By Asha Bakhai, Ananya Basu, Alex Beard, Vithusan Kuganathan, Mia Lane and Ryan Ratnam
What is feminism? - Mia lane
Whilst the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of ‘feminism’ is “The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”, the meaning of the word ‘feminism’ can often be misconstrued to imply a sexism against men.
Moreover, when the word ‘feminism’ comes to mind, a lot of people conjure up images of women burning their bras, showing off their unshaved armpits, and voicing their undying hatred of men, but this is not in any way an accurate account of the daily doings of a feminist. Feminists also aren’t all aggressive or serious, and have not all taken a vow to be single forever in the name of equality; these distorted perceptions could be fatal to the growth of feminism and its success. But why are these stereotypes being bought into?
Although many people, including a large handful of women, are reluctant to label themselves as feminists, if you take the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of feminism to be accurate, then surely anyone who is an advocate for equal rights (which I am sure a number of the aforementioned people would claim to be), is a feminist. Perhaps the real problem here is not a prejudice against women, but a lack of understanding of what feminism means.
Take, for example, a recent discussion I had with a family friend about feminism. When the topic came up, he proudly stated that he was not a feminist. Refusing to accept such an opinion without an explanation, I pressed him for more details, asking why. His answer was that it was because feminism was, “A movement that favoured women over men, to the extent that men were suffering and being blamed for women’s troubles.” Now, I don’t know about you, but to me that seems wildly different from the actual definition of feminism. Additionally, this friend has a sister who is currently applying to university, so I asked him if he thought that she should have the same chance of gaining a spot on her preferred course as her male equivalent. He replied, “Yes, of course. I don’t believe in feminism, but I do believe in equality.” Given that equality and feminism are supposedly synonymous, according to the dictionary definition, this makes little sense. His lack of knowledge about feminism has led him to criticise it and discredit it as a movement he could not possibly endorse.
the history of feminism - vithusan kuganathan
Women across history have had their roles tending towards a more passive one in society. They tended to the home, whilst the man would go out and do the work and provide for the family. However, it was at the start of the 20th century where major change was sparked. This change was of course sparked by the Suffragettes (suffrage referring to the ability to vote for members of Parliament). Emmeline Pankhurst was the individual who began questioning the nature of women’s role in society. Her main objective was to get a statement from the ILP (Independent labour party) that the voice of women was just as important than men and as such, she was vital in the formation of the WSPU – the Women’s Social and Political Union, who were essentially a highly organised group who led hunger strikes and eventually, due to inaction from the ILP, began to undertake more violent action to get noticed. Having said this, there were several other organisations of women who favoured more peaceful protest, such as the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
The hunger strikes began in 1909, with a woman - Marion Wallace-Dunlop - being imprisoned. During her imprisonment, she wasn’t given a particular status as a political prisoner. This inspired other suffragettes to do the same. The hunger strikes would often lead to these women falling ill and the government took extreme measures to ensure they ate. They started “forcible feeding”, a process where liquid foods were forced down the throats whilst these suffragettes were restrained. The suffragettes then decided to suspend their actions during the First World War and after, the Representation of the People Act in 1918 was passed. This was the first-time women were granted the ability to vote, which was a paradigm shift in societal attitudes towards women as their political opinions were being appreciated.
Fast-forward to the 1940s, there is still the legal precedent for gender inequality, meaning the issue is still far from resolved. There is still resistance against the patriarchal hegemony, which is exemplified greatly by Simone De Beauvoir’s “Le Deuxième Sexe”, an international best seller. This drove forward a point which is not dissimilar from Emma Watson’s speech at the UN. It was the principal that men and women alike benefit from the liberation of women. Betty Friedan, another writer, also published “The Feminine Mystique”. This, like Simone De Beauvoir’s work, rallied women under a single cause. Friedan’s work especially appealed to housewives, as her work looked at how housewives were in true desperation but were socially conditioned to ignore this. By 1966, a pressure group stemmed from the collective want for less discrimination for women, the National Organisation for Women. This was all done in America. Both radical groups and NOW were all fighting for women’s rights, and eventually, in 1970, Women’s Strike Day happened in Washington DC. Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan all led this strike to push for equal rights. The Equal Rights Act eventually was passed by congress in 1972. However, this bill failed to have 38 states (3-quarters of the country) ratify it within 10 years, the original deadline was 1977. However, it began to gain traction over the proceeding decades. With Illinois being the 37th country to ratify it in 2017 – just last year. This is mainly due to the acceptance of abortion, as a constitutional right, and other facets to the amendment that many states may not agree with.
