Second Edition: What does Feminism Mean to Me

Opinion

By Sophia Obrecht

Following Tegan Francis’ exploration of what Feminism means to her, I thought I’d lay bare my own take on Feminism because while great mind do think alike, every perspective is a little different and here’s mine.

Let’s Focus on the Basics

Like any social movement in history Feminism came into existence with a specific mission or focus. While the Abolitionists focused on abolishing the slave trade, and the Chartists focused on the universal male suffrage, Feminism grew from the focus on women’s rights, whether it was the fight for women’s vote, equal pay, or the right to own property and to divorce. And, like other social movements in history, whether the civil rights movement or those that fought and continue to fight for LGBTQ+ rights, Feminism has come to represent the pursuit of freedom, equality and liberation of men and women.

At its core Feminism represents a challenge to the unfair and biased status quo of society.

Still feminists have suffered from particularly negative stereotypes, they have been branded as radical bra burners, hysterical spinsters, and distinctly anti-men throughout the 20th century and even in this the 21st century. But to me Feminism should be seen as a decidedly rational and reasonable movement; it should be seen as unashamedly pro-women, distinctly pro-men, and increasingly pro trans- people. I say this because at its core feminism serves to challenge traditional gender roles, roles that have placed women in one box and men in another; stereotypes linked to biology, which ignore individuality and play into the intense and often subconscious social constraints placed on men and women.

The Feminist perspective allows us to challenge what a woman and a man should be according to our past and present patriarchal societies. It serves to level up the playing field and encourage men and women to look beyond how they believe they should act, who they believe they are, and the opportunities they feel they can peruse.

Men and Women Unite

Feminism involves both men and women with the backbone of the movement championing equality, and while some women might not always want to admit it, we need men in order to achieve this equality. In fact, a key milestones of the movement, that is the equality of the sexes, came about in the 1972 court case of Moritz v. Commissioner. Moritz, an unmarried man had been denied a tax deduction for the cost of being a caregiver for his mother simply because he as a man was not considered a caregiver. The Internal Revenue Service argued that the law stipulated a tax deduction could only be given to women or formerly married men. Ruth Bader Ginsburg a specialist on gender law and now a Supreme Court Judge argued that it was unfair to discriminate on the basis of Moritz’s sex and that he should be allowed the caregiver deduction whether he was a woman or man. The judge ruled in his favour and in doing so opened the door to challenges other laws which discriminated on the basis of sex, it also served to challenge the notion that only women could be caregivers.

So while women need men in order to further the cause for equality, men (although some might not realise it yet) need the Feminist movement to liberate them from biased social demands, toxic masculinity and outdated ideas of what it means to be a “real man”. By pushing for women’s rights, Feminism has allowed men to examine their own positions in society.

I would argue that a shift in femininity has increasingly allowed men to understand how media and culture have shaped ideas of masculinity.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that in challenging gender roles and femininity, Feminism along with the LGBTQ+ movement, has challenged traditional masculinity. In doing so the fight for equality has fostered discussions on men’s mental health issues, as well as the social pressures that men have and continued to face. For example, by asserting that a woman’s role is not just in the home, in other words that she should have the opportunity to go out and become a wage earner with a successful career, we begin to question why a man must hold the pressure of being the main provider or breadwinner: we have begun to acknowledge that ideas of what it means to be a good husband and a strong man can create huge stress for men from all walks of society.

So while feminism has opened women up to opportunity, allowing them to be more aggressive, career driven and outwardly ambitions, something which would previously have been seen as unfeminine and vulgar, perhaps the movement has the potential to open men up to new ideas of masculinity and reset the intense gender roles in society.   

The Path to Equality Never Did Run Smooth

Its’s clear that challenging gender roles is the key to unlocking the path to more women in boardrooms and the key to easing aspects of toxic masculinity in our society; it is the key to affording men and women opportunities to take on different roles in society. But changing the way we understand what it means to be a man and a women is easier said than done.

