Missing the point of feminism?

This title is misleading in a way. Most will read it and construe the article to be an attack on denouncers of feminism. To an extent, it is, (although I would rather phrase it as a clarification of what feminism is) but it is also an explanation of what feminism encompasses, to those who have misconstrued what feminism means.

Feminism is personal. Feminism is what an individual interprets it to be. However, there are central tenants of feminism as a concept, that all feminists (regardless of interpretation) should agree on. Those tenants are that feminism is about equality of the genders and sexes, and empowerment of women. On the strength of this, it becomes possible to decipher what feminism is about and what it means to an individual. Nevertheless, many people are still missing the point.

Feminism is not about women essentially switching roles with men, and having the advantage in society. It is about levelling the playing field, so that men and women are treated equally, in every single realm of public and private life. It is about ensuring that men and women are perceived in the same way, in terms of our capacities. Whether it be in our capacity as sexual beings, agents of change or professionals, men and women must be viewed and treated in the same way.

Feminism does not dictate how women should behave nor does it delineate or limit spaces for women to enter into.  It is not about dictating what women can/should and cannot/should not do. It is about giving women the liberty to live the way they deem fit. It is about extending to women, the same liberty that men enjoy. It is about giving women the choice to either live in the boundaries society has set for women, or to live outside of those boundaries. It is about compelling society to accept that women can live their lives the way they want to, without being policed and instructed on how to live. It is about allowing women to live multifaceted lives, in the same manner as men.

Feminism is not about excusing or supporting gender inequality, on the strength of physicality. To generalise and infer that gender inequality is necessitated by nature and physicality, is myopic and untrue. There are plenty of women “who defy nature” and are stronger than men, so what then is the rationale for gender inequality? Strength and physicality has nothing to do with having equal rights or being seen as equal. Picture the following scenario: An ultra strong man and a man who is not as strong. Should the ultra strong man be treated better than the man who is not as strong? Is the ultra strong man’s strength and physicality, a basis for him to enjoy more rights and freedoms than a less strong man? Would men accept this disparity?  See how stupid it sounds?

Feminism is about holding other women to account too. This does not translate into, competing with other women, chastising them and being downright horrible to other women. This is about ensuring that other women are held accountable for any wrong they may have done. For example, I often hear that a woman who sexually engages with a man in a relationship, owes nothing to the man’s partner. I strongly believe that this rhetoric must be dispelled. Each woman owes every woman the duty of respect in all capacities, including respecting another woman’s relationship. NOTE: This is not to say, that this exudes blame from the man (he is still 100% responsible for straying in a relationship), and this does not imply that women should fight each other over cheating men. However as women, we owe our fellow women respect. That is a duty that we should hold sacred amongst women. Supporting and empowering women does not entail turning a blind eye or excusing the wrongdoings of another woman, but it entails women addressing each other’s wrongdoings, in a constructive manner, so as to help each other grow into better people.

Feminism is not about always agreeing with other feminists. Feminism is personal, multifaceted and contextual. One person’s idea of feminism may not be the same as another. This was recently illustrated by Chimamanda Adichie, who stated that Beyoncé’s idea of feminism, did not align with her own. This was not to say that Beyoncé’s feminism was wrong, it simply is not a feminism that Chimamanda ascribes to. There is a belief amongst feminists that we always have to be in agreement, and challenging each other is an extended form of patriarchy. It is okay for you to disagree with a feminist, whose feminism lies in sexualization. It is okay for you to disagree with a feminist, whose feminism lies on conservatism. Feminists should be able to challenge each other and open up healthy discourse.

Feminism is not about preaching gender equality and denouncing gender roles, but then accepting the patriarchal and gender imbalanced status quo, when it regards finances. It is patriarchy that dictates to society, that men are responsible for finances. As a feminist, how can it make sense to dispel all other instances of patriarchy, but one? As feminists, we cannot pick and choose which area of patriarchy we wish to expel and which we wish to maintain. Patriarchy is patriarchy, and sustaining an element of it, means sustaining patriarchy in its entirety.

Feminism will always be relevant. Post feminism believers argue that women have now acquired equal rights and opportunities therefore feminism is not relevant. This couldn’t be far from the truth. Firstly, many societies still maintain wide gender disparities, ie. Saudi Arabia. Secondly, even in countries which have managed to narrow the unequal dynamic that exists between men and women, globally speaking, professional opportunities for women are still a lot more scarce than they are for men. For example, political and corporate participation. Thirdly, in many societies, the ways in which women are perceived and judged, reveals the existence of a substantial amount of misogyny and sexism, which consequently maintains a patriarchal narrative, as well as an unequal gender dynamic.


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