The downfall of feminism?

One day, not long ago, I was in a Political Sciences class and my teacher asked how many of us viewed themselves as feminists. The girl standing by my side and I raised our hands. Nobody else did. Needless to say that I felt truly disappointed with my classmates. I’ll never forget it. At first I felt shocked, incredulous. I even wondered if I had maybe not seen somebody else raising their hand – but no one did. Just two people in a classroom. Two girls, coincidentally. Now, a couple of months later, I came across a Facebook post a girl shared which defended the idea that “men should be feminists too”. Her post gathered a lot of comments from boys who claimed, among other things, that feminism is for retarded people, that it is out of date and no longer important, or that it is only needed in “underdeveloped countries” because women in our societies are already treated with the respect and dignity they deserve as human beings. I was so angry at what I read. I recalled that PS class and I instantly felt the need to express my outrage the best way I can – by writing it down. So here it is, what I wrote immediately after having read those unbelievable comments, out of my anger and sadness and frustration.

Today, (I dare to say) the word feminism seems to have more of a negative than a positive connotation. It is linked to “man hating” or “feminazis” and is often treated as synonymous to them. But if people took the time (and it wouldn’t even be that much time…) to do a little research, they would soon realise that feminism is no more than “the defense of women’s rights in favour of the equality of sexes”. But why is this word, feminism, so reviled, so misinterpreted and so misused? Because it disturbs the order of things. Because it bothers. Because, if we admit that there is a need to change the way our patriarchal societies work, then we will have to “bother” men. How? By empowering women. That’s right – by giving them power: equal power.

I find this a very powerful word. Empowering. There is much empowerment that needs to be spread across this world – we need to empower children, we need to empower the poor, we need to empower indigenous people, we need to empower animals and environmental causes, we need to empower women. Not in a sense that they will rise above any other individuals; but to help them achieve the same level, the same rights, the same dignifying treatment and respect. Equality. I don’t consider myself educated enough to enumerate big arguments here or to write a fancy, elaborate speech in favour of feminism (meaning = in favour of the equality of rights and conditions among genders). But what I do know, I know it because it is out there for everyone to see, I know it because I live it everyday and because I see many other women and men living it as well.

Many people (especially men, I dare say, but women too! Which is almost more shocking…) say they think feminism is important, yes, but in the least developed regions of this World, because in our “developed” countries, in the glorifying Europe and America of freedom, brotherhood and equality, it is no longer necessary – women are already treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. I don’t know how anyone can have this perception. Feminism is needed everywhere in the World, in different ways and adapted to different social and cultural contexts. In Arab countries, for instance, it might have to do with the right to education, the right to drive, the right to vote, the right to marry at whatever age you want to and to whoever you want to marry. There, it is about freedom, about life! In our “developed” countries, women already go to school, they already drive and vote, that’s true. But are we entirely free? No. Are we treated as equals before men? No. In Europe, women make on average 16% less than men (2015 data). Portugal, for example (which is my homeland), is the country where this situation has worsened the most during the crisis the EU is going through. Let’s look at the case of the new X-Files series, where the protagonist David Duchovny is going to earn twice as much as the protagonist Gillian Anderson… This is absurd. Of course this is a small, insignificant example when compared to thousands of others, but it is worth thinking about, because… If something like this happens in such a popular platform, with access and influence over millions of people, how can we stop it from becoming acceptable? From becoming the norm? If even popular TV shows are paying actresses less than they pay actors, then why shouldn’t it be normal for regular women to be paid less than their male counterparts?

There is a lot to be done in other parts of this World where attacks on gender equality are much more violent and atrocious. Of course there is. But that does not mean that feminism is only needed in those regions, or immeasurably more important there. People use this excuse to divert attention from issues that need to be addressed right here where we are – right in our homes. But, of course, it’s a lot easier to say that there’s something wrong with the way society is run on the other side of the world, isn’t it? If we begin to admit that there’s something wrong in our own backyard, then that means we are eventually going to have to be bothered if we have to do something to change it.

