It is March 8th 2017, International Women’s Day, Guadalajara, Mexico.
Thousands of women, men, queer, trans, non-binary, children, brothers, sisters, partners, mothers and fathers flood onto the streets of Mexico in a show of solidarity in the annual Women’s Day March. They are there not only to demand and defend their rights, but also to remember the countless victims of the patriarchal society which promotes violent forms of toxic masculinity. In Mexico, at least seven women every day are victims of gender-related killings. Seven women every day. Women and girls continue to be mistreated in so many manifestations all over the world, both in developed and developing nations.
When women’s rights are under attack
What do we do?
Stand up, fight back!
The women’s march in Mexico this year, 2018. Image from www.nuevamujer.com
I felt a lot of different emotions across the year I spent living in Mexico. First and foremost, I felt a deep sadness. That in the 21st century I couldn’t walk down the street without getting whistled at, cat called, and even barked at (on very special occasions). Street harassment is rampant in Mexico, and nearly half of all women having been subjected to rape, groping or other forms of sexual violence, according to the United Nations. I felt defeat every time I consciously made the decision to wear jeans instead of shorts to show less skin. No person should feel afraid to walk in the street. I stopped going out at night, I never walked around without company, even in the day time, I would get one of my male friends to accompany me and my friends and I wouldn’t let each other go home alone. This is the reality for most women living in Mexico and many other countries across the world.
Then, I discovered the power of feminism and I was able to turn that sadness and fear into something much more powerful. I turned it into anger. I saw that no matter your race or class, the fight for gender equality – a life where women are respected – is a universal one. Feminism, Equality, or whatever you want to call it, is the light shining through the cracks of a road built within the constraints of violence and corruption. It’s a movement and a sentiment that’s constantly boiling and bubbling. And we have to own it. All of the women I met were strong, resilient and courageous. I mean, Frida Kahlo came out of Mexico, you can only imagine what the other women are like.
I need feminism because until the day macho culture is over, no woman will ever be safe in my country. I need feminism because I want to live.
Frida Khalo by Nickolas Muray, circa 1946. Image from cafleurebon.com
I recognise that women, trans women and non-binary people struggle in different ways all over the world. In Australia, we’re demanding equal pay and equal representation. In Mexico, they’re pleading for an end to the ‘feminicidios’, the name given to the phenomenon of extreme violence against women, based on their gender. No struggle is more or less important. But history, politics and culture create different battles for women living in different contexts. It is important to realise that even if you don’t feel directly inhibited by sexism or gender inequality in your everyday life, it is certain that women before you fought to enable you to express yourself freely. The posts that came from Women Against Feminism come to mind, one being “I don’t need feminism because society does not objectify me, feminists tell me that!”, with an arrow pointing to a white, attractive woman that says “Do I look oppressed?” To which Evette Dionne, black feminist culture writer, editor and scholar promptly responded “I need feminism because it provides agency so I can freely twerk!” Take that!
Around the world women still struggle for basic matters such as equal pay, access to education and the right to vote. It can be easy for a white woman living in a western society to say that she doesn’t need feminism. But we only have to turn to developing nations to see that other women are not so privileged. According to the United Nations Population Fund, women comprise two thirds of all illiterate adults worldwide. Two bloomin’ thirds are denied the fundamental human right to education. Therefore are at higher risk of living a life of poverty and dependence. Look at Malala Yousafzai’s story and try to forge a reason as to why we don’t need to continue fighting for gender equality. Look at Mexico, where your gender defines and controls the way you can live, or how you may die.
To be a woman in Mexico and be alive, is to be combative. Our daily occurrences become a true battlefield, where the only secure rifle is our mind. Separated we are strong, but together we will be invincible.
‘Being a woman should not be a danger’. Image from libertaddepalabra.com
Our beloved Roxanne Gay draws attention to her discovery of feminism: “when I was younger… I had strange ideas about feminists as hairy, angry, man hating… As if those are bad things?” She jokes. Yet these days, upon reflecting on how the world continues to treat women; control them, demean them and discourage them from succeeding, anger still prevails as the perfect response, for both Roxanne and myself.
Once people accept that the F word resonates with the demands of basic fundamental human rights, maybe then they won’t be so afraid to claim the feminist label. Label or not, what we want isn’t mind- boggling:
- Equal pay for equal work
- To be able to make choices about our own bodies, not what men write in legislation
- The basic right to be respected
- To have our own agency and
- The ability to move freely, without the threat of sexual or physical violence
All the while recognizing and respecting that the we is not just women, but people with different bodies, gender expressions, faiths, class backgrounds and so on.
The road to gender equality is not an individual race, it’s not something that you can choose doesn’t affect you therefore you don’t need to fight for it. It is universal and it must be intersectional. Intersectional is thrown around a lot as a buzzword as mainstream feminism has historically ignored or rejected the needs of POC, queer, disabled and transgender women. Until every kind of women’s struggle is fought and won, we all need feminism.
Feminism is by no means perfect. For instance I find myself, a proud feminist, quite regularly listening to outright demeaning and sexist rap lyrics because, well, I just do. For some unknown reason Kanye West’s lyrics Okay, Lamborghini Mercy, your chick, she so thirsty/ I’m in that two seat Lambo’ with your girl, she tryna jerk me is really really catchy… but here I am, acknowledging my imperfections. I am sorry. I plan on eventually turning off sexist lyrics, or TV shows, or authors, but one step at a time.
A photo I took on March 8th, Guadalajara
Women’s lives, in Mexico and everywhere, have changed over the course of history – their educational opportunities, their social standing, their work and family life, their political participation and access to social services such as health care. Along with the transition from predominantly rural to suburban, life expectancy rose as did living conditions. However, women still do predominantly most, if not all, of the housework and child raising. The problem being not that a woman may make the choice to stay at home to raise children, but that society makes her economically vulnerable if she is to make that decision. Women in Mexico continue to earn 84% of what males do. And just a reminder, in Australia, women earn on average $253.70 per week less than men.
Mexico needs feminism because it questions how we relate each other in all spheres of life. If we have any opportunity to transform this country into a better place, it will be through the fight of women.
Even with positive changes, more representation, more women in higher paying jobs – the systems and structures that deny equal opportunities for women are still at play. There are men who still think that feminists are out to steal their jobs…sigh… I repeat, gender equality is not detrimental to men and there is no such thing as reverse discrimination when you’re operating in a system that is systematically beneficial to males. The four white men in their show titled A Black Woman Took My Job would embolden you to believe otherwise. But as Michael Kimmel, author of ‘Angry White Men’, rebuts “why in the hell did you think it was your job in the first place?”
Gender equality is something we should all aspire to: men and women alike. It is fair and it is right and it is just. We must recognise that not all women face the same oppression. Privilege can be invisible to those who have it, the luxury of not having to think about race, for instance. The intersection of class, race and gender affects women, queer woman, trans women, disabled women, black women and non-binary people in different ways. Feminism is in no shape or form a perfect movement, but what is? All we can do now and continue doing, together, is show strength and solidarity for our sisters who may not have the privilege of voice, or the privilege of safety to do so.
I leave you with a section of powerful poem Still I Rise by Maya Angelou, reminding us to never back down. Take up all the space you need because you sure as hell deserve it.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise
Maya Angelou. Image from gettyimages.com
Alice Claire Chambers
Alice is a volunteer at the Victorian Women’s Trust and a graduate from Melbourne University where she completed her BA. When not fighting for gender equality, she enjoys pizza and obsessing over long faced, skinny dogs.