Change has to start in the way we raise and educate children, because it’s the small subtle gender differences and subsequently limitations we instil in our children that go on to foster and fire up the negative and limiting gender roles of our society.

For example, while dressing your daughter up exclusively in pink princess dresses, and your son exclusively in a fireman’s uniform might seem harmless at first, the issue is much bigger with far wider implications. Why must girls aspire to be princesses, play with dolls, fairies and soap making kits when boys are encouraged to play with Lego, toy cars, and science kits? Of course boys also play in the realm of make-believe but the last time I checked Batman and Iron man were also businessmen and billionaires by day.

While the way children play is far less black and white than just Barbie vs Action man etc., the subtleties of how toys and the differing roles within play are marketed to parents and children filters into how men and women are defined in our society. Some might tell me “you shouldn’t always take things so seriously” “boys will be boys and girls just love pink”…But however harmless they might seem, many children’s toys embody the everyday sexism: Whether it’s the objectification of women in society or this idea of masculinity equalling strength and sometimes violence, such representations come back to archaic ideas of gender and identity.

Feminism and the move to a more gender neutral society has the ability to redefine and reshape how we teach children to identify with their genders, that being a girl is much more than playing house and that being a boy is more than playfighting and action man.

Nature vs Nurture

Of course many will disagree with me, arguing that blurring of gender roles has led to a crisis of masculinity, a crisis of marriages, maternal neglect and so on and so forth. Many dispute claims that societal conventions shape gender identity, these people would argue that you can’t fight biology – gender roles simply reflect the different biological makeup of men and women.

In part I agree – the experiences of men and women are and will in part continue to be different! Whether due to our society’s traditional and patriarchal ways or because of biological differences which feed into how men and women are perceived and how we perceive ourselves. And while I think it would be unreasonable to strip men and women from their gendered identities completely, heck where would I be if I couldn’t call myself a strong independent woman and revel in the best aspects of womanhood, our gender identities should be less polarised, more individual, and for heaven’s sake far more balanced.

This does not mean men must stay at home all day with the kids and work part time, it means that they should be able to do so if they so choose without judgement. Shifting gender roles does not mean men should feel threatened as women move up the career ladder, they should welcome change and a female perspective at the top. In the same way equality should, though admittedly does not always, mean that women have access to any path they choose whether that’s staying at home, perusing a full time career, travelling around the world, being a CEO or whatever career they end up persuing.

Feminism means understanding women not by their capabilities to reproduce or their value based on their appearance but by their true human worth.

It means seeing men are more than a provider or protector, but as complex human beings with just as many life stresses and even limitations as women. Feminism means valuing all forms of work, career, and life choices that women and men want to pursue, it means that specific jobs, roles, and characteristic should not be ascribed to a specific gender.

Feminism means opportunity and it means choice, and the sooner we understand the human similarities between men and women, that we all suffer from the social and emotional, physical and financial stresses of life, the closer we might come to seeing each other as equals in the home, at work, and in politics.

Men, Women, and Understanding Toxic Masculinity

Opinion

By Sophia Obrecht

 Just last month Gillette released their latest ad campaign. Under a reworked tagline, ‘The best men can be’, the advert focused on ways in which men themselves can work to halt negative aspects of masculinity in our society. From catcalling, ogling and intimidating women, to boys fighting, and men holding back or suppressing their emotions, the advert asked men to challenge traditional behaviours and ideas associated with toxic masculinity.

For most women and a large proportion of men, at least those I have spoken to, the advert proved a success. Many praised Gillette’s message, some even reacted with emotion because for once an advert had got it right…the situations and behaviours portrayed in the advert were real, and not the exception. Here was a large corporation, a global brand, sending out a positive and empowering message to men, here was an advert that understood that feminism, women’s rights, men’s rights, and equality are part of one whole.

The advert was a positive call to action, it was as if someone had looked into my mind and mirrored exactly what I wished society could see, that equality is not just about pay, it’s about men being able to be more than what the media portrays them as, more than the negative behaviours our society sanctions. In return women are more than the just a traditional gender image, more than just an object of sexual desire.  