Overall, feminism has had somewhat of a complex history and has been degraded to an unpopular term today. The interesting thing about feminism is that it wasn’t just a turn of the century idea from the 19th to the 20th century. It has been common since Sappho, an ancient Greek female poet. And then there was Hildegard of Bingen, Jane Austen, Christane de Pisan, Mary Wollstonecraft. The idea of women’s rights was reflected in their literature, often being conveyed through the dignity and intelligence of female characters in their work. Feminism has been evolving over time and will continue to do so, with modern feminist icons like Emma Watson and Malala Yousafzai, all fighting for women’s education internationally.
“When the whole world is silenced, even one voice becomes powerful” – Malala Yousufzai.
That’s exactly what happened. A single voice snowballed into a political movement that has stood the test of time and will continue to do so.
THE SURVEYS - RYAN RATNAM AND ANANYA BASU
Thank you to everyone who answered the QE survey. It received 394 responses overall which is nearly a third of the school and we were very happy with the amount of people who not only answered the questions but were willing to further explain and justify their opinions, as well as giving some interesting avenues for this article to focus on.
The respondents were fairly balanced in regard to their ages. It’s no surprise that the ages 18 and 11 had some of the fewest responses, since they don’t overlap between years. The balance allowed for greater credence to be given to the results, not weighted in one specific age group.
Most people said that they ‘somewhat’ support Feminism and the general consensus was positive, 49% being for Feminism whilst 35.8% were against it. The predominant age groups critical against Feminism were 13-15 year olds, 14 year olds being particularly against the idea. In the individual responses, many misconstrued the idea of Feminism as, “Women having more rights than men,” some arguing that it pursued a, “Matriarchy.” The common misconception of at least the movement in its original nature is highly prevalent in the middle school age groups especially. Perhaps this harkens for more of a conversation and discussion around issues such as Feminism, as students become more active in and affected by the political world.
An overwhelming majority supported gender equality, 61.9% being completely for it and overall 77.6% supporting it. This is 28.6% more than those who supported Feminism. The results perfectly encapsulate the stigma surrounding Feminism, by the fact that more than a fifth of respondents did not support both movements, despite them meaning exactly the same thing. This draws us to complaints over the movement being dubbed ‘Feminism’. In most, if not all countries, society was a patriarchy. Therefore, at the inception of the movement, of course it would have been named Feminism, as it was fighting to elevate the rights of women to the same level as those of men. This is completely different from fighting for more rights than men. In varying areas across the world, women could not vote, dress freely, have sexual/marital freedoms and more – how could they be fighting for more rights than men when they virtually had none?
This response was rather shocking for this question, but at the same time, predicted. The survey sent out could be accused of being rather tautologous, three questions effectively meaning the same thing. And, yes, it exactly is. But this was done to show how simple wording can seriously affect someone’s view or response. Only 26.4% of people said that they were a Feminist to some degree, whilst an overwhelming 55.9% said that they at least mostly weren’t. 77.6% of people supported gender equality yet 50.2% less identify in some capacity as feminists. Even almost 22.6% fewer people said they were Feminists than supported Feminism – that is slightly mind boggling. There is a common misconception that being a Feminist is something reserved to women. However, it just means someone who believes in gender equality. Regardless of gender, everyone who contributed to the writing of this article can say that they are Feminists. I wanted to get the opinion of someone male who isn’t caught in the student bubble, therefore I asked a teacher at QE, Mr Feven, on what Feminism means to him. This is what he had to say;
‘Feminism’ is a word that evokes strong emotions, on both sides of the debate. For many, it has become synonymous with ‘female superiority’ or ‘man hating’ – yet for me, this completely misses the underlying principles of what it means to be a Feminist. There are ‘extremists’ in any movement, and those with more extreme views will inevitably attract headlines in our media and society. But at its core, feminism is about ensuring that men and women are viewed as equals. It is about ensuring that women are not ‘expected’ to stay home from work to raise children. It is about ensuring that women feel just as able to go for a promotion opportunity as a man in the workplace. It is about ensuring that women can go for a night out without the fear of being harassed.
More equality for women does not mean less equality for me. Nor does it mean we ignore those areas where men suffer more. We live in a society where men do not feel able to express emotion. Where men are far less likely to be given access to a child in a divorce settlement than women. These things need to change, too. But change must start from somewhere. And as long as we fail to embrace feminism, both men and women will continue to suffer from it.
The predominant answer of this question was ‘I don’t know’, attributed by most of those from the younger years. In brief, the #MeToo movement was triggered by the outpouring of sexual allegations against the renowned (but now infamous) Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. This led to subsequent allegations from both men and women against established actors, directors, producers and more including, but not limited to, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., James Franco and Woody Allen. For many, their time was up (to reference the movement’s other name). Likely Hollywood’s biggest scandal, it only continued to pick up momentum, especially starting just in time for Awards’ season. The movement soon spread outside of the film industry to even governments, men and women now speaking up about their experiences. Alyssa Milano popularised the hashtag which set Twitter ablaze in a matter of hours and became one of the names, as well as ‘Time’s Up’ for this movement. CNN have collated a very useful timeline for the events here.