I wonder… Is feminism not necessary in countries where women frequently feel uncomfortable when walking down the street, when they are walking through a man or a group of men, because they are used to hearing obscene, dirty comments waaay too many times? Is feminism not necessary in countries where women continuously earn and get paid less than men, or where they are not given the same job opportunities “because they might get pregnant” or “because they might have menstrual pain and miss work”? Is feminism not necessary in countries where women continue to be seen as “the weak sex”? The weak sex, the one which has a job aside from having to deal with the house chores, the one which carries a baby inside their body for nine months, who gives birth to a child, who brings to this World a new human being, and who was to watch him grow in a society which continues to perceive women as inferior?

I am not putting women on a pedestal. Women are not special (well, to me they are, but that’s a personal opinion!). What I mean is: yes, we are different. Nobody can deny that men and women are different – physically, psychologically, emotionally. But that does not mean that we don’t share some very common features. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we should not be entitled to the same rights or conditions. For we are entitled to the same respect, the same freedom, the same equality. Those who refuse to identify themselves as feminists are one of two things: either they are ignorants because they don’t know the true meaning of the word feminism (and, therefore, contribute to spreading the wrong idea about it), or they are being cowards, because they know that feminism, for the simple reason that it must change the order of things, is going to be a little bothersome for many men who take the most out of their priviledges, granted to them by our patriarchal societies. I am sick of witnessing and taking part in discussions about feminism, I am sick of hearing people (mostly men, I have to admit) say that they are not feminists because feminism is radicalism. Get your facts straight. So much in this world would work a whole lot better if people only took the time to get informed… To actually learn something.

I am sick of having to walk down the street and hearing dirty comments (yes, we’ve come to the point where the State had to create a new law that criminalizes these comments!). I am sick of seeing men masturbating in front of young women on the street and not being chased down and thrown to jail like the real perverts that they are. I am sick of hearing people (men and women) tell jokes that are demeaning to women, when that kind of behaviour not only denigrates and demeans women, but it also denigrates and demeans men. That’s right. We’ve come to another crucial point here, haven’t we? Because feminism is not only a fight for women’s rights; it is also a fight for men’s rights. It is not just women female liberation – it is also about male liberation. And dignification. But some men don’t like to hear this a lot, do they? They don’t like to be told (or to think) that it is okay for them to be sensitive, that it is okay for them to be emotional and vulnerable. Why? Because we live in a society that pressures men into being strong, virile, masculine. Here we have it again: power. In this case, the power of words.

Society makes people believe that there is a certain set of features that defines masculinity, virility, manliness. And that is physical and emotional “strength”. Strength is viewed as the opposite to sensitivity and sentimentality, as if being emotional and vulnerable will “make you less of a man” or “make you weak”. That’s one of the reasons why women are perceived as “the weak sex”. Because women cry, but men mustn’t. Well, feminism fights this preconceived idea of what women should be like. By freeing women from the limits imposed on them by what society views as the “acceptable norm”, feminism also breaks the same limits that are imposed on men. By telling women that being sensitive, that being emotional is not a weakness, but actually a natural feature, even a true sign of strength, feminism is logically also telling men that it is okay for them to have feelings and to express them as much as women supposedly can / do. And society doesn’t like it when certain people and certain movements try to destroy its stereotypes. Why? Because building and maintaining stereotypes makes it a lot easier for people to think that life is all black and white, that it’s all rainbows and flowers, that there are no moral and ethical challenges out there for us to face. But there are.

Feminism does not only carry the chance to free women. It also carries the chance to free men. However, it is very hard to change people’s mindsets when they are fueled by centuries of tradition and conservative ideologies. That’s why so many men believe that, if they were to identify themselves as feminists, they would be admitting to be “weak”, “gay” or anything that they don’t want to be linked to. So here is one of the biggest challenges feminism brings with it: to make sensitivity acceptable. To make emotions count. But that’s exactly what makes us sentient beings, is it not? The ability to feel. The fact that we are sensitive, emotional beings. So it is okay to admit it. It is okay to show it. Because it’s in our nature, it’s the right way to be. If we didn’t have any emotions, then we wouldn’t be affected by any notion of right and wrong, we wouldn’t be touched by anything that is wrong in this world, we wouldn’t feel the need to fight injustice or cruelty.

