One year ago, if someone had accused me of being a feminist I would have been insulted and somewhat ashamed. I saw feminism as an outdated excuse for women to avoid the reality of their gender and decry all men as the sadistic enforcers of that great and evil power, the patriarchy. The frequent misuse of the words “misogyny” and “chauvinistic” served to make my aversion to feminism even stronger. Having lived with my father for the majority of my life, the misandry that I thought so common among feminists completely alienated and repulsed me from the movement. Most of all, I refused to believe that women needed help to succeed: this is not a “man’s world”, this is my world too. Feminism was irrelevant to me, and I therefore dismissed it as irrelevant to the world.
The catalyst for the revolution in my attitude towards feminism and its followers occurred several months ago when deciding on the topic of my major work for the HSC. After floundering around several uninteresting fields, I decided to study the perceptions of feminism: I planned to somehow vent my frustrations at the girls who find being asked to make a sandwich by their boyfriend “sexist” and the belief that men are generally stronger than women, “bigoted”. I was quite disconcerted when on researching my topic I came across countless articles on young women whose attitude towards feminism was identical to mine. My conviction in the current irrelevance of feminism was given a name: “belief in a post-feminist era”, and I realised that as someone who often prefixed comments with “I’m not a feminist, but…” I was part of a global phenomenon. This reality check opened up my mind completely, not only to the credibility of feminism, but to a new realisation of utilitarian social values.
Firstly, I realised my dismissal of feminism as irrelevant was due to the empowerment that the efforts of past feminists (that I would never meet and never be able to thank) had afforded me – if I was so against a movement that had been so beneficial to my life, surely I was the one misunderstanding something. With wider reading of academic sources rather than the usual sensational articles, I began to realise that true feminism advocates for equality of the sexes (obviously a worthy cause).
What I believed were the implications of mainstream feminism, such as women’s superiority or conversely, the need for women to rely on affirmative action to succeed, were revealed to be the extreme views of a select few. There was no need for me to dismiss the whole movement because of some extreme adherents, any more than I would condemn Islamic believers because of Al Qaeda terrorists or Christians because of the Klu Klux Klan. I saw that as a woman and as someone interested in social justice, it was only natural for me to be a feminist.
Once I had looked at the issue of gender inequality with an open mind, I was ready to accept that it was still present institutionally in Western society. I was reminded of the personal, educational and governmental discrimination that many women in other parts of the world still experience. At this point I was practically kicking myself for not identifying with feminism sooner – it seemed obvious now that there was still so much work for feminists to do! I still don’t see myself as being hampered in any way by the gender inequality that still exists – I personally don’t see my future income as important to my happiness and therefore don’t mind if a male colleague earns more than me. I am happy to spend the rest of my life depending on men to open jars, lift heavy things and kill spiders without feeling like I am any weaker or lesser than them. However, there are many women who are forced to accept less pay, less education, less independence, less opportunity and less strength – and who hate it. Now, if I can work with others to give these women the voice that I have taken for granted all my life, I am happy to be called a feminist and endure all the misguided connotations that come with it.
Jess is a year 11 student at Central Coast Grammar School, NSW; currently accelerated in Society & Culture and doing the HSC this year; first published as a poet in 2012; Lover of music and literature, cat admirer, aspiring psychiatrist and attempting to become fluent in 日本語 Follow her on Twitter @jessfaith0912