Whilst respondents were still predominantly for the movement, it is unsurprising that 29.7% were not. For many, the #MeToo movement has turned into a, “Witch hunt.” Some feel that many may falsify allegations for their own interests, capitalising on the political and societal atmosphere. Perhaps there does need to be more regulation surrounding false claims. However, the movement exposed the ugly side of the film industry and society. Everyone knew that actors had been taken advantage of and asked to sleep with directors/producers for roles in films which would launch them to stardom, yet no one did anything about it. One response drew upon, “Rape culture.” There is a stigma behind rape and sexual harassment for its victims, many feeling scared to speak out as it could result in societal backlash or shunning. This movement showed men and women that they could speak out and had wide effects on both how women dealt with these situations and with how men dealt with masculinity and being a victim of this type of crime. Yet any highly charged movement like this undeniably needs order.In October 2018, marking a year after the beginning of the movement, a CEO was elected to properly manage Time’s Up/#MeToo, protecting the interests of both men and women, not just one.
Unfortunately, technological shortcomings have made it that everyone who selected ‘other’ for this question was listed as a separate response. Despite the nuances they had, the majority of the responses came to the conclusion that there was a gender wage gap, conforming with the overall results of more than 40% of people believing the wage gap did exist. The latest report from the ONS on October 25th 2018 reported that the UK gender wage gap was 8.6% for full time employees, excluding overtime. Regardless of its credence, there is undisputedly a wage gap between men and women. It is wrong to say that the wage gap is inexistent, but it is improving on average. Some responses felt that it would be better to draw focus away from the wage gap and put more emphasis on the gender role gap, saying that despite wages improving, there is lack of ability to advance to higher paying, senior jobs. In July 2018, the Guardian reported that there were only 30 women in full time executive roles at FTSE 250 companies, accounting for 6.4% of the total executive roles.
When it came to the 76 personal responses, ignoring the ones which felt obliged to fill a box because they could, the same misconceptions about the meaning of Feminism seemed to arise. However, there was also a common theme of people feeling disillusioned by ‘third wave feminism’. This encapsulates what Mr Feven was saying, that, “More extreme views will inevitably attract more headlines,” therefore it is unsurprising that some feel like this, a significant amount of exposure to Feminism being something which is inherently un-feminist. I wanted to hear the opinion of a female who isn’t a student on Feminism, but from the modern day to explain some of what it really means to be a woman supporting feminism in society today, therefore, I talked to another teacher at QE, Miss Maule. Here is what she had to say;
The problem with ‘Feminism’ as a term, is that it has melted into a catch-all word used to signify innumerable definitions, most of them with negative connotations. A feminist can really now mean anything, ranging from man hating, to believing women are better than men, to thinking that women should be permitted to read and write. Hence my reluctance to answer the oft asked question, ‘are you a feminist?’ unless I know how the other person is defining it. Because as Margaret Atwood, author of the novel The Handmaid’s Tale explains, “thinking it is acceptable for women to read and write would be a radically feminist position in some countries. So what do you mean?”
What does it mean indeed? The ‘official’ definition recognises the complexity of the term by identifying feminism as a “range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women.” Or, straight from Miriam Webster, “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.'” Nothing there that vilifies men or glorifies women; so why has the term become so problematic?
Part of the issue, it would seem, is the polarising of people into conformity or non-conformity to an ideological position: either you are a feminist or you are not, and if you are, you are somehow perceived as ‘anti-men’, aggressive or a brow beating political radical. No wonder women are becoming reluctant to identify themselves as feminists. My fundamental position is that women are complete and equal human beings, and should be treated equally to men in all spheres and have the same access to opportunities, rather than being limited or determined by their gender. Put simply, I am an advocate for women. I am interested in women and the issues affecting them, and feel a certain responsibility to strive for equal treatment in all arenas, and to push for the basic rights of women (principally education) in countries where they are withheld.
Finally, as a teacher of Literature in a boys’ school, in which the English curriculum is almost exclusively dominated by male authors and thinkers, (in fact, all of the eight set texts for A Level English Literature are written by men), I feel an obligation to draw attention to, and advocate for, the female characters, (and writers) who are largely marginalised, sexualised, victimised, silenced or ignored. It is not that I am not interested in Hamlet’s story, or Gatsby’s, I am. But I am also aware of how in privileging the male voice, there has been a historical oppressing of female discourse; a silencing of female power or desire; the culling, or killing, or punishing of those female characters who dare to speak up, speak out, tell their own stories.
So am I am feminist? Yes. I can’t afford not to be.
