Feminism is both incredibly simple and dangerously complex. ‘If you believe all genders are equal you’re a feminist’, we’re told, and not without reason – at its root, feminism is simply about equality. It concerns equal opportunities and equal rights.
However, in practice, feminism can be complicated. It is a constant relearning of the fundamental beliefs shaping a society, of preconceived notions about gender which are deeply woven into the social fabric. As casual sexism is often ignored, it is unsurprising that many continue to unwittingly internalise and perpetuate sexist attitudes.
Feminism seeks to undo the essentialism at the heart of gender discourse which associates power with masculinity. It is the active critique of daily, ingrained practices. But feminism is also a positive practice. It is about elevating supposed feminine traits – such as looking after children and domestic work – to a level that is treated with respect regardless of gender. Most of all, it is about supporting other women, whether they are deemed to be traditionally ‘feminine’ or not.
To claim not to be a feminist because you believe other women have it worse than you is simply not a good enough excuse. Not only is this short sighted, but it carries profoundly imperialist undertones. It might be said to be an extension of the westerner-as-saviour archetype, stereotyping other countries as being in need of pity and help. The image of white women desperately saving Muslim women from the ‘shackles’ of the burqa is all-too-familiar.
If these those rejecting feminism really cared about other women around the world, they would be proudly declaring themselves as feminists, because feminism is about supporting other women. Intersectional feminism is integral to the third wave feminist movement. It is only through understanding how discrimination is different depending on race, disability, body-type and background that we can enable all women to progress. Feminism is not just about straight, white, able-bodied, cisgender women.
If you believe other people have it worse than you, educate yourself on the nuances of the issues you believe they face and learn how you can help. Even without travel, one can still sign petitions and help change laws over problems such as FGM.
Moreover, these western women are fundamentally denying the problems that we do face in today’s society. 1 in 4 women in the western world, (1 in 3, globally) will be sexually abused. By the age of 11, most girls will wish they were thinner and with the Trump administration, women may very well see previously attained rights taken from them.
However, the patriarchy does not just cause issues for women. The fact that a man cannot wear a dress without ridicule and shame is undoubtedly a feminist issue. We need feminists because we need to encourage a rhetoric that does not shame feminine traits in our own society.
Sexism is ingrained in every aspect of our society and we cannot “stop” being feminists in the western world because we have reached a margin of equality that appears acceptable to you. There is still so far to go, both in our own society and in others.
But during Women’s History Month in 2017, one of the most powerful things you can do is declare yourself a proud feminist. Stop equating this movement with shame, and start supporting other women.