I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute. (Rebecca West)
I’ve been thinking about writing about feminism for a while. Since I arrived in Australia, there have been a few moments, such as the whole #frightbat incident, or the Women Against Feminism tumblr, that have made me realise that women generally seem to get more radical about feminism as they get older, and I can really understand why. As a young woman I was aware of the importance of equality and the fact that women couldn’t take that equality for granted. As I have got older, and experienced things in my career and my life, that has become clearer and clearer. I am not a man-hater. I don’t think women are better than men. Such a view would, it seems to me, to be incompatible with feminism, which is all about rejecting the idea that people should be defined by their gender. I just don’t want my map-reading skills or love of sport to be called into question because I am of the “wrong gender” for those things.
I think I entered my early womanhood aware that there had been and continued to be issues but hoping that I wouldn’t see them, because I was lucky enough to be born in the post-war, post-bra burning era and in the Western world. And yet, I experienced so many of the things that the #YesAllWoman hashtag talked about – being expected to take the note or pour the tea at the meeting, even if you are a senior participant; being kerb-crawled, even when dressed in jeans and DMs; being accused by a colleague of only getting promoted because I was a woman; watching my incredibly beautiful and accomplished colleague being talked about behind her back, suggesting she was only getting ahead because she was sleeping with the right people, rather than because she was bloody excellent at her job. There’s only so long you can watch this happen again and again and not think there is something bigger going on.
In May this year, a friend and I went to listen to Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism project talking about what propelled her to start that work, and it was pretty hard to listen to. I have to admit I felt quite despairing leaving the Wheeler Centre that day. I’m the age now my mother was when I left university and I would never have imagined that we would still be having these discussions all these years later, that young women entering the world of work now would still have to be prepared to face those struggles. Or that ads like this would air, for example.
And then, when it all seemed quite bleak, along came Emma Watson. A young woman articulating beautifully why feminism matters, not just for women, but for the men that want to spend time with their children, or not be defined by their work or reach out for help without being called soft.
“Why has the word [feminism] become such an uncomfortable one? I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.”
I really hope that young people of both genders will listen to the Emmas and Malalas and many others like them. I really hope that a young woman leaving university this year will be able to get on with being the best she can, on her own terms and in her own way, and be judged on nothing more than that.