The term ‘feminist’ has become riddled with misconceptions and misunderstandings. For some, it is a synonym for female supremacists, radical bra burners and irrational, whiny girls trying to blame their problems on the patriarchy. Before anything, I’d like to clarify what a feminist actually is. A feminist is anyone who believes men and women should share equal rights. I think many readers, especially of the younger generation, would be surprised to know that they themselves are a feminist.
The biggest problem I find, particularly around people our age, is that many deem feminism unnecessary – especially in a first world country like New Zealand. As long as there is sexual abuse, domestic violence, unequal pay, discrimination against women and damaging stereotypes in the media, there is sexism in society and it harms both men and women. That’s just to name a few issues we face. While New Zealand is one of the furthest advanced countries when it comes to women’s rights, we still have a long way to go. People say we’re lucky that we live in such a free country, that we do not live in a place where we’re banned from driving or receiving an education. It’s rather disheartening that one is called ‘lucky’ for receiving a basic human right. Equality should not be a privilege but a bare necessity, and one we should strive to share with everyone. Just because there are people worse off than we does not mean we are unjustified in seeking more, and that feminist protests are baseless.
A lot of the problems stem from the supposed roles women and men have in society, and the prejudices associated with them. Yes, legally, women are supposed to be paid the same amount as men; but are they really? Part of the reason for the massive wage gap in New Zealand is undoubtedly because women are typically not associated with jobs that pay as well as men, and often women feeling they have to make a choice between staying at home and looking after the family or pursuing high powered careers. Men are often unfairly frowned upon too, in entering typically feminine type work, or are not encouraged to be stay at home fathers. And part of the reason for the wage gap is simply unexplained; when exploring the issue further, discrimination is a factor we cannot eliminate.
Then of course we have portrayals of women in the media. This opens a whole new can of worms, and one that has been made worse by certain groups on the internet. There’s an issue with the trivializing of women’s problems in society; social mediums such as Facebook and 9gag are littered with ‘funny’ sexist posts. I was shocked to find people even laughing about quips involving domestic violence, and the whole ‘get back in the kitchen’ trend took off long ago. The problem with this humour is that just because it’s a joke, doesn’t make it any less sexist. These ‘laughs’ only serve to encourage stereotypes, raise ill-will towards women, and make deep-rooted issues in society a mere joke. Just recently there has been an outrage in the news over the gang rape of Rehtaeh Parsons, a Canadian teenager who committed suicide after allegedly being mercilessly bullied over the incident. The crime was filmed and posted on Facebook, where it received all kinds of attention. There is a serious problem with rape culture in society; even in the first world. The fact that these kinds of atrocities can occur, and people are actually posting about them in hopes of gaining popularity or for whatever reasons, is deeply disturbing. Obviously there is a need for change in the way we view women in society, and education should start from an early age.
The crux of the issue lies simply in the way we think. There are so many blogs, articles and videos that can help you stay informed on feminist issues that you can look up. Just search up the tag #feminism on tumblr or Twitter the next time you’re on, or watch a feminist video, such as one from Feminist Frequency. There are some great posts out there that point out some of the sexism in society and the media, and how you can go about eliminating it. Soon you might find yourself using the term ‘feminist’ in regards to your own self.