This week I’ve found myself defending feminism again, this time on a social networking page of a well known American church leader! I’ve questioned the point in making the same arguments again to people who are really not interested in listening. But I decided that if something is worth standing up for then I should stand up for it even when it can feel futile.
When I think about the things people have done that I most admire it is so often the brave people who stood up first, stepped in to the firing line, put themselves forward to accept the full force of the response, hoping that others might join them, but willing to go on whether others do or not.
Aung San Suu Kyi believed in freedom, she stood up and for this she was placed under house arrest for 15 years. Sojourner Truth fought for the abolition of slavery in the early 1800s, a time when women had no significant voice or power in order to create change. She said “If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.” Tawakel Karman is a journalist and political activist in Yemen, and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She said “Women should stop being or feeling that they are part of the problem and become part of the solution. We have been marginalized for a long time, and now is the time for women to stand up and become active without needing to ask for permission or acceptance.”
My favourite activists at the moment are Femen, who are Ukrainian feminists using radical protest against sex tourism and oppression of women in eastern europe. Femen state that their goal is “to shake women in Ukraine, making them socially active”. They protest topless, often with writing across their bare chests, making a public declaration against the sexualisation of women’s bodies. They’ve said their aim is for a Womens’ Revolution!
In comparison to these activists and their situations I think I get it easy. I work in an organisation that loves equality; I’m surrounded by friends who are feminists themselves. The things I have to stand up to in my personal context are not the horrific situations seen worldwide. But whenever I find myself taking someone to task for sexist comments I remind myself I am part of a global context where women are seen as sexual temptresses that need to be covered up, that ask to be raped. We are mutilated, forcibly sterilised, forced to marry our rapists by law, raped as a weapon of war, because rape is cheaper than bullets, kidnapped and sold into slavery. We aren’t allowed to vote or to speak. We aren’t paid for the work we do.
I know I have to stand up because these facts don’t make enough people angry. Everybody should be furious that these things still happen. Being ‘angry’ is something feminists are often accused of, as if it is a negative quality. Perhaps because some people think it is not ‘ladylike’ to be angry? Perhaps because some people think these situations are not worth getting angry about?
When Tender launched their highly successful campaign to get Topman’s sexist, domestic violence “joke” tshirts off the market it went wild in the social media universe with dispute over how this could possibly be of concern. The criticism the campaign received was vitriolic- I was surprised by the amount of people who could get so upset about Topman stopping the sale of such crap tshirts! But women’s issues draw heated criticism, and in my view this is getting worse. The campaigners involved in Topman’s have been told to shut up, called attention whores, and told to get back to the kitchen (a particularly witty and original riposte).
I had to ask myself why people feel so threatened by women standing up?
When we stand up for what should be basic rights we too often ask permission. We are arguing to win space to be heard. We want to win people round to believing women are of equal worth to men. But whenever we ask permission to speak, and fight to be heard in places where the male voice is dominant we are admitting that we respect the patriarchal order, and that we need permission to speak. In order to really stand up we need to take action.
Why argue with a man about whether or not he will give me a chance to have my say? Why not make that chance myself? We could see men as the ones in power, because we give the things they are dominant in the position of power. Is being the top executive in the boardroom the most powerful thing in life? Is it better to be a CEO than a mother? In a society focused on capital gain we recognise the most important people according to their paypacket- but what about the power of influence rather than position?
Many women did not accept what they saw of the world around them. They stood up, and they were noticed. Where would we be now if they had not?
Anna works in the Students’ Union movement, as an Advice & Advocacy Manager. She lives, works and plays in south east London. She likes reading about left wing politics, debating current affairs, making up puns and watching people try to squish themselves into tube trains. Things she thinks matter are: equality, justice, rock and roll. Things she doesn’t think matter are: DIY on a Saturday morning, ironing.