I am a Feminist in 2020
Feminism is a social movement, an ideology and a theoretical approach within academia. There have been several waves on feminism in the Western world, all with slightly different directions and intentions. In the 2000s, feminism has become more of a term used in popular culture, and has therefore lost a lot of its original meaning. Postmodern feminism in popular culture is more about trying to talk about female empowerment and girl power, than being the politicized feminism that the alternative right is still working on taking down. Still, I am a feminist in 2020.
I am a Feminist – Why?
I am a feminist. Coming from a cultural background, the Persian culture, were female voices are often silenced and women’s worth lies in marriage, serving men and giving birth, I early on realized that something was skewed. My future seemed to be laid out in front of me, without seemingly having a choice. Add to that sexual abuse during childhood and my teenage years, I very much felt the lack of power that many women are experiencing still today. I wanted to be able to speak for myself, and to not be limited by my gender.
It was first at university that I got in touch with feminism as a theory and learnt more about the different feminist movements and waves. I was in awe of the women who had fought for their rights, I admired the women who had become intellectual heroes, and I was appalled by how long patriarchal society had silenced female voices in culture and sciences. Yes, I am one of those women who want to dismantle the patriarchy.
I didn’t only learn about the history and importance of feminism, but also gender studies, which the academic perspective focused on analyzing gender bias in culture and society was named. And I discovered that not only women were held up to standards that were impossible to meet, but also men. I learnt about the silent voices of those in other cultures and continents, trans folks difficulties of existing in a gender binary world, and the importance of recognizing that sex is assigned, not something that you are born with.
I think it is incredibly important that people read the big feminist and gender thinkers. Because the feminism you have seen on the streets is strongly intertwined with the intellectual and academic thoughts of our times. So read Wollenstonecraft, read Beauvoir, read Butler, read Woolf. And understand that the world that they lived in, looked different than the world we are living in now. They are the ones that laid the foundation for the rights that we have, the laws that protect women and who make it possible for women to be able to get the education that we need to question the patriarchal system.
Intersectionality and The Importance of Fighting on the Same Front
In most of the West, we are in a time when women have similar rights to men. We don’t need to fight for our right to vote, to choose a certain profession or to have an abortion (excluding the USA here). We can now focus on actually dismantling patriarchy. And we also need to see that patriarchy is intertwined with not only misogyny, but also homophobia, transphobia, racism, ableism and many more discriminatory thoughts. Feminists, in my opinion, should stand with all those who also have to suffer in a system that very much favours white male heterosexual privilege.
I think that is a very important point: I don’t think that I only want to fight the patriarchy because I am a woman. I want to fight the patriarchy because it is the epitome of privilege. Instead of seeing people’s individual worth, people are getting grouped and categorized and ranked in their worth. All through the male white gaze. Feminists should, and already do, work with other social rights movements, and question the system.
Now, there are a million different ways to do that. I personally often focused on culture and science especially in my academic studies. The way women have been described has always been through that male gaze. Might it be in fiction or scientific texts. And I think it is important that we look at the way we use language in fiction and culture, and change it to more gender neutral terms. But not only that. Women have been described by men, which especially becomes apparent in fiction, where the female experience wasn’t even a thing until the late 19th century.
It is only now that many female authors and thinkers are being discovered (I mean, look at how big Sappho all of the sudden is). It is only now that we realize that many scientific texts were produced by women under a male pen-name, trying to adhere to the rules of how women were described by men. However much we should focus on changing things in the now, it is important to understand how things were before and give those women a voice now, post-mortem, so they may not be forgotten.
Is Feminism Still Relevant?
Someone reading this might think that I am a man-hating angry woman. I am far from that. The enemy of feminism is not men, it is patriarchy. And both men and women can just as much try to hold on to a system of patriarchy, as they can try to fight it. And this system is not only to be found in the law or in big business. No, you can see it all around you all the time.
Most porn is made for a male gaze. Most advertising sexualizes women. There is still societal pressure for women to choose a family before a career. Even in countries where feminist thought is part of the establishment now, there is still a lot of work to do. It is not only about practically changing laws, it is about making people think and question the system, and wanting to make sure that women are being treated equally.
So is feminism still relevant? Heck yeah! The sad thing is that postmodern feminism has become a sort of third wave popularized version of what it should be about, at least in the West. Sure, it is about female empowerment. But that is just a simplified version of it, one that is washed down so the masses can understand. I wish that gender studies was taught in schools so kids learn about the beginnings and the importance of feminist thought. Don’t become lazy and think the fight is over. It is not over until rapists are afraid, it is not over until women get same pay, it is not over until every woman can make choices about her life without being judged by others because she doesn’t meet the expectations for what a woman should do.
I know that feminism has become a mess in a lot of people’s eyes. There are fractions who hate each other. Traditionalists, radicals, anti-feminists, you name it. I don’t belong in any of those fractions. I believe that trans women are women. And I don’t believe that all men are shit. And I still believe that feminism is needed in the plethora of social movements in the West, to fight the patriarchal system. As long as we all agree on that, then we might be able to still make some change.
I believe that women should be allowed to make their own choices. It is okay to want to be independent from men and to be your own woman. And it is okay to not want children and to have an abortion. It is also okay if you are into cottagecore and 1950s housewivery. If you want to get married, have children and be a stay at home mom. We need to let go of expectations and just allow every woman to make their own choices. Why should we go from a system where men told women what to do, to a system where women tell other women what to do?
This thought is especially important to me because I am a feminist and submissive to a man. My submission does not nullify my feminism, it enhances it. I did not take on the submissive role because it is what is expected of me in a relationship with a man, no. I am a submissive because I choose to be one, of my own free will.
Post-Colonial Worlds and Other Parts of the World
Another aspect that is often forgotten is the voices of women who are in marginalized groups, or those who live in countries outside of the West. We as white (or white passing like me) women in the West, should not speak for them. And when people say that feminism is not relevant anymore, they speak from a very privileged place.
Maybe you personally do not need feminism as much anymore, but the world is bigger than just your subjective experience. Think of the muslim communities in Western countries, think of post-colonial countries like India, countries like China where they actually killed girls in the millions because of the one-child policy. Or think of the religious communities: Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, where woman have no voice. Think of the African countries where woman don’t have much worth, or the Asian countries where trafficking is dangerously high. Feminism is needed so much in those cultures and countries. And I think we as privileged people have an obligation to support our sisters’ fights.
But it is also important how we approach this. The West is known for its colonial and imperialist past, and to just apply our theories and perspectives to communities that are widely different from ours, would be just that. We would be yet again dictate what is right or wrong. I often think of the problem with the hijab, which is often seen as a sign of oppression for Muslim women. Only, many muslim women don’t see it that way at all. They would just like to have a choice, to either wear it or not. What we need to do is to give them a space to talk and share their experiences, and to empower them to come up with ideas of how they want to shape their own culture. They are our sisters, so they should be allowed to live the lives that works for them.
Remember – And Continue
So yes, feminism is still very relevant. While we in the West can start thinking of actually changing gendered language and empower female thinkers, artists and scientists, and push for equal pay and free choices, women in other parts of the world need to fear the death penalty for adultery, don’t have a right to vote, and are silenced. Our great-grandmothers were in similar positions. Let’s remember that sometimes. We need to accept that we are privileged in some ways now, and that the fight needs to continue. The dismantling of the patriarchy is not done yet, we still have a long way to go.