So last night someone very helpfully explained to me that equality laws exist, so feminism is unnecessary and outdated. This was a revelation! I had no idea that equality laws were even a thing! It’s not like I’m a law student or anything…
Attempted sarcasm aside, equality laws help, but they’re not magic potions. For a start, the laws that exist depend entirely on where you live (so this post will probably be really UK-centric, sorry about that!). Secondly, whilst equality laws obviously help, they can’t necessarily change the mindsets and ideas that uphold the patriarchy (and other systems of oppression) in the first place. “Equal before the law” doesn’t necessarily mean “equal in society”.
In the UK, the first Equal Pay Act came into force in 1975, yet the gender pay gap still exists, and in many ways has increased from last year. Maternity discrimination is also still going strong. Furthermore, unpaid domestic work is still assumed to be “women’s work”, and anything perceived to be “women’s work” loses value on that basis alone. And that’s before we get started on all those tired stereotypes that limit girls’ ambitions right from early childhood.
Globally, one in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. For being women. Despite all the laws against it. The general attitude to consent is appalling. There’s the idea that silence and even unconsciousness “isn’t saying no” and when a woman does say “no” it means “try again later” or “tell me everything’s okay and I’ll change my mind” or anything else that isn’t “no”. There’s the idea that women are mystery puzzle games in which the goal is to obtain sex, and any woman that doesn’t want to have sex with you is a friendzoning bitch. And to top it all off, victims of abuse are often dismissed or even blamed.
Women are under-represented in boardrooms, in politics, in courts, in virtually all positions of power. There’s also the huge under-representation and objectification of women in the media. We’re judged by what we look like rather than what we do, mocked for failing to fit one impossible mould of “normal” beauty, then mocked for even trying, called vain and silly and weak for worrying about looks and weight when that’s exactly what we’re being constantly told to focus on. Women’s sport is also under-represented and drastically under-funded and under-publicised compared to men’s sport.
It sounds like nitpicking, but it all adds up. Sexist jokes. “Blonde” jokes where, coincidentally, the blonde person being mocked always happens to be female. Anything based on the idea that angry women are funny. All the rules about “real fans” and “fake geeks” that only ever seem to apply to women, especially teenage girls. And medical research, and therefore medical signs and symptoms, is often based solely on men. There’s the double standards. The expectation that all women want to marry and have children. The assumption of “he” as the norm. Even the word “girl” is used as an insult towards men and boys. To be a girl is, apparently, demeaning.
And when any of this is pointed out? We’re called hysterical, irrational, over-reacting, humourless, out to stop fun. We’re told to calm down, stay nice and quiet and compliant. Silenced at every turn. In fact, various studies have found that men interrupt women more than vice versa – this probably isn’t deliberate, it’s just how we’ve all been socialised to behave, what we’ve been taught to accept as the norm.
So yes, I still need feminism. And no, we’re not done yet.