I am yet another person – a feminist no less – jumping on the “What were they thinking!?” bandwagon in response to the Tumblr Women Against Feminism. Bafflement, anger, dismay and incredulity were my initial responses. And a good laugh, when I saw the spoof response Confused Cats Against Feminism.
There are so many areas I want to address, like the lack of understanding that the personal still is and has to be political when it comes to feminism and addressing often silent domestic issues (like sexual abuse and domestic violence) in public arena, or the failure or ambivalence of the many selfie-snappers to educate themselves or explore the nuances of feminism/humanism/gender equality/gender equity/human rights, and the impossibility of getting to equality without mentioning women’s rights..
But what has really got my goat was how this whole trend has been framed solely in terms of bringing up meaningful questions around “the state of Western feminism in the 21st century” as Cathy Young’s Time article argues.
Tell me, what does “Western feminism in the 21st century” really mean, and to whom does it refer? Does Western feminism in the 21st century encompass me? As a white, privileged, middle-class feminist from Australia, I’m going to say, yes, I can probably identify with this form of feminism. But what about everyone else? Is this crisis of Western modern feminism identifiable or relevant to every single woman, including indigenous women, refugee women, migrant women or LGBTI women, living in the United States, Canada, Australia or any other Western country?
My point is, you can’t post a selfie dissing (yup, I’m bringing back “dissing”) feminism as a whole. If your caption begins with – “I don’t need the type of feminism I associate with white middle-class privilege and actually know nothing about it beyond the stereotypes..” – maybe then we can talk.
Look, as you know the world is changing like never before. Thanks to technology, the internet and social media, we are connected across the globe, across countries and cultures. Many Westerners of the 21st century are oh-so-cleverly looped into what is happening in Gaza, the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines MH370 and the more recent explosion, riots in Brazil during the World Cup and the first birthday of Prince George. LOL Cat memes can be shared between friends in Poland and Australia in a second.
Yet in this debate of Women Against Feminism, we seem to only be talking about one type of feminism: Western 21st century feminism founded on the bedrock of individual choice. It’s as if by giving this disclaimer, it’s ok to disregard other feminist and women’s rights violations and situations in marginalized communities, as well as in other countries around the world – they are distinctly absent from the debate.
I find it arrogant and blinkered that we only consider feminism in a Western context, and how that applies just to us in our little bubbles. Please. Look beyond yourself and your microcosm. Care. The world beyond your home is not equal. Men and women are not equal.
Every day, I see first-hand and work on gender issues in Nepal, a place where gender inequalities are obvious, and highly discriminatory for women. But I don’t want to preach to you. Let me just share what’s in one day’s news for gender inequality in Nepal:
Feminism, and women’s rights, are needed as never before. Western women shouldn’t lead in these situations, but help women build their own capacities to help themselves and their communities, and create young women leaders and strong feminist movements driven by their own context and ideals.
We need to close this gaping chasm between “21st century Western feminism” from developed countries and feminism in developing contexts. We are all on the same page in terms of the end goal: true gender equality. In this changing, globalized world with increased mobility and migration of people and ideas, global and local social and feminist movements collide, and cannot be considered in isolation, one separate to the other.
If you think you don’t need feminism, that’s ok. I’ll respect your choice. But practice some altruism. Be informed, and think about how maybe other people do need feminism, and the potential damage you wreak by condemning feminism as a whole. And if you’re in a position in your own life where utter gender equality has been reached in all facets of your existence (really?), then reach out to others who may not have reached their nirvana of gender equality.
When no woman has to fear for her own safety or ownership or decisions about her own body, then we won’t need feminism.
When all brothers and sisters can access the same quality education, opportunities and future as the other, then we won’t need feminism.
When all women can choose if, whom and when to marry and have children, then we won’t need feminism.
When no woman dies in childbirth from reasons preventable in the 21st century West, then we won’t need feminism.
When all girls, regardless of culture, have the choice and knowledge that she can be anyone and do anything she chooses, we won’t need feminism.
But until these things are the norm, we do need feminism. Look beyond yourself. We’re all in this together.