At university or college, we live in an ivory tower.
Alongside others who are, on the whole, educated, we live in a community in which people are called out for things they say and do; in which ideas and opinions are questioned and debated.
This is healthy. It’s a privilege not enjoyed in a lot of lifestyles, and should never be taken for granted. I didn’t come to university straight out of school, so I’m aware of the ivory tower I’m in. I will never take it for granted.
Which is why I was ashamed to be a member of a class of twenty-one in which I was the only person to openly identify as a feminist. Eighteen girls, three boys, and only one feminist.
Now, I was disappointed in my peers, so I opened up a classroom digression on feminism – which wasn’t the topic of conversation.
Here’s what I understood from the discussion that followed:
- All 21 people in our class agreed that women should have equal rights to men.
- All 21 people agreed that women not having equal rights to men was a form of oppression.
- Over half the class (13 people) said they would do something about oppression, generally and also more specifically in the form of sexism, if confronted with it.
- Over half the class (12 people, all female) said they had experienced sexism of some sort in their day-to-day life.
- 100% of the class thought that it was disgusting that, in the Middle Ages (which is what we were studying), women were the property of their husbands.
- On discovering that the reason women take the surname of their husband today is a remnant of this law, several people (8) thought something should be changed in today’s society.
- Six people said they would keep their own name on getting married, after the discussion.
Is it just me, or is something not right here? Out of twenty-one people who all believe in gender equality, only one is a feminist?
This goes beyond the movement, beyond the set of beliefs, this is about the meaning of the word feminism.
Noun: The doctrine — and the political movement based on it — that women should have the same economic, social, and political rights as men.
Adjective: Advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.
Noun: An advocate of such rights
Looking at the dictionary definition of the word, all 21 members of my class are feminists.
They just don’t know it.
How is it, in the 21st Century, that nearly a whole class of mature university students is too ashamed to be a feminist?
Is it the connotations? Do you think that, along with the entailment in the dictionary definition (advocating rights for women equal to those of men), you have to do something more? Shave your head? Burn a bra? Become a lesbian? Hate all men?
All you have to do is believe in gender equality.
I firmly believe that if people who simply believed in gender equality were proud to be feminists; if every feminist knew they were one and told people so, the movement would gather speed.
You don’t have to be butch or stop shaving to be a feminist.
You can wear pink and spend hours on your hair and be a feminist.
You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist.
It’s the easiest thing to become a feminist. All you have to do is not be sexist.
However, as long as the words feminist and feminism have these connotations, perpetuated by people who benefit most from a patriarchal society, people won’t have the courage to be proud to be feminists.
After our tangent into the world or gender equality, I’d managed to convince 19 of members of my class that they were in facts feminists at heart. However, only seven said they would ever admit this to anyone.
It’s these people we need. The people in my class, the people who walk around not knowing that they’re feminists. It’s these unknowing feminists who can make the biggest difference. The knowing feminists can only go to so many lectures on gender, can only sign so many petitions to stop Page Three, can only openly fight the patriarchy so much.
After a point, you’re needed, unknowing feminists. You’re needed to make it okay to be a feminist (Hell, you guys make it cool). What’s needed is men who advocate gender equality, so that we’ve got everyone on our side.
So… what do you say?