We felt that it was important to collect responses from not just QE, but NLCS too. Some responses are surprisingly similar to those from QE, a certain amount feeling that they don’t belong in modern day Feminism. Others draw attention to the, “Child marriages,” and oppression in other countries around the world and that there should be more focus from Feminists on those areas.
what feminism can do for men - alex beard
When so-called Men’s Rights Activists simultaneously lament the creation of a generation of ‘soyboy snowflake’ men, all too willing to share their emotions rather than conform to the strong, breadwinning image of the past, and remind us of their favourite statistic – the fact that the majority of successful suicides are committed by men – they reveal the fundamental contradiction in their ideology. MRAs have a point, although it is probably not the one that they set out to make. In a society that demands men maintain a ‘stiff upper lip’ and refrain from emotionally sharing, not least to their own children, growing up as a teenage boy is not easy.
The cliché is that men, unlike women, don’t talk, and whilst this idea is sometimes overstated, it is essentially true. Teenage girls are far more willing to discuss issues meaningful to them than teenage boys, who feel a societal pressure to bury their problems under a façade of bravado. Supposed ‘toxic masculinity’ – a phrase despised by many men – often merely masks unhappiness. And the relationship between father and son doesn’t make this any easier; well-intending parents often compromise their relationship by demonstrating the very same emotional repression they experienced with their fathers.
It is with this that feminism can help. The movement led to the deconstruction of the female experience and what it means to be a woman becoming an almost academic discipline. Femininity became an identity with which most women could identify, and having this identity meant making women’s issues easier to discuss. The same hasn’t happened with men – a lack of exploration of what masculinity truly means has led to the same damaging stereotypes being reinforced about them, and it is under these that so many suffer in silence. It is only once we embrace all those who identify as men and we ally masculinity with the LGBTQ+ movement as feminism has done, that we can begin to foster happiness among the male community.
This is precisely what ‘meninism’ doesn’t want – they don’t care about happiness, or about the huge number of men who suffer from depression whom they claim to represent. They are merely scared, intolerant people who abhor the idea that the rigid stereotypes and gender roles on which society has been based for as long as they can remember might be replaced with something more progressive and inclusive. They don’t deserve the identity they claim.
the future of feminism - asha bakhai
In the wake of many empowering and growing movements such as the #MeToo and Time's Up movements we could arguably say that 2018 was ‘the year of the women’. However, as faced by all worldwide movements, there have been both positive and negative repercussions. Only just this week there has been a 'MeToo' victory in US Congress as politicians change sexual harassment rules and Time's Up has officially become the most successful GoFundMe of all time. With encouraging outcomes such as these, one can easily assume that the future of feminism is headed in a very promising directing.
However, in the recent months there has been a flurry of articles addressing the slightly more unexpected outcomes of these empowering movements. Bad news has recently surfaced for any woman who aspires to work on Wall Street: interviews with nearly 30 senior executives suggest that men are avoiding female colleagues because of the fear instilled in them by the #MeToo movement. Many are avoiding socialising with female colleagues, sitting next to them on planes or even having one-on-one meetings. Was this inevitable? While the #MeToo movement was intended to raise awareness about sexual harassment and fight for fairer treatment of women, it led to some men being forced out of powerful positions on the basis of accusations alone. As a consequence, women seem to be becoming more isolated in the work place and gender segregation has been revitalised. You may think this is an overreaction but in 2018 ‘the year of the women’ we tend to also ‘believe women’. Although I strongly believe that all accusations of assault or harassment should be taken seriously, we also must understand that women have been handed a dangerous tool – the ability to accuse a man of misconduct and ruin his life, with or without evidence. As a consequence, there is a developing power imbalance that is negative for all involved: perfectly competent women will be passed up for opportunities, and men will lose the advantage of working closely with qualified colleagues who happen to be female. This disparity has the potential to set workplace relations back decades. A harmful culture has been inadvertently created where men are afraid and women are isolated. This may seem like regression, but it just presents the need for us to do better and to work closer together as people, rather than apart in according genders.
Of course, this damaging culture is one in a sea of hundreds of new beautiful feminist cultures where we practice inclusivity and intersectionality. Distinguished by the use of new technologies, particularly the internet and social media, these cultures have provided women with innovative ways of connecting and showing solidarity with each other across physical boundaries and have opened up new spaces in which we can talk freely about the challenges of being a woman.
Despite the fact that feminism has come a long way even in the last decade, with issues such as dress code in schools and workplaces being tackled, and the rise of the ‘Me Too’ movement, the next step in securing equal rights for women is making sure that everyone knows what they are fighting for or, in some cases, against. By informing the uninformed, and educating the uneducated, we can ensure that everyone is doing everything in their power to achieve equality and justice in both private and public for both sexes.