Not everyone was happy about the advert, and the backlash which erupted among many men, demonstrates just how fragile and negative toxic masculinity can be in our society. Some men felt attacked by the messages and images in the video which supposedly showed all men to horrible, violent and creepy.

However, those who criticise the video fail to understand their own privilege, and their defensiveness demonstrate their failure to understand the consequences of toxic masculinity on themselves and others in society. They fail to understand the effect that the pressures of being the ‘provider’ or ‘bread-winner’ might have on a man’s mental health; they fail to see that the images of strong and tough men, and that a culture of banter, might make it hard for men to express their emotions and share the burdens of life with their peers. They fail to see the link between violence and toxic masculinity, and the effect that this has on men and boys. They fail to understand that the objectification of women and that laddish behaviours depicted in the media and sanctioned in society negatively affect women’s life, and not just in extreme cases of sexual violence. Most women have felt intimidated in public by men, perhaps by a rowdy group of men on the train, largely unaware that their behaviours come across as threatening, or when being catcalled whilst walking down the street. To some men these situations may seem harmless or insignificant, but for the women on the other side, it can be nerve racking and embarrassing to be placed in such a difficult position, due in large part to male privilege and the ignorance of others.

Photo by Tomu00e9 Louro on Pexels.com

I spoke to one male friend, who on the whole liked the video, but believed that men were not portrayed as they should have been…as a product of our society. When he watched the advert he saw men being blamed for what society had made them. In some ways he was right, the advert failed to highlight the damage that the media has done. For the most part masculinity in shown to be one dimensional, men are portrayed as strong, dominant, and successful. From music videos, to action films, even to older Gillette adverts, men are portrayed in one box, women in another.

Men, just like women, have been forced into a stereotype by the media, by politics and by culture. But it’s time for change from the bottom up. Since the late 1800s women have fought to change their status in society initially for themselves but gradually effecting change for other groups, setting a precedent for equality.

Masculinity does not have to be something negative, it doesn’t have to be toxic. Men should be able to show their emotions, they should be portrayed as multi-dimensional, they should be depicted in a positive and balanced light. But this can only happen if men themselves work towards change. Men cry and men get angry, just like women. Men can be caring, just as women can be strong (and vice versa). A man can be masculine and vulnerable at the same time, just like a woman can be feminine and strong. With the progress of feminism, equality for men and women can be achieved. But men must work with women to challenge the status quo, for themselves and for others. Perhaps if our ideas of gender, of masculinity, and of femininity, were less extreme, society would be a fairer place for all.

Why 2018 Rocked!

Opinion

By Tegan Francis

Sure, 2018 might not have been the best year this planet has ever seen… Trump is STILL president, brave women such as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford are STILL dismissed when coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment… We STILL haven’t agreed on a Brexit deal, and, well, Theresa May danced on national television, a troubling sight for many eyes (although at least she gave it a go!).

It this might seem like the past 12 months were filled with doom and gloom, but sometimes I think humans find too many reasons to complain. It’s easy to get angry and frustrated about what’s going wrong in the world without taking a second to really appreciate just how much of a blessing modern day life is. Our time here on earth is limited and finding things that make us smile seems like a a much better use of our time than complaining about things which we may or may not be able to change.

Ireland Abortion Ban

An impressive outcome came this May from Ireland’s vote on the 8th amendment, which effectively banned abortion in Ireland up until now. The country voted overwhelmingly to overturn the abortion ban with a result of 66% vs. 34%. In short, this now means that legal status of lives of a foetus and the woman carrying it are now equal. This is an incredible outcome for the modern day generation of Ireland, and demonstrates definite signs of progress in the country. I feel strongly that the life of Dr. Savita Halappanavar should also be mentioned when discussing this topic and the social progress in the country. Her death ignited a spark in Ireland, and powered the determination of activists within the country to change the law. Savita’s story really stuck with me this year and I would encourage anyone with an interest in this topic to acknowledge her bravery, courage and impact she has had on the Irish legal system.

