Why I Still Need Feminism - Carys Fieldson

December 29, 2014

Why I Still Need Feminism
(and Why You Do To)

Myself and Feminism were never formally introduced, but at some vital evolutionary stage of girlhood, I was comforted by the exciting possibility of a shared identity. As a young, white, female from rural middle-class England, I had very little injustice or hardship to speak out against. However, being unarmed with any obvious legitimate grievances didn’t prevent my teenage narcissism searching for some gripe that would perhaps allow me to chew my bit in peace. 

In the time that’s passed since, I have come to see that it was precisely such feelings of moderate complacency and comfort, echoed amongst women of all ages in the western world, that is in fact enabling and maintaining gender inequalities. It achieves this by channeling women’s legitimate feelings of discontentment and dissatisfaction, towards conflicting feelings of guilt and greed, suggesting we should be grateful with our ‘lot’.

I began to confront the idea that patriarchy feeds from the latency of women like myself to be simply contented. Society manages to convince us to feel grateful for what we have, be content with the relative equality we have already achieved, be thankful for our comparative economic stability and ‘cushty’ home life. We continually measure our relative successes against our female counterparts in less fortunate situations than our own in other parts of the world. Women who are more suppressed and have less freedom than we are accustomed to. We are taught to count our blessings.

Our sense of helplessness is heightened through daily exposure to global news and media, making us vitally aware of a much larger, seemingly insurmountable, crisis for women and girls worldwide. Media and charity campaigns report of young girls forced into marriage and premature pregnancies across Africa, that it is still illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia and that the horror of Female Genital Mutilation or FGM (A procedure that removes external female genitalia without any heath benefits) is still mutilating millions of girls annually across Africa and the Middle East. The gang assault and rape of a 23 year old girl on a bus in Delhi in 2012 caused shockwaves throughout India and the rest of the world. Global media attention and public protests mount pressures on national governments to employ better security and equality for women.

Aside from large-scale media and news coverage of global cases of gender inequality and injustice, Twitter and ‘#’campaigns allow individuals to speak out against gender inequality and gain power in numbers. Millions of individual voices conveying personal accounts of sexist abuse and discrimination are echoed across the world in many tongues, all united by a common keyboard 

The hashtag campaign #bringbackourgirls rallied social networkers to repost and speak out to bring about the safe return of 200 girls who were abducted from a school in Nigeria. Started by a small group of 30 campaigners in Abuja, the campaign quickly became an international voice of unity, solidarity, but most importantly of action. Social platforms such as Facebook and Google were used to organize community events and share online petitions.[1]

This summer, thousands of Turkish women have protested by harnessing the power in pictures. Twitter was swarmed with thousands of snapshots of women in fits it laugher using #direnkahkaha, Turkish for ‘resist laugher’. This seemingly friendly backlash was sparked by an alarmingly misogynistic statement made by Turkey’s deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arınc, who claimed honest women should not laugh in public. 

While the Internet has provided an immeasurably vital platform for the transference of ideas, values and experiences of women internationally, gender inequality remains a very present battle on the home front. Projects such as ‘Everyday Sexism’ provide public forums that highlight the systematic, subtle suppression and objectification that occurs in the daily lives of everyday women. The acts, varying from wolf whistles on the tube to misogynistic office ‘banter’, highlight that even within the workplace women are continually undermined and undervalued. Other relevant campaigns include #nomorepage3 that slams the Sun’s continued use of soft pornographic and objectifying images of women to sell newspapers and #freethenipple that seeks to highlight the injustice and inequality brought about by the sexualisation of women’s breasts, pushing policy makers to apply a more liberal attitude towards their exposure.

However, despite our grand global strides and inter-continental hashtags we seem to have left some comrades behind and it appears the Feminist message has become a little clouded. Women have been speaking out in a unified rejection of Feminism, proclaiming it to be obsolete, old fashioned and out of touch. More shockingly, many suggest the ideologies are man-hating, aggressive and deploy blanket idealisms that fail to acknowledge women’s individual life and career choices. The recent wave of anti-Feminism has taken hold across many social media sites including Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. The campaign #idontneedfeminism speaks out against Feminism accompanied by thousands of photos of women holding up personal, hand written accounts, of why feminism is not for them:

“I don’t need feminism because they tell women that they are intrinsically beautiful but tell men that they are potential rapists.”

“I don’t need feminism because they use tragedies to further their political agenda.”

“I don’t need feminism because I believe in Jesus and he made us all equal!”

“I don’t need feminism; I need equality.”

[Quotes from http://why-we-dont-need-feminism.tumblr.com]

Despite all these statements being incredibly ill conceived and ill informed, one reoccurring objection made by these women, and a real sticking point with me, is rejecting Feminism on the grounds that it refuses to acknowledge their individual choice to be stay-at-home mothers within ‘traditional’ families. However, what many of these women fail to acknowledge is that their choice alone is a privilege that they are only able to make because of Feminism. If you are condemning Feminism because you wish “to have the choice to stay at home and not to work” you have precisely Feminism to thank for your freedom of choice. That is what it has won for us all. Your mother or grandmother may not have had the luxury of any individual assertion in the matter and many millions of girls across the world still aren’t able to make that decision for themselves, it is a lifestyle imposed upon them.

What is so glaringly revealing to anyone who visits one of the many ‘Women Against Feminism’ pages is that the majority of the women appear young, white and middle class. Perhaps we can take a little satisfaction from the fact that small pockets of privileged women feel their lives are so fulfilled, satisfied and safe from violence; evidencing that Feminism has, in some small sense, achieved a little ground. Similarly we must understand that ‘systemic misogyny within the capitalist-patriarchy makes it very difficult for women to see the reality of their oppression.’ [2]

However, what is worse it that these women fail to acknowledge the reality of the lives of women who do not have similar privileges to themselves, living in silenced and underprivileged communities. While you may feel you don’t need Feminism, others do. 

Don’t let patriarchy silence you, convince you to stay quiet and be happy. There is still work to do, complacency won’t get us anywhere.

by Carys Fieldson

Carys Fieldson is a recent BA Fine Art graduate of Loughborough University 
and is currently living and working in Paris.