Emotion is what makes us capable of changing this World and turning it into a better place. Equality also does that. And that is the ultimate goal of feminism: to achieve equality. Therefore, in the end, feminism (feminism as the actual movement, as the true meaning of the concept, as the real women’s rights movement – not in any of its radical or misinterpreted shapes) is all about that: turning the World into a better place. That’s why it only makes sense for us to unite. That’s why it only makes sense that this should be a battle fought by both men and women. Because the fruits of the seeds we can plant now will be reaped by everyone, men and women alike.

One day I was in a Political Sciences class and my teacher asked how many of us viewed themselves as feminists. A girl standing by my side and I raised our hands. Nobody else did. I felt truly sorry for my classmates. I thought: “they must either be ignorants or cowards. Maybe they’re not even bad people. They are probably not. But they are making a big mistake”. Feminism is not just about some of us. It is about all of us. If I am a feminist? Of course. Because, if I wasn’t, then I wouldn’t be in favour of the equality of rights for both genders. Because, if I wasn’t, then I wouldn’t truly be in favour of a better World… would I?





Taking Self-Affirmation To An Extreme

I think, in many ways, we have come to a point of extremism in our search for ultimate freedom, ultimate equality and ultimate self-affirmation.

1) Take women, for instance. We were once forbidden from using any kind of clothes we wanted to, forbidden from using pants, forced to cover our bodies entirely. But now, beyond wearing any clothes we want, we have also made them a lot more revealing than it is necessary. In our search for utmost freedom of choice and freedom of expression, we have gone from the extreme of not being able to reveal any parts of our feminine body to the extreme of showing too much. Anyone who says this will most likely be criticized by the so-called defenders of liberty and freedom of expression, and by a large number of feminists. But I don’t believe this (contesting everything goes when it comes to wearing revealing clothes) stands against feminism: actually, I believe it is in its best interest. It isn’t a matter of being too modest; it’s a matter of not being scandalous and not putting ourselves out there to be possibly ridiculed. We, women, can own our conquered freedom with strength, bravery, joy and modesty without having to make a show out of it. If we incur in this, we may lose our validity by being accused of trying to outrageously “draw attention” only because we can.

Also, and maybe even more importantly, I believe that wearing boldly revealing clothes just because we want to, just because we can, can be demeaning to ourselves because we are indeed drawing attention to our bodies, and will therefore be much more easily objectified as sexual beings instead of wholly complex, multidimensional beings. Modesty is not submission to a sexist society that prevents us from wearing what we can wear; it is choosing not to sexually objectify yourself when you can wear what you want to. In the Western societies where this currently happens (women and girls wearing a lot more revealing clothes than they could, and maybe should), this victory is already won: we are already free to wear what we want to wear. We don’t need to celebrate this victory or rub it in society’s face and men’s faces by going from the extreme of oppression to the extreme of exposure. I would even dare say that a greater lesson for this sexist society would be to wear what we want to – but dress modestly, confidently and independently, not giving in to what society secretly expects from us. Yes, because men know that, in a free society where women are allowed to dress in any way they want to, there will more displays of flesh. They like it when we wear revealing clothes, because it makes it easier for them to objectify us and then to blame it on us when they can’t contain themselves. “It’s her fault; she was wearing provocative clothes”, they say. Obviously, we shouldn’t – and cannot – stop ourselves from doing something we want to just because we fear men might use it as an excuse for their own selfish, sexist acts. If we choose not to do something in front of men, it must be only because we do not view it as respectable or desirable.

All of this is, of course, a highly controversial debate, because it also depends on how much worth or sacredness you give to the human body. In this case, to the female body, which has always been a greater object of fascination, secrecy and passion for humans. If you are an all-time liberal who believes in absolute freedom of choice and freedom of expression, and if you believe that human bodies are only a natural part of the world and should not be viewed as something untouchable or divine because they are, well, to celebrate and to be celebrated – well then, maybe you don’t give much importance to women and girls walking around in the shortest, tiniest possible clothes. Maybe, for you, they will only be displaying a beautiful part of what Nature has given them; it is in their right, and they are acting accordingly to the natural world, for all that is beautiful should be seen and admired. But there are other people who think that the human body can still be celebrated and admired without having to be “exposed to the masses”, displayed to the public. There are people who think that the human body is somewhat sacred in its intimacy, and that it should be respected by not being exposed to the eyes of everyone, indiscriminately.

