The word feminist is a scary word for some. There are a lot of myths surrounding the word so I will begin by explaining what a feminist actually is. Becoming a feminist does not mean that you must burn your bra (if you wear one). It also does not matter what your gender or sexuality is. If you are a heterosexual male and worried that your masculinity level will drop because you are a feminist and support gender equality, there is no need to worry! Surprisingly, most women do not want to be treated as damsels in distress, waiting to be rescued by a strong, independent, capable man. We are actually quite strong, capable and intelligent creatures ourselves.
I know what some of you are thinking, that we have achieved gender equality in the West, sure women have careers and women can do whatever they want. There is the perception that those in developing countries are stuck in patriarchal dictatorships and we are so much more advanced here in Ireland. However, according to EIGE, the European Union Institute for Gender Equality, no EU country has reached full gender equality up to now.
The old fashioned attitude still exists throughout most of Western society that if you are a woman then you must take on the caring role in society. A woman is expected to take care of the children, take care of the home, take care of the sick and take care of the elderly, while possibly holding down a career, whether she wants to or not. While this attitude exists in most societies, it will be impossible to achieve gender equality. I for one do not feel that all of the responsibility should be placed on my shoulders just because I am a woman. Most of the men I know are excellent at looking after children, quite capable at completing domestic chores and are all loving and caring individuals. If everyone in society does their fair share then everybody has the ability to reach their full potential.
George Hook’s recent comments on his Newstalk radio programme that it is up to a woman to take responsibility so that she does not get raped, is another example that gender equality does not exist in Ireland. It is a clear case of victim blaming. Why should it be a woman’s responsibility to worry about being raped? Why is it the woman’s responsibility to cover up her body for fear of being sexually assaulted? It is clearly unequal territory when a woman must take extra precautions to protect herself, compared to what precautions a man needs to take to protect himself. A woman should not have to worry and take extra precautions simply because of her gender. It is the responsibility of an individual not to carry out an act of rape or sexual assault, not the victims’ responsibility.
In most societies we believe that all individuals can wear whatever clothes they choose. However, it appears that the advertising industry plays a major role in influencing what people wear. The power that the advertising industry has is creating a larger gap in achieving gender equality. Women are used as sexual objects to sell products. Women often wear sexually provocative clothing and pose in certain ways to advertise a product, while men can simply stand in the one spot in something as casual as a tracksuit if they are selected to sell a product. Men’s bodies are not sexualised as often as women to sell products, fashion or music. I am not a prude at all and I am not one for telling people what they should or should not wear. If you want to walk down the street in your bikini then that is completely your own business.
My point is that advertising has the power to make us believe that we want to wear certain clothing. If we don’t then there is the fear that we won’t fit in with the rest of society. However, women have been controlled for so long is it not about time that we decided for ourselves without being influenced by the advertising industry what we wear, after all what we wear is meant to be an expression of ourselves not of an advertisement. Why is it that on a night out there is an expectation for me to wear a tight, mini dress and 6 inch high heels because I am a woman, while a man can wear jeans, t-shirt and runners? Where is the gender equality in that?
Women’s bodies have been controlled for a long time in Ireland. From the influence that the Catholic Church had by imprisoning women in mother and baby homes for becoming pregnant outside of marriage, to female reproductive rights which currently there is an ongoing fight for. Thankfully, mother and baby homes are no longer operating in Ireland, however, the impact this has left on those affected by these institutions is still ongoing. Lives and families have been destroyed by this control and suppression. No good can come of suppressing one particular category of people in society.
These are just some of the reasons why everyone should become a feminist. We all have mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives, daughters and it is our duty as human beings to protect the rights of others. We all want our loved ones to experience freedom and equality. Whether it is equality in the type of work one chooses to do, equality regarding protection against sexual assault or equality regarding the choices of what clothing we wear. We should all become a feminist because when everyone in society can achieve their full potential then everyone in society will benefit, regardless of gender.
Rona Curtis – Features Writer