I am a feminist. But often enough, I’m scared to admit it. You’d have thought I was owning as a Nazi sympathiser from some of the looks I have received in the past. Mouths dropped open, eyebrows raised. It’s an utter shock, and not a good one. Clearly, some unspoken profanity had escaped my lips. Faces eventually curve into a hardened glare—a disappointed, slicing glare. How could it be that she has resorted to this?
Some people just laugh. Not the tickled, light-hearted giggle, but a mocking, bitter snort. The atmosphere changes; the atmosphere towards me changes.
I am a feminist. But sometimes that word is harder to utter than the most repulsive language known in English. Sometimes it feels I’ve caused the most diabolical offense, like I’ve dirtied polite conversation with thick, slimy mud.
It’s particularly ironic that the very ideology that fought to give women a voice, is today, in turn, being twisted against me to silence my own.
Why? Why is this concept often met with such discomfort and hostility in the 21st Century?
It’s unfathomable the number of times I’ve been witness to: “I believe in gender equality, but I do not believe in feminism.” That makes about as much sense as believing animals should never be slaughtered for food but not believing in vegetarianism. It’s the exact same contradiction. Strangely enough, it is the very concept of feminism today which seems to have woven into a lost, confusing set of contradictions.
Feminism today is a man disgustedly ordering a breastfeeding woman to ‘put her tits away’ and then proceeding to watch lesbian pornography on his phone. Feminism today is pressurising a female partner into sex and then slut-shaming a fellow sexually active woman.
Feminism today is arguing that women have choices in life and then criticising them for not conforming to a set model of womanhood.
In countries such as the U.K. and U.S., generally speaking, we encourage women to pursue whichever ambitions and career paths that spark their passion. Women are educated, given support and grant opportunities. We celebrate women who achieve and succeed. Although, don’t be fooled. There’s actually a time bomb ticking away underneath: the motherhood calculator.
I call it such as it honestly feels like society actually calculates women’s lives around their possibilities of becoming parents one day. During the ages of 0-25, ambitious prospects are laid open for women who choose to possess them. Following that: fingers start tapping, eyes start burning, the question as old as time begins to fire: “so when are you planning to have kids?”
I stand to correct myself: it’s not a question; it’s an expectation. You’ll know as such if you ever tried to reject such inquiries. Maybe it’s not on your current agenda; perhaps you’ve already decided that having children is not something for you. Whichever way you choose to dismiss it, you’ve probably been lectured on how “you’ll change your mind later!“
What happened to choice? Even if a woman does decide to have children, she’ll still be subjected to scrutiny and pressurised societal instruction. Take Chrissy Teigen, for example, who was the target of horrendous online abuse after taking an evening off parenting her young child to go on a date with her husband. Not forgetting the countless women who are incessantly mum-shamed for deciding to continue their career after welcoming a child. Or the fact that 75% of working mums in the U.K. will be discriminated against in the workplace (Independent, 2016).
It seems that while 21st-century society boasts under a mask of equality and choice, it still fundamentally attempts to emotionally bully women back into a marginalised, gendered domain.
“Feminism has gone too far,” someone will retort if I challenge what I believe to be a sexist attitude; “you can’t say anything these days,” complains another if I dare to take offense from a misogynistic comment.
From comedians and celebrity personalities making sexist mockeries to TV continuing to exhibit content which abuses and objectifies women, I’m expected to remain tranquil and indifferent to it. If I speak against it, I’m too loud and opinionated. If I get upset, I’m on my period. I’m too sensitive; too serious. In effect, my identity as a modern feminist is bullied into silence.
Many people even advocate that “we no longer need feminism,” to which I ask: Can you honestly say that every woman in your country is protected from sexual harassment in the street and workplace? Can you honestly say that every person living in your country is completely safe from sexual and domestic abuse? Can you honestly say that every female around the world is treated with equality and respect?
Granted, we’ve traveled a great length since the birth of feminist ideology, but you wouldn’t tell an athlete that they no longer need to continue their race because they’ve already come so far, would you? You’d tell them to finish it. Our race hasn’t been completed yet. We need to finish it.
And how exactly are we supposed to achieve this if we’re bullied into silence?
Women silently endure verbal and physical harassment for fear of causing a scene. In fact, a staggering 92% of women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace never report it (The Guardian, 2018). We talk so much about the policies and movements that serve to improve the environmental respect that women are afforded, but what relevance do they have if women are too afraid to utilize them—too afraid to speak?
My support and passion for the movement haven’t been driven by an overactive imagination, but reality. What I’ve seen. What I’ve been told. What I’ve personally experienced. Am I still afraid to speak up about it? Absolutely.
See, the reality of being a feminist in the 21st century is being told you’re wasting your time. You’ll witness a disappointed sigh; a mocking roll of the eye; a lecture on how you’re barking up a tree with no bark left to scratch off. But it’s still undoubtedly there for everyone to see. So I think we should start talking. The rest need to listen.