How does modern-day feminism look different?
I have always found feminism an odd world to be honest, which got me thinking about what is modern-day feminism. I knew what feminism was at its core: the belief that woman should have equal rights to men. But I didn’t realise how much more it was than that simple definition until I read Feminists Don’t Wear Pink, and that’s when I realised that it meant different things to a lot of different to different women. I then began to realise that my old definition of feminism just didn’t cut it anymore.
If you look at the definition of feminism it says:
The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
But for me, that is just too vague, too open for interpretation. Black women and Women of Colour are still fighting to just be equal to other women. Many people now identify as gender queer, or don’t identify with a gender at all. Transgender women are far more discriminated against than I ever will be. It’s a lot more complicated than women being equal to men. Feminism should be inclusive for all.
And then if I research further I learn that there seems to be lots of different types of feminism. You can be a liberal feminist, a radical feminist, a Marxist feminist, a cultural feminist, and an eco-feminist – I mean, they all sound exhausting. Not to mention how combative feminism sounds or has become in our society. While I will always see myself as a feminist in training, I feel like I want to fight for something a little more visionary, more inclusive, and all-rounded.
And the challenge that a lot of the feminist movements had was that they tended to be predominately white and seemed to make little reference to transgender women and people who identify as female.
Surely now we need something more cultural, more inclusive, and more modern?
As I write this, I am reminded of a t-shirt I have from the wonderful Florence Given which displays the words ‘Female Gaze’ and for me this seems so much more of the moment. I feel we must go one step further than feminism and put a female gaze on everything. We need to encourage women and those who identify as women to share their perspective on what the world looks like from their female gaze because for each woman, feminism and their view of it will look different.
The Female Gaze
As a 23-year-old young woman, I’d just be happy to be able to walk down the road and not get hollered at, go out to a club and not have someone sexually assault me and wear what the hell I want to without justifying it. For someone else, what they want may look and feel different.
I was having a conversation with my Grandad the other day about women being criticized for their clothes and what they wear. He, like many older men, tried to say that men have this happen to them too, and how it’s not sexist, and that he just wore something else. Yes, it does happen to men too, and yes it should be stopped. But Dear Grandad, what you don’t understand is that it happens to me whatever I wear. And if you’re only bringing up the fact that “it happens to men too” only when woman talk about their experience, then you’re invalidating her experience.
Stop invalidating all women’s experiences
I think it’s hard for most men, and perhaps some women, to understand what females can go through in a day. From crossing over the road so you don’t have to hear the jeers from men, avoiding walking alone at night, putting your keys in-between your fingers so you have some sort of weapon, watching videos on how to overpower a kidnapper in case you ever need to, checking the shadows on the floor when you’re walking anywhere in case someone comes up behind you, being stopped in the streets with your professional camera so men can tell you how to use it, getting wolf-whistled when your 13 in your school uniform, actually, getting cat-called many more times when you were in your school uniform, people taking pictures up your skirt, and the ever-so-delightful ‘show us your tits’ shouted out a car window. As women, we have to be vigilant everywhere. The way we look at life is constantly around keeping ourselves safe, often from men. That is the female gaze we have to take in the world. It’s those everyday experiences that people need to understand versus perhaps the larger, more obvious gender pay gaps.
Modern-day feminism should validate all women’s experiences.
It’s about everyday experiences
It is Dads knowing what their daughters go through daily, it’s the boss understanding that the hand on a leg that they think is friendly actually makes us, yet again, feel uncomfortable. It’s the friend in the van when his mate is hollering at us and it’s the husband who feels women make a big deal out of nothing. It’s all of these things that they need to know, the daily things which, to them, might seem isolated and well-meant or ‘just having a laugh’. It’s them that need to understand what the world looks like through our eyes. I can’t even walk into town without at least having one obscene thing shouted at me.
Feminism has to be more meaningful
Modern-day feminism has to be more meaningful, has to feel like it is in people’s front rooms, it has to be personal and important to everyone, men, and women if we are ever able to really have an equal society. Men must understand how the world looks through our eyes if they are able to accept, help, and support us to move on.
We must stop making excuses
But then maybe we don’t need the men at all, maybe we don’t need them to understand because sometimes it doesn’t matter how many times you explain everyday sexism to some people, they will never understand. ‘I’m sure they were just trying to help’, ‘they were only kidding’, these are phrases I’m sick of hearing and we must stop making excuses for men and women who refuse to accept the world as it looks through our individual eyes.
