Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Difficulties of Feminism

This post was written by Isabelle via UN Volunteering Service.


It’s August 2014. I’ve been a university graduate for over a month, and this rite of passage has triggered a tsunami of introspection and self-doubt in me. 

Among the questions that are washing over me is that one question that seems to have taken over recent discussions of society especially in the past couple of years: ‘How can I be a woman, in the face of such unyielding, incompliant adherence to the patriarchal norms of society?’

Malala Yousafzai
I’m sitting at home in London today, watching Jon Stewart’s 2013 interview with Malala Yousafzai, and I can only be awe-struck by how a 14-year-old, halfway across the world in a much more restrictive and less feminist-friendly society, could so calmly and determinedly stand her ground on the issue of women’s education, in the face of cold death pointing at her forehead.

In comparison with that scenario, speaking up for feminism in classrooms, in social situations, or at the family dinner now seems harmless and easy … right? Standing up for women’s rights to fairer pay, to education, to equal treatment in the law, in our society surely has much lower stakes than in such a society as the one where Malala was hunted down and shot!

Over the past year, it’s become very trendy (and easy) for people on Tumblr - and the Internet in general - to fight for women, be snarky and sassy about the patriarchy. But, ‘in reality’, as I’ve observed, conversations with friends, acquaintances, family, co-workers aren’t quite as starkly supportive – ‘reality’ is still very much averse to feminism. When you hear a joke about women (‘haha rape, that’s so funny’), or even a joke or insult towards men that compares them to the female stereotype (‘take it like a REAL MAN’), and you want to stop them and call them out on their BS, it’s hard isn’t it? Something stops you? 

And it’s made infinitely worse if another girl in the conversation laughs or joins in with the deprecation of women – that only increases the difficulty of battling misogyny. I certainly fear I’ll be judged for being too uptight, too militant, too hysterical. How are we to balance wanting to help the feminist cause with not wanting to hurt it by casting a negative image over it?

But the negative associations with feminism – the uptightness, the militancy, the hysteria – will only remain if we sit there quietly and watch as further misogynistic jokes and insults are cast out into existence. The negative associations of feminism are a product of men, but also a product of women not doing anything to dispel them.  

And perhaps what we are faced with might seem like nothing compared to Malala’s battle, which is quite extraordinary. But the ordinary is just as worthy of our attention. What goes on in our everyday conversation is the foundation of the society we live in. If we change our tune in our everyday lives, we choose to change our society.

Because what was it that marked us apart from boys and men such that inhabiting this world became a daily battle for us women to fight? Probably (as is still the case) some man (or men) somewhere, a long, long time ago, decided that they could make decisions for women and thus decided that womankind was inferior to mankind. It’s about time things changed already. 

I might not be able to a Malala right away, I might not even yet be able to speak up for feminism, but you can join me on my journey of working out how to be a woman I myself can admire. 

Written by Isabelle Pan, UN Volunteer.

You may also like to read:

We should all be feminists - Chimamanda Ngozi

What is feminism really about?

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