I’m not saying that you should treat your body as a secret painting and never reveal it to anyone. No, that’s wrong. The female body is beautiful, sensual, delicate and strong at the same time, and as any wonderful painting, it should be looked upon with wonder, passion and love. However, there is a big difference between revealing your body to someone in private, or revealing it in front of a large, undetermined audience. You must own your body, yes; but owning it does not mean showing it off in front of a crowd in a way that says “Look at this; it is gorgeous, and it is mine, and you can’t have it”. Why should we make this argument once again about men? Some women may say that they wear revealing clothes for themselves – because it makes them feel powerful and strong and independent. I disagree. I don’t believe that, when you dress in a way that is meant to be looked at by others, you are doing it for yourself. You can feel perfectly beautiful and strong and independent and not wear something that exposes a large part of your body. (Once again, I stress out that I am not referring to revealing your legs in a short skirt, or your back in a backless top, or even your belly button. I am speaking of that kind of clothes that makes it look like there’s more skin than fabric around). So, I believe that when women wear revealing clothes, they are making themselves dependent of men once more. Why? Because they want men to look at them, to look at them and to think that they can not get what they once would have taken without having to ask for permission. But why do you have to do that in this way? Every conscious woman knows that when a man sees her walk by in a revealing outfit, the first thing that will go through his mind is this: sex. She will be objectified.

I am not trying to depict men as absolutely irrational beings with purely instinctive impulses. But even us girls, when we see an attractive man walking by in a good-looking outfit, that only makes him look sexier, even we will be attracted to him. However, our fight against men’s constant sexual objectification of women loses part of its strength when we ourselves make it easy for men to objectify us. So, maybe, the next time you are choosing what to wear before you go outside, you will look at the clothes you’ve got in your closet and you’ll ask yourself: Who am I wearing this for? What am I wearing this for? Dressing more modestly is not surrendering to a sexist society where “men can’t control themselves just because we wear sexy clothes”. No. It is owning our freedom of choice by not giving in to the need to be recognised as beautiful, sexual beings, when we should be recognised as simply beautiful beings, men and women alike.

Anyways, this is only my opinion, and I’m sure it differs from the opinions of many others. Any debates on these subjects will only improve the general debate on the rights and emancipation of women and should, therefore, be encouraged. Progress can only come by the conflict of ideas and the search for the better ones – which can only be done when there are different ideas to share.




Wearing Yoga Pants – a Debate on Opposite Gender Discussions

For the past few years, the word Feminism has been progressively more associated with man-hating. For anybody who knows the true meaning of the word, this might not make much sense: feminism, by definition, is an ideology that defends gender equality, equal rights between men and women. Therefore, how can it be sexist?

As a woman, I am all about defending women’s rights, and so would I be if I were a man. This is only logical, since the human sex ratio for our world population is 101 men to 100 women and, as long as one half of the Earth’s population is being discriminated and does not have the same rights as the other, I don’t see how the second half can thrive. If we were in a reverse situation and men were the oppressed gender, I would gladly defend their equality of rights. So, for a person like me, it is worrying to see how tarnished the word Feminism has become. My worry can only translate into one simple, yet very complex question: How and why did this happen?

Drifting through social networks, you can find plenty of discussions regarding this subject, one of which falls directly on women’s use of yoga pants. According to many men, this causes women to lose their legitimacy when they complain about being the target of sexual remarks. I found this to be a good example because it raised a lot of questions. Women complain about being harassed by men on the streets. If they are wearing yoga pants when this happens, do they still have the right to complain or are they “asking for it”? Can men control their urge to look at women and catcall them? Are women still harassed when they are not wearing yoga pants? In this case, do men lose all of their legitimacy? Have they ever had such legitimacy?

Although these questions all relate to the same particular situation (this temporary fashion of the yoga pants) I think they also lead us directly into the core subject: the Battle of the Sexes, women’s rights versus men’s rights. These are some comments I read when I was watching a video about women wearing yoga pants:

1 – “The amazing double morale with women is that they want men to want them, but they also complain about you wanting them. (…) And also their lack of understanding of the human behaviour: men are hard wired to always look for potential mates”.