So maybe modern-day feminism is the understanding and acceptance of how females navigate the world and finding solutions to everyday sexism.
Because everyday sexism is, in my mind, the symptom of us not having an equal society.
Men want great lives; we just want to stop being harassed for being on this earth going about our business.
Here is an example of the times I wished feminism had existed most in my life. All the ways that in some way I accepted sexism because that is what we do.
1. When the phrase, “That’s not very lady-like” was first said to me by an adult I loved and trusted. It was the first time I was told I couldn’t possibly be a woman if I acted a certain way, that there were unwritten rules to how a woman should behave.
2. When I cut my hair short when I was eight and one of the neighbourhood kids told me I looked like a boy. I took this as a bad thing. I wore pink to make me feel more like a girl. I learnt that to be a woman you had to have long hair; that women had to look a certain way. I grew my hair out.
3. I was thirteen. A boy I didn’t know told me I looked anorexic. I was taught that my body looked unhealthy, and my body wasn’t normal, that I should be ashamed of how I look. I become self-conscious of how thin my legs and arms were. I started wearing black tights under my shorts, even when it was summer.
4. I was sixteen. I was walking to school in a skirt (it was school uniform) when an elderly man walking past me said, “Your legs look nice in those stockings.” It could’ve just been his way of being nice, but it made my stomach churn. It took two years for me to feel comfortable enough to wear anything that showed off my legs again. I smiled and said ‘thank you’ to him.
5. All of those times a man in a van honked his horn at me, and all of those times I didn’t put my middle finger up at him. I was telling them that this is a normal thing to do, that I’m not bothered by their actions, that women are so used to it that it should be expected.
6. The times I have been too scared to tell that guy not to touch me in a club.
7. The time I didn’t say anything when a family member told me that “a lady shouldn’t have tattoos.”
8. All of the times when I just grinned and bore it when a man said something sexist to me.
9. Every single time I was told that it’s ‘impolite’ to say no.
Here is what I wish I had had the confidence to say and do when I was young.
1. A ‘lady’ is whatever the hell you want a lady to be. A lady does whatever she wants. A lady doesn’t have to call herself a lady at all.
Having short hair doesn’t make you any less of a woman. You can still be feminine and still have short hair. The length of your hair doesn’t define who you are. There is no one way that a woman should look.
2. Body shaming is never, ever okay. No matter what it is. Do not be ashamed for being thin. Your body is beautiful. As long as you’re healthy and happy, that’s all that matters. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
3. Do not EVER let what a creepy man in the street has told you change the way you dress. Do not cover yourself up. You were a child. You were not wrong for wearing a skirt.
4. Put your damn middle finger up at every cat call you receive. They are so used to women not answering back. Be the one who does.
5. Grab them by the fucking wrists and shove them as far off you as you can. They will act like you’re overreacting, but you’re not.
6. A ‘lady’ should be able to do whatever the hell she wants with her body. Her body is hers and no one else’s.
7. Call men out on their sexism. Their fragility might show, but they might also learn something.
8. For the love of God, say no. Say no as many times as you want. It’s not rude or impolite. It’s called having a voice, USE IT.
9. But I didn’t do any of these because I was scared, scared no one would support me and worried I’d stand out and be shamed. And why the hell did I feel like that?
Because while feminism has made great strides it really did nothing to help little old teenage me and that is what has to stop. We have to show young girls with our actions, conversations, and stories that feminism is something that helps you every day, it’s something you should stand up for, believe in and call out.
If we just continue to talk about feminism as if it’s something only certain people do, something for the few, something we write books about, then the less empowered that teenage Bronte becomes. Teenage Bronte needed more of modern-day feminism to help her.
Showing young women what the female gaze on the world really looks like, showing them what we go through daily, how it’s not OK and what we do about it will empower them more.
As females we can be hard, soft, loving, bitchy, sexy, frumpy, frigid, and a host of other names you have used to call us and belittle us, but we are more, we are empowered, we are powerful, and we aren’t taking any of your shit anymore, we are not listening to your excuses because there are none, and we are ready to share our stories, because we should be able to go through our days, just as easily as you do.
Modern-day feminism is coming for you, you will find it on the street, in your homes, in your schools, in your workplaces and in the sarcastic smile of the girl who just told you to get lost when you offered to help.
We’ve got this and we are going to make sure you get it too because now it’s our turn.
What do you think modern-day feminism is?