Women on the Road In Saudi Arabia

It may seem like a small step but in actual fact it’s a giant leap for women and the gender disparity experienced in the UAE. As a Saudi women states in an interview with the BBC “Driving to me represents having a choice – the choice of independent movement. Now we have that option.” This reform is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s programme to modernise some aspects of Saudi society. Despite the development in this particular aspect of female life in Saudi Arabia, women have to adhere to strict dress codes, must not associate with unrelated men, and if they want to travel, work or access healthcare they must be accompanied by – or receive written permission from a male guardian. There’s still a long way to go, but for now let’s celebrate this small win of 2018!

A New Age Princess

Although this is a controversial topic for most people from the UK, the fact that Meghan Markel has now become the first woman of colour to join the British royal family is pretty freaking cool. A strong women in her own right, the grace and composure she showed on her wedding day as the world watched her marry Prince Harry was nothing short of a scene of pure inspiration. She carried herself incredibly well despite the media coverage of her family members and the drama her father caused in the lead up to the big day. It’s no wonder that she’s been the most googled person on the internet this year!

We Caught the Golden State Killer!

YES! We’ve got him! After managing to hide from police enforcement in the US for over 40 years, the man who is otherwise referred to as one of the most sadistic serial killers and rapists in American history is now behind bars. I personally don’t believe a human who committed such heinous crimes should be named in these circumstances as their life fundamentally doesn’t matter so we’ll just remain happy that justice has been served. The discovery and evidence used to finally arrest him came after the DNA left on his victims was checked against and online ancestor database. His arrest has helped dozens of people affected by his terror, breath a sigh of relief. Although this does not bring back their loved ones, they are at least able to rest now knowing that the attacker is now behind bars.

Life-changing Films

There were a considerable number of films released in 2018,  which had me leaving the theatre numb (in a good way) as well awestruck. Although these may not seem to carry the same weight as changes to the law or impressive scientific breakthroughs, I maintain that they are still important from a cultural and personal perspective.

The joy my friends and I experienced throughout the whole of the Mamma Mia sequel was something, which I’d never experienced before (so the movie may not win an Oscar any time soon, but it’s get my award for feel-good film of the year). We left the theatre with a new lease of life, determined to get our lives together, purchase a pair of colourful trousers and head off to Greece next summer in the hope we will be followed by three delicious men all vying for our attention. I’ll report back on whether this becomes a reality.

Bohemian Rhapsody was also an incredible performance, by all cast members involved. Shining a light on the person behind the rock star gave Freddie Mercury a human element which I’d never considered before. I also felt strangely proud to be British whilst watching the film.

Finally, I have to say, A Star is Born was worth the hype. I was completely convinced by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. The story takes twists and turns in places where I wasn’t expecting them, and the soundtrack is utterly beautiful.

Honorable mentions for why 2018 was “not so bad”:

  • The fact that David Attenborough didn’t die.
  • Scientist in China have successfully cloned a Monkey (you decide whether this is good or bad news)
  • There’s been a breakthrough in cancer research.
  • World hunger is at an all time low
  • We’re living longer! YAY!

So it’s not all so bad! I hope you’re feeling more optimistic and energized for the year ahead now you see that 2018 has been pretty kind to us. Here’s to another 12 months of excitement, progress, and changing for the better. Have a great one.

What does Feminism Mean to Me?

Culture and Lifestyle, Opinion

By Tegan Francis

I’m constantly surprised by the reactions I get when I say the ‘F word’- Feminism. This topic comes up about as much as Brexit does when you’re in conversation with people from around the world, or perhaps it’s because I’d rather talk about feminism over Brexit, I’m not sure.  Having spent the past six months with people from many different corners of the earth, I feel compelled to write this piece because there is still so much confusion when it comes to the concept of Feminism. So, here it is, here’s a round up of why I believe feminism to be worthy of it’s very own blog post and why I feel so strongly that each and every person on this planet should be a Feminist. If you’re still skeptical, hear me out…

Why Is It Called Feminism?

fem·​i·​nism | \ˈfe-mə-ˌni-zəm  \

Noun

Definition of feminism 

1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

This is simply a word, which has been used to convey the idea that both men and women, nay, all human beings should be treated as equals on this earth. And before you start screeching about the fact that the use of the prefix ‘fem-‘ indicates that women are higher and more privileged when it comes to the pursuit of equality… IT’S JUST A WORD. And, if you’re a male and you have a problem with this, you have mankind, human, and history. So please, just this one time, can you let go of the fact that feminism starts with a female implied prefix, just this once? Thank you.

Photo by Will Milne on Pexels.com

Self Love

A key element of feminism which resonates with me is the concept of self love. Looking in the mirror and being kind to yourself is so important in a world of Photoshop and Victoria Secret models. It questions what our society believes to be ‘the perfect body’ and asks us to concentrate on what’s inside rather than your physical appearance. We are socialized to fit into a specific type, which changes from generation to generation. We’re told that our worth is in our appearance, that if we’re beautiful then that’s all that really matters. However, I say, life is too short to worry about what you look like all day. I think women would be able to concentrate a lot more on other useful things in life if we weren’t constantly worried about our appearance and how much people may or may not like us. Who knows, maybe we would have cured some fatal disease by now, or discovered how to teleport.

Alas, instead, we are preoccupied with whether our stomach looks fat today or if we should really eat that pretzel for lunch. Of course, that isn’t to say that society hasn’t imposed these pressures on men too. This is exactly why we ALL need feminism. The pressure men feel to be tall, strong and emotionally stoic, etc. is destructive and sadly demonstrated in the incredibly high male suicide rates across the world. Instead, I suggest we give less fu**s about what other people think of us, and spend more time celebrating what makes us unique. Let’s recognize when our society has made us feel like we need to behave and look a certain way, and challenge it. Embrace your quirks, because you are you and that’s the most beautiful thing you can be.

Photo by Dennis Magati on Pexels.com

Group love and Group Hugs

Feminism is also about inclusion. It’s about self-love, loving others, and accepting people around the world for who they are and what they stand for. Respecting their decisions and appreciating each and every human on this earth. I find it difficult to understand why people show hostility towards someone on account of their sexuality, race or gender. If their actions are not affecting your life in any way, you shouldn’t have a problem with them. On a more female level, feminism is also about lifting the women around you up, being their best cheerleaders and listening to their problems when they need you most.

It makes more sense to stick together in this harsh world before we start trying to attack one another on account of looks or personality. We already have modern society stacked against us, we don’t need extra ammunition from fellow females giving the patriarchy a helping hand! Of course this practice is sometimes difficult to enforce. Instead of getting mad and talking about a person behind their back, let’s take a moment to reflect and think about how destructive negative vibes are. If you’re not going to say something nice about a person, maybe don’t say anything at all. Wise words from Walt Disney there!

Why Is It Important?

Feminism matters. I was once told (by a man) that Feminism “doesn’t matter, it’ll never change anyway.” and this, my dear readers, is exactly why we need Feminism. There remains to be a considerable disparity between women and men in several aspects of our modern day society. One area, which shows this unequivocally is the gender pay gap. Across the world, women are consistently paid less than their male counterparts, which makes absolutely no sense.

The image above gives you a visual representation on how much further we have to go before women and men are considered equal in the workplace. This is just an example of one aspect of modern day life where the patriarchy is in play. I could go into many other examples of problem areas we still need to tackle such as child rearing, socialization and even the way we are expected to talk, but that’s for another time, and another day.

Now It’s Your Turn

A conversation I had recently inspired me to write this post as I felt so strongly that many people have a warped idea of what feminism really means and I wanted to set the record straight. Feminism doesn’t mean we are hysterical activist, burning bras at protests and refusing to shave. Instead, I need people to understand that it simply a concept of inclusion. We want everyone to have a place at the table. We want everyone to feel included, appreciated, and paid the same wage at this table. And, this, fellow citizens of planet earth, is why Feminism means so much to me. Thank you.