Feminism is the belief that men and women are equal, and deserve equal rights. Regardless of the way in you choose to label yourself, if you intrinsically agree with this statement then you are, in my opinion, a feminist. But it’s an epithet that still carries a lot of negative connotations: man-hating, aggressive, militant, politically extremist. Only four years ago the majority of students in a seminar I was attending rejected the idea that they were feminist – because didn’t it mean they were intent upon misandry?
Although the notion of feminism still provokes horror and disdain in many people, it’s a movement that has, thankfully, gained much traction in the past few years. Facebook groups of university feminist societies have more than tripled. Female celebrities are continually asked about their stance on feminism, and movements such as Ask Her More seek to reinvent the idea that women on the red carpet are merely mannequins. High-profile actresses such as Jennifer Lawrence publicly discuss their own experiences of discrimination, and my Facebook newsfeed is populated with articles exposing or interrogating enraging examples of misogyny. Although my perception of this upsurge might conceivably be hampered due to the like-minded, feminist university student bubble of both my Facebook friends and ‘liked’ pages, there’s surprising evidence to the contrary: peers at school who scorned me for receiving books as birthday gifts are now proudly proclaiming themselves as feminists or sharing unlikely messages of equal rights. It’s a universal movement, and it’s about time.
Feminism has had a turbulent history. Women have been indissolubly linked with their status as wives and mothers ever since records began; despite the notable exceptions of powerful matriarchies, women have largely been consigned to domesticity, told that their capability and intelligence was lesser than men’s, and that their bodies were entirely at men’s disposal. The widespread feminist movement first began as a response to women’s exclusion from the vote and public life: Suffragettes across the world campaigned for women’s political voice to be heard, and moral reform and religious groups allotted women a chance to be leaders for the first time. Once the vote was gained, feminism halted – only to rise again in the Sixties, challenging women to question the misogyny that had infiltrated every arena of their lives. But the movement is steadily growing in popularity again, and we have the Internet to thank.
It seems self-explanatory: where a young person once might have been isolated from the feminist movement, now everyone has access to a plethora of feminist websites and news sources – everything from the F Word to Everyday Sexism – and can learn an immense amount about the history and motives of feminism simply by clicking a few buttons. An explosion of feminist-orientated articles and editorials can introduce the budding feminist to new terms, attitudes, people and issues; an Internet-based discovery of feminism that I myself have experienced. As I’ve already explained in my blog post about my own discovery of feminism, it’s a movement that I was initially reluctant to align myself with – more from embarrassment and a misunderstanding of feminism’s history than any internalised misogyny. But even the simple act of liking a Facebook page such as the revelatory documentary Miss Representation or scrolling through the feed of a major newspaper like The Guardian can help so much in this personal quest for knowledge. This is also why prominent celebrities’ support of equal rights – Beyonce and Barack alike – is so influential in promoting the movement. More exposure, more advantage.
But, have a glance through any comments section or vile MRA website (not to mention the disgusting sexist acts perpetrated every day) and it can be easy to feel despairing or downtrodden. Although progress at times can feel achingly slow, just think how much has been achieved in the past few years. The Internet has been invaluable in exposing misogynists and in assisting the long-overdue end of the stigma of feminism, with everything from Change.org to small feminist bloggers helping the cause. Who knows what it can do in the next couple of years?
The important thing now is to continue capitalising upon feminism’s popularity – feminists must not grow complacent, or allow the movement to become a fashionable fad to be passed over in time. The feminist agenda and promotion of equal rights must be here to stay; improving women’s lives everywhere. As my brother said a while ago, ‘But if feminism is the idea that men and women are equal, then isn’t everyone a feminist?’ Exactly.