So here’s the thing. I know that if you’ve spent any time on Fuelled by Fiction (or have read our headline) you know that I’m a feminist and FBF is a place I use to explore that. In my life, online and off, I’ve encountered many people who don’t really know what feminism entails.
So, what can I do about it? Well, I love feminism and I love writing. So, I’ve decided to do a little Feminism 101 series that explores feminism as I see it and understand it. I’m hoping to help new feminists find their footing and open up a conversation with those looking to learn more about my perspective.
I must start this by saying I am in no way an expert. Honestly, I’m a pretty new feminist myself. (Want to learn more about how and when I became a feminist? Check out my post about how reading helped me find feminism).
However, I have been reading a lot and learning a lot through books, blogs, websites, magazines, and talking to other women. I may not be an expert, but I think I can help others understand the basics and join the conversation.
So, what is feminism anyway?
Today it seems that anything a woman does to make herself feel empowered is inherently feminist. This simply isn’t true. Having the ability to make those choices for yourself as a woman is thanks to the feminists before us, but that doesn’t mean that what you do with that ability is necessarily feminist in nature. However, feeling empowered is important, so you do you!
So, what is feminism then? At its core, feminism as an ideology is the belief that women/female-presenting people are in every way equal to men/male-presenting people. Simple, right? Well, yes. But also… no. You can believe in equality and still not be a feminist. That may seem a little contradictory, but it’s true.
Feminism is a political movement that recognizes that all people are equal, but they are not treated that way. Feminism recognizes that although men and women should have equality, in practice they do not.
It purports that the way society views and treats gender is harmful to women/female-presenting people and that this is a problem that needs fixing. Feminism recognizes that this gap is even wider where other factors intersect. For example, women of colour and queer women experience a wider spectrum of oppression than straight white women. This recognition is called intersectionality.
So, what is feminism? It’s the ideology and political movement that aims to right these wrongs by fighting for equality and women’s rights. Feminism’s goal is to bring women/female presenting people equal rights and opportunities constitutionally, and in actual practice everyday.
I have a t-shirt that sums this up pretty well. Women have the right to:
- Equal representation
- Speak and be heard
- Fair and equal pay
- Give or withhold consent
- Reproductive autonomy
- Walk home at night
- Own land
- Bodily agency
What are some ways that men and women are not equal in today’s society?
Here are just a few examples:
In North America, women today still earn on average 73 cents to a man’s dollar for equal work. That number drops to 63 cents for Black women and 54 cents for Hispanic women.
In America, health insurance covers Viagra but will not cover Birth Control. Insurers consider being a woman a preexisting condition.
The rights of an unborn, non-fully formed fetus are given more weight than a living breathing woman. And such decisions are made by groups of rich white men. For example, in America right now the current administration continues to roll back women’s rights under Roe v. Wade, the supreme court decision that made abortion legal. They are significantly restricting access to these services which disproportionately affects women of colour and women in poverty. The US government has also stopped funding NGOs internationally who offer, or provide information about, abortions, which seriously and negatively impacts women’s health. Not only so, but because of things like this (in America especially) women’s bodies are policed more than guns.
Women have a hard time getting doctors and health care providers to believe in, and accurately diagnose, their pain. They are often told their pain is in their head or it’s just period pain. This has its roots in a history of women being deemed weaker and “hysterical.” (Check out Ask Me About My Uterus and Doing Harm)
Victims of sexual assault are shamed and interrogated while perpetrators are given the benefit of the doubt. “What were you wearing?” “Were you drinking?” “What is your sexual history?” It’s such a problem and so ingrained in us that most women who are assaulted don’t come forward. Not only so, but women are tasked with preventing their own assaults rather than blaming rapists and teaching men not to rape.* (Also check out Missoula by Jon Krakauer, Asking for It by Kate Harding, and Yes Means Yes! By Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti).
Do you have questions about feminism that you want answered? Do have a topic you want to see discussed by me and Sarah? Hit us up in the comments or shoot us an email.
*Not all victims of sexual assault are women, and not all rapists are men. However, the vast majority are. For the purposes of this conversation and in this context, we will use this understanding. It is not meant to erase or undermine anyone’s lived experiences.
Beth O’Brien is a library assistant and book blogger. Born and raised in Atlantic Canada, she lives in picturesque Nova Scotia with her cat Edith. You can often find her rocking double denim with her nose in a book and a craft beer in her hand. Follow her on Twitter @fuelldbyfiction.