion and safety in society in general. Furthermore, we can begin to align feminist values with other important principles such as the acknowledgement of the working-class struggle.
Through the modernisation of feminism, the movement will become more accessible to learn about, especially for those who might not otherwise tackle Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’ (even I gave up half way through). Likewise, modernising the movement will avoid ignorance of parallel issues such as racism and homophobia, as it becomes linked to other important current issues, from transgender rights to intersectional feminism. The Suffragettes were perhaps what the world needed to get the ball rolling back in the beginning of the 20th century, but of course as time has moved forward, the movement ought to have done the same. It’s appalling that women had to use violence in the form of burning post boxes while others were being force-fed in prison in order to raise awareness of the importance of voting rights for women. We ought to be grateful to women like Emily Davison, who died after running in front of the king’s horse during a protest, for making the sacrifices that they did. But it’s equally important that we renovate feminism, its ideals, and its forms of expression.
My experience with feminism and feminist literature is rooted in my family, to whom reading has always been considered pretty fundamental. Ever since I could read, my parents were surreptitiously leaving feminist books around the house in hopes that it was something I would latch on to. I very much embraced similar values – to the extent of spending my angsty pre-teen years drunkenly lecturing some poor, dazed teenage boy about smashing the glass ceiling and quoting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s feminist manifesto at parties. And not much has really changed. But not all feminists or indeed feminism is abrasive or combative, and nor should it have to be. We are lucky enough to live in an age in which most of the fire-lighting of postboxes has been done. Feminism today is much more accessible and, dare I say, celebrated. Podcasts such as Deborah Francis White’s ‘The Guilty Feminist’ satirise feminism; we can laugh about shared female experiences, like wearing a certain pair of underwear in hopes of ending up back at a certain guy’s place after a night out.
Some may see it as ironic that my white male father has taught me about women’s rights and talks to my black step mum about intersectional feminist organisation ‘Gal dem’. Maybe it is, a little. However I see this is an opposition to the argument that only women ought to be interested in feminism because gender equality seems to be an issue that only affects them. My dad is so vehement and forthright in both his belief in feminism and education of important social movements to myself and my other family members; if sexism can be understood as such a problematic issue to a white middle-class man, then why aren’t more people who might belong to minority categories invested in it?
My father’s interest in social issues such as feminism has also had an impact on how I view my privileges as well as my activism in terms of how I can make others aware of inequality in multiple forms. I’m very aware that I’ve had it easy in terms of my experiences with sexism. I am a privileged, white, relatively middle-class cis-woman, who hasn’t faced the domestic abuse or familial ostracism that other women have because their lives don’t correspond with traditional values. I’m not blind to the security I have compared to other women, having the freedom to not feel threatened when I walk home at night or wear a short skirt to class. But the fact that ‘other women have it worse’ does not mean that I, and others in my position, do not get to speak up when we fall victim to the injustices of entrenched gender prejudices.
Perhaps one of my favourite aspects of the modern approach to feminism is that it’s not seen as a strict doctrine to which all women must all adhere out of self-respect. Rather, women are given the opportunity to explore feminism both as individuals and with each other as we see fit, making it a movement that we can autonomously adapt to our own lives and times. To me, feminism should be about people supporting other people together, ensuring that we all have the same rights and liberations that we are entitled to. Asking for gender equality is not asking too much, and it’s time to speak louder, through every form of modern media, because apparently some still can’t hear us.