With the passing of International Women’s Day last week, I seem to have had an extraordinary amount of conversations regarding women’s rights. One of particular interest was with a good friend of mine, who challenged my desire to be called a Feminist - I knew him to be in touch with contemporary movements at university, and his views came as a surprise to me. You don’t hate guys, he said, and why is it called feminism if it’s all about equality? You don’t need feminism in this country anyway; women in the West already have rights. I recognise that this is probably what the majority of people in our society think, but I had hoped he was one person I wouldn’t have to win over.
) Maybe the issues of gender inequality are more blaringly obvious in some of the developing countries ActionAid works in, where many women don’t have access to education, work, or rights that protect them from violence. However, I was taken aback by his claims that there was no room for improvement in the UK, after all there are still some nuanced differences in the way society treats men and women. Women have less economic power, earning less than men in the same positions. Women have less political power, as there are fewer women in parliament representing their views (only 23%).
One aspect in particular that I thought wouldn’t have escaped his notice while we were studying together, is the objectification of women. It plays a huge part in lad culture at universities, which in turn has extremely negative effects on women – impacting their mental and physical health, and preventing them from reaching their full potential.
In fact I asked him, don’t you find the current discourse on this topic patronising? Is it true that as a young male you just can’t keep your thoughts and hands to yourself? Isn’t it ironic that girls and women are taught to cover up, rather than men taught to have some manners?
So far, men have set the parameters of the system, and thus the system favours men. The reason I want to change this is not because I hate men, but because I want all women, regardless of race, class or religion, to have access to the same economic, political and social opportunities as men, so that we may be considered equals. That is why it’s called a feminist movement, as it strives to bring female voices to the table where men are already listened to. It’s an issue that affects women worldwide, and I think by standing up for our feminist beliefs across the world we can start to change the system together.
Are you on my side yet? I asked - and he said he’d think about it.
If you need further persuasion, then here is a good place to search for some inspiration. Nevertheless, if you’re not up for joining, that’s fine – just let me get on with it.