There is a huge stigma around feminism at the moment, especially among young people and in the media. Some would have you believe that feminism means “man-hating.” This could not be further than the truth.
Yes, some people may claim to hate men and also claim to be feminists but they are not representative of all feminists and their extremist views are at odds with the idea of equality.
True feminism holds that men and women are equal in all walks of life and should be treated as such.
However, it is women who face significant disadvantages in society and this is why feminism fights for women’s rights and against women’s oppression. If we take equality seriously, then the feminist movement is important to the whole of society.
The bad name given to feminism has resulted in a rise of so-called “anti-feminists,” particularly online and in the media.
Their rise has prevented many people from engaging and supporting women’s rights, setting the movement back a pace.
Before writing this article, I did a quick Google search to see which words followed “feminism is” in the search bar. Three of the top four results were: “feminism is cancer,” “feminism is wrong,” and, bizarrely, “feminism is cancer shirt.”
It would seem that feminism is typically thought of as unappealing and vulgar. Unfortunately, this prevents shy and young people from confronting sexism, forcing them to sit back to avoid being shamed and hated.
Feminism needs many voices – particularly among the younger generation – to stand up and inform those who have been brainwashed by the media and other powerful groups that feminism is doing all of the right things for all of the right reasons. As the novelist Kate Mosse says: “The F-word is for fairness.”
Feminism isn’t an exclusive club; it is an attitude which everyone should have. Men can be feminists, children can be feminists, vegans can be feminists, meat-eaters can be feminists, politicians can be feminists, farmers can be feminists. Everyone can be. The only thing you can’t be is sexist and a feminist. You’re one or the other; there is no middle ground.
Many people are not aware of the effects of sexism while others argue that sexism no longer exists.
However, I, like all women, have experienced sexism from the day I was born.
From the age of three, I started to notice that I was treated differently to the boys. Although my memory of this period is hazy, I distinctly remember feeling embarrassed around groups of people at family events who would make comments about how “cute” and “pretty” I was, whereas my male cousin was admired as “strong” and “brave.”
I often felt as though I wasn’t taken seriously and whenever I spoke up about my opinions, I was laughed at.
A lot of people were very surprised upon meeting me to find I didn’t care much for Barbie dolls and pink cuddly toys, but that I preferred sport, games and action films.
In fact, I became so upset in feeling as though my thoughts didn’t matter and that I should be more ladylike, that I decided I wanted to be referred to as a boy. I asked my family, friends and teachers to call me “George” rather than “Georgina” and I wanted to do all the things that the boys did without feeling that this wasn’t OK.
I realized then that being a boy had more privileges. Even at such a young age, I had experienced sexism. I felt as though my achievements were not as important as my male peers and that I would never truly fit in as a girl.
This is my experience of everyday sexism which we treat as natural and insignificant, which really affected me and affects others too.
There are inherent color schemes for boys and girls — even as babies, the boys get blue while the girls get pink. There is rarely a neutral ground. Toys and children’s books are neither gender neutral, with boys’ toys being themed around sport, science, action and dinosaurs, while girls’ toys are based on cooking, being a “mummy,” unicorns, flowers, fashion and beauty.
This sends subconscious messages to children and toddlers that there are certain roles for men and women and if you don’t like that, then you’re made to feel different and isolated. It may seem harmless, but these messages displayed early on have effects on children and parents that are reinforced in wider society.
When I was 11, I recall being in the girls’ changing rooms before a PE lesson. One of the girls pointed out that I hadn’t shaved my legs and teased me for being hairier than all the others. I felt so uncomfortable with myself, completely disgusting and unattractive. I went home that night to shave all my body hair.
There was an enormous pressure, not only from the boys but also from the girls, to fit certain roles, to look a certain way. It was totally natural to have leg hair at 11 and not have to shave it off but everyone around me (including the images of women in TV, magazines, films and on billboards) taught me that bodily hair wasn’t acceptable on a woman.
My time as a teenager was extremely difficult. Sexism at this age was perhaps the most detrimental to me. There was always a great pressure to be attractive and if you weren’t then you were cut off from certain things.
I and many other girls in our school were rated on a scale of one to 10 on our appearance – online, through social media, and within the classroom.
Often, the boys in our class would rate the girls in order of attractiveness, followed by rating our body parts and making snide remarks openly to our faces. There were so many insensitive nicknames thrown around: “thunder thighs,” “jugs,” “stick legs,” etc.
The teachers were aware of this but, instead of confronting the boys, we were made to feel as though it was our fault for being vulnerable and letting it upset us.
I never felt as though I could speak to a teacher about the sexism I faced because they would simply laugh it off or tell me: “It’s only a joke, and it will pass.”
The saddest part is that the girls also got on board with teasing one another to avoid being nicknamed themselves.
The “jokes” began to get increasingly worse and even more boundaries were broken. The boys in my class used to grope the girls, often after they had been firmly told to stop.
Most of the time, this was played out as a prank or a surprise and so you could never be sure when a 16-year-old boy would try to put his hands up your skirt while you were walking up the stairs.
This type of behavior is far from unusual as, according to a 2010 YouGov poll, one in three girls aged 16 to 18 have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school.
Although consent and topics around sex were rarely taught in school, everyone was talking about it. Sex was a massive taboo and, because the teachers were afraid to ever speak about it, the boys learned from porn and through “banter” about sex.
Furthermore, there was a significant difference throughout my years in school between the way men were praised and I, as a woman, was restricted.
Whenever I raised my hand to answer a question and got it right, I would be called a “show off,” contrasted with the boys who were considered intelligent. Where I was bossy, the boys were confident. While I was snappy, the boys were assertive. Where I am clingy, men are loving. While I am hysterical, men are passionate.
This kind of sexism persists to the present day. I am now aware that this will continue into my working life as it has for all women.
Women receive half the average bonus men receive. Moreover, the average female executive earns £423,000 ($527,641 USD) less over her lifetime than a man with identical career path. I know too, that this carries over into politics, and that if I ever want to follow this route, I will face disadvantages.
Being a feminist today is so important. With inequality out of control and known misogynist Donald Trump as president of the wealthiest country on Earth, we need to fight for women’s rights and teach those who may be influenced by powerful voices that gender discrimination is unacceptable.
This article originally appeared in Morning Star.