2 – “You are a woman so your lack of logic does not surprise me, because women are not logical, they are emotional. Women also love attention, they want to be taken as a priority by men. If a man cheats on them, they will be mad at him because they feel like they aren’t his priority any more”.

3 – “Women wouldn’t complain about being catcalled if the man doing it was Brad Pitt”.

4 – “Men built and maintain civilization and will determine the future of it, women are strictly along for the ride”.

5 – “Women are biologically and naturally stupid, they always sleep with guys who disrespect them, who have a big wallet and are physically fit”.

6 – “When women stare at men, it looks as creepy and awful as what women say about men doing the same“.

All these replies to the video shocked and saddened me. These statements hardly deserve to be answered. For instance, statement number 1: men are apparently willing to make little of their rational thinking just to win the discussion. Saying that men cannot control their biological urge to “look for potential mates” and use that as an excuse to harass women on the streets is the same as saying that they are primal beings who act purely on instinct.

Statement number 2: there is a common saying according to which women tend to act more based on their emotions than on their reason. But I do not believe that there is such a big difference between men and women. Men are also sensitive, emotional beings. It is society that has taught them to raise prejudice against their vulnerable, sensitive side, denying it and trying to rationalize it. Having said that, both men and women are rational and emotional beings.

Statement number 3: men would probably not be displeased if Angelina Jolie walked by them on the street and whistled at them. There is, nevertheless, a considerable difference between some innocent remarks and crude, sexual comments.

After having taken a look at all these biased, absurd statements, I decided to reply to the man who wrote statement number 2. I told him that, if he was using the argument that women act purely out of their emotions, I could as simply use the argument that “men only think with their lower head”. However, by doing so, I would be incurring in a stereotype, just like he had done. It is as much a stereotype to say that women cannot control their emotions in front of men as it is to say that men are only driven by their sexual impulses.

In fact, looking at all the comments below the video and at all arguments used in common discussions between men and women, the common factor is this: using stereotypes to attack each other.

While stereotypes can, on one hand, help us react quickly to a certain situation (because we can recognise them from other common situations) they will, on the other hand, ignore the differences between individuals. Stereotypes can be very biased and discriminate large numbers of people. Having heard and participated in many arguments between men and women, I have always seen this happen: both parties use stereotypes to attack each other and prove their point.

So, going back to my first question, I believe one of the answers is:

  • Women lose their legitimacy when defending their own rights by using stereotypes to attack men and prove their point. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all women do this. But it is important to remember that having a mediator intervention in opposite gender discussions can raise greater agreement than attacking the other party.

Another reason as to why the word Feminism has been tarnished is:

  • Just like women must not incur into any stereotypes against men, men must do the same. To continue insulting each other with these widespread, overstated ideas related either to the female or male gender will only harm both.

And this last statement leads me to the final conclusion:

  • Women and men must not view each other as opposite parties. We obviously have to recognise the differences between us, because they exist, but that does not mean that we don’t deserve equal rights.

Having taken these arguments into consideration, there is another question to reflect on: If women are wearing yoga pants when this (being harassed by men) happens, do they still have the right to complain or are they “asking for it”?

In my belief, it is not just misogynistic men who are responsible for denigrating the idea of Feminism. Women who have certain behaviours that objectify them are not helping themselves or any other woman. We cannot make men respect us if we do not respect ourselves first. As a result, I believe it is important to point this out:

  • The contempt towards Feminism is caused by both men and women. Viewing each other as opposite sides of one battle, as competitors or opponents, does not help either of us.

The best way to clean the word Feminism and to fight for women’s rights – a fight that should be carried out by both genders – is to stop attacking each other with stereotypes and to act as mediators in these endless discussions. To recognise that the rights of one of us are deeply connected to the rights of all the others is fundamental. We must not think of ourselves as individuals, but as one group that needs to live together in this world, sharing it peacefully and equally with all other living beings.

Post Scriptum:

Feminism = an ideology that defends equal rights for women

Sexism = discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender