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International Women's Day 2013: Why We're Still Fighting

8th March 2013

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Let’s talk women for a minute, if we may. It’s International Women’s Day after all, and with No More Page 3, The Everyday Sexism Project and various other social media campaigns gaining increasingly mainstream attention over the last few months, this one could be the most important for a few years.

Firstly, let’s define feminism, in a quick internet way because I have limited time to spend getting philosophical. The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” whilst believes it be “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.”

Wikipedia calls it “a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.”

My favourite internet definition, somewhat surprisingly, comes from that hallowed tome, the Urban Dictionary:  

“Feminism: The belief that women are and should be treated as potential intellectual equals and social equals to men. These people can be either male or female human beings, although the ideology is commonly (and perhaps falsely) associated mainly with women.”

It then goes on to succinctly point out how the rights of women throughout history have been intertwined with discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, culture and lifestyle, and finishes by pointing out that “you should still hold the door for a feminist; this is known as respect or politeness and need have nothing whatever to do with gender discrimination.”

YES, Urban Dictionary! Somehow, despite being a site most commonly visited via Google when we have no idea what rappers are talking about, you have summed up a much discussed and hugely complex issue in three paragraphs.

Some of those in the public sphere (Katy Perry, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, Lady Gaga) have said that they don’t identify themselves as feminists, although presumably they do believe in being able to work, make their own money, walk down the street, drive their cars, have sex, choose who they want to marry, vote, etc, without being stoned to death, which presents a conundrum.

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the word itself, and what it has come to mean in the 21st Century, post bra burning and women’s suffrage and the introduction of the pill - a world where on paper it looks like progress has been made, but where, when we look wider than our often very limited sphere, we see that things are far, far from good. At all.

In 2013 feminism is simply equality. That’s all. It is the notion that women and men should be entitled to the same things – in school, in work, in relationships, in life in general. Those with limited intellectual curiosity see what they want to see - jealous harridans who secretly just want a man; women chaining themselves to railings in the 1900s; the burning of porn mags in the ‘70s. But HEY – it isn’t the 1900s anymore, nor is it the 1970s. Feminism is addressing different problems now.

So, I’m a woman and I’m raging. If I was a man I would be raging too. Here’s why.

I’m raging because in South Africa a girl is more likely to be raped than finish her primary education.  I’m ranging because at this year’s Oscars, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane found it appropriate to use film clips depicting real life rapes for titillation and laughs. I’m raging because in this country one in three women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime, and just one in 30 of those who have been raped see a conviction.

I’m also pretty disappointed with the fact that, after 23-year-old New Delhi medical student Jyoti Singh-Panday was raped by six men and thrown from a moving bus with her intestines spilling out, ‘spiritual leader’ Asaram Bapu voiced the opinion that it was her own fault for not ‘begging’ her rapists to stop.

Back in the UK, female students are mocked over their appearances and the size of their breasts whilst attempting to take part in a debating competition, Cambridge historian Mary Beard is reprimanded for daring to be on television whilst not being a sexual object, UniLad exists, and the largest image of a woman in our most read newspaper is almost naked, superimposed with words that are not her own, because she is a pair of nipples and what she has to say isn’t really that important once tits have taken their place, is it?

I’m raging because in our supposedly fair and democratic society women still get paid almost 15% less than men for doing exactly the same jobs, because they don’t feel that they are entitled to ask for anything more – and because, as a 2011 graduate, I am five times less likely to be earning £40,000 by summer 2014 than if I was male

Last year, the good citizens of the USA came alarmingly close to voting in a party that, amongst other things, planned to limit access to birth control and equal pay, eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, weaken the Violence Against Women Act and outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, unless the woman in question was ‘near death.’

I’m raging because celebrities such as Katy Perry and Lady Gaga self-consciously define themselves as ‘not feminists’, whilst apparently giving no thought to the wider implications of the word (see above) or what message it could give out to their millions of young teenage fans.

So, just a snapshot of the motivations behind the feminist movements that are taking place across the world today, International Women’s Day 2013. The facts of the issue, what it really boils down to, is that if any of the things mentioned above sicken you, upset you, or make you sad/ uncomfortable/ angry, you’re probably a believer in equality too. And in turn, you’re a believer in feminism. That’s all there is. Forget the semantics.

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