A recent report by Unifem found that among women aged 15-44, acts of violence caused more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Despite this dismal reality, there remains a powerful fiction in the West that Feminism is irrelevant and unnecessary. It is time for women to reclaim the ‘F’ word.
Women as Punch bags, and Worse
It is almost impossible to conceive the throat drying magnitude of violence committed against women, most of it at the hands of the men in their lives. The myth of rape and murder being committed by that stranger in the night belies the darker truth that women are being used as punch bags and worse, by men they know and love.
The recent cases of public rape and violence against women in India has seen protest in the US, UK and Europe for India to change its ‘rape culture’. But if the role of women in these countries is the aspiration, we might want to double check what we’re aspiring to.
In the US:
One third of women murdered each year are killed by their current of former male partner. Pregnant and recently pregnant women are more likely to die as victims of homicide than any other cause, and mostly by the hands of their male partners.
One in every four US women will be raped or sexually assaulted by a current or former male partner in their lifetime.
Nearly 1.3 million women each year are physically assaulted by their male partner. There are over 80,000 rapes of women each and every year.
The rape culture in the US has been epitomised by the Steubenville case. The Ohio High School football team carried a catatonically drunk 16 year old girl from party to party, apparently taking it in turns to rape and sexually assault her. They transmitted the whole thing on social media; tweeting pictures as they went, and finally sharing video in which they refer to the girl as ‘so raped’. Horrific as this is, more terrifying is that this public declaration and execution of rape went entirely unpunished.
It wasn’t until a local blogger Alexandria Goddard, outraged at the complicity of a whole town in rape, posted the tweets and pictures in a blog condemning the rape and Anonymous hacked the web to release the video to the wider public that a criminal investigation began.
Meanwhile in the UK:
More than 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales each year
Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted
One in five women over the age of 16 has experienced some form of sexual harassment.
One in four women is abused by her male partner.
One in every eight calls to the emergency services involves a serious incident of domestic abuse.
The recent case of Oscar Pistorius shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp dead whilst she was locked in the bathroom (through fear or rage, he shot her dead) drew mass public approbation, yet in South Africa, a woman is killed by an intimate male partner every six hours. The tragedy of Steenkamp is rolled out to women four times each and every day.
Women and girls are not just being killed and assaulted, but sexually injured and traded.
Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
More than 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18, primarily in South Asia (31.1 million and Sub-Saharan Africa (14.1 million). Women and girls comprise 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually, with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
The reality is that physical and sexual violence against women is both endemic in our states, and a pandemic across all states.
Women as Second Class Citizens
If women are not being subjected to physical and sexual violence, they are treated to a whole range of other methods to keep them as second class citizens.
It is interesting to note that the countries in the OECD who have engaged in bogus austerity policies have seen a significant fall in their gender equality rankings as women are disproportionately hit by job cuts, and lack of full time employment. The US has fallen from 7th to 17th since the financial crisis, whilst the UK has slid from 13th to 18th. Meanwhile, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand and Finland top the table. But none, not one state in the world can claim gender equality.
Despite Equal Pay legislation being made law in most developed countries, women are still paid significantly less than men. A recent study in the UK of the pay performance of 17,000 University graduates of the year 2006 showed female graduates earning on average £9000 a year less than their male colleagues. Not one employment sector showed women earning more than men and the Not for Profit sector was the only area where women earned the same as men. In the US, women in comparable jobs to men earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by the men. We have global gender pay gap which varies between 13% and 90%, and although reports suggest the gap is closing, it is argued that this is in large part due to corporations reducing male wages creating an equality of poverty, not prosperity.
So, women are underpaid. But they are also over worked. Whilst women in ‘developed’ countries make up virtually half the labour force, with 71% of US mums in full time employment, they are still largely responsible for their former duties as house wife. Boston Consulting Group recently undertook a survey of 21,000 women in 21 nations and found 85% of them were still solely responsible for grocery shopping, meal preparation, laundry and household cleaning.
Time to Reclaim Feminism
One cannot help feeling that the progress of gender equality is in stagnation if not outright regression today. The majority of the world’s women are locked in patriarchal power structures which govern their every bodily function. Where women have won important emancipations, their work in the labour force is valued and remunerated less than men’s and they are largely expected to maintain their traditional role in the home on top of the day job. This is a bum deal, on anybody’s terms.
Furthermore, there is a pervasive resurgent misogyny readily visible in public discourse. We have gender specific toys teaching boys to be violent dominators and women to be submissive carers; we have supposed feminists warning women not to wear high heels to avoid rape; we have t-shirts being sold which advise men to ‘Keep Calm and Rape Her’; we have the covering up of sexual harassment and assault of women across the political leadership of the UK, from the Liberal Democrats to the Socialist Workers Party; Women, it is time to reclaim the ‘F’ word!
There is a vibrant, resurgent feminist movement kicking off in the ashes of the 90’s and Noughties aberration of ‘Laddette’, bolshie, faux feminist shenanigans which have seen progress on gender equality stalled and reversed.
Recent events such as One Billion Rising show the power of an internationalised feminism which takes intersectionality seriously; a feminism which dances in the joy of womanhood but is not afraid to be angry and tell truth to power. So we must abandon our ingrained fear of using the ‘F’ word, like it makes us dirty, smelly, man hating hysterics. That’s how you are supposed to feel about asking for an equal place for women in the world, you’ve been taught to feel that way. But this needs to stop. We need to grow some vaginas and be brave enough to own our Feminism, to refuse to be bowed, to ignore the ‘bra burner’ chants of those who would close the lid on a woman’s possibilities. So next time you find yourself starting a sentence with the words “I’m not a feminist but…” stop yourself, take a breath and own that ‘F’ word.
- Know Your History – take a look at some really cool stuff that Feminists have done and continue to do.
- It’s OK, some Feminists are real assholes. That’s alright. You have a right to challenge their views and reclaim Feminism for yourself.
- Don’t let anyone tell you Feminism is strictly an academic discipline and your views don’t matter. I was told this by a man once. It’s utter horse manure. This movement is all of ours.
- That said…Get reading! Check out some of the modern feminist writers, and thinkers.