‘Feminist’ can be perceived as a bit of an ugly word. Associated with protests and man haters, it has earnt itself an unjustly harsh reputation and is now often used as a rather derogatory term against women who, in some cases, merely express an opinion on the issues of rights or gender equality. A misunderstanding of the word has caused a fear of those who would identify themselves as feminists, conjuring up stereotypical images of angry women with hairy legs or prompting others to make snap judgements and incorrect assumptions about their sexuality. Hairy legs and sexuality are just two of a long list of completely irrelevant connections to the word, so why are they there?
Upon typing ‘feminist’ into a google search, I was immediately bombarded with images of the above as well as numerous pictures of female protesters in various different stages of undress. Is this really how the world views feminism? Dismayed and irritated, I confronted my sixth formers and upper fifths with the issue and was greatly relieved to find that this is not how they viewed things. Many said that they associate the word as positive but several girls highlighted the fact that many people often interpret it incorrectly. For those still unsure, feminism is simply the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. In other words, men and women are equal and should be treated as such. So despite the negativity of the internet that I had experienced earlier, if my 17 year old students have a more positive outlook on feminism, then perhaps there is hope yet.
Another common misconception is that feminists are all women. Perhaps because of the obvious link to the word ‘female’ and the fact that the most famous feminists, such as Germaine Greer, have been women.
But, in her speech to the UN, Emma Watson spoke openly about the gender inequalities faced also by men. She said, “we don’t often hear about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes”, but those challenges are there for men, unable to express their true self, just as much as they are for women.
My musings on feminism over the last few months have stemmed predominantly from the furious political battle, raging on the other side of the Atlantic. Thousands of American citizens have voiced their opinions about both candidates for a multitude of reasons and one of the most dominant arguments to span both the Democratic and Republican voters include the issues of Gender and Sex.
Since the results of the US presidency were announced last Wednesday, we have seen a torrent of social media posts about the concerns that many US citizens have about women’s rights. Many would argue that the USA have elected a chauvinist (amongst other rather unflattering adjectives), which could be significantly detrimental to the progress for global women’s rights that have already been made. However, I want to put more of a positive spin on the US election and highlight some of the details that the media has conveniently forgotten to mention.
Last week Hillary Clinton lost the US election for Presidency. This is a fact and in my opinion, a great shame, although as President Obama wisely identified over the weekend, “no one ever said democracy would be easy”. But I don’t want to focus on her loss. I want to focus on her incredible achievement. Women have put themselves forward for Party Nomination since the 19th Century, when Elizabeth Woodhull attempted to represent the Equal Rights Party in 1872. Since the early 1900’s there have been only 10 separate females who have actually been General Election Candidates, Clinton being one of them. But Clinton, is the only woman to have ever won the presidential nomination of a major party, in her case, the Democratic Party.
Regardless of her overall defeat in the 2016 election, Clinton continues to chip away at that thick ‘glass ceiling’, showing women across the world that they can make a difference. Fifty years ago, men and women alike would have scoffed at the idea of a female president. But as Clinton points out, if we don’t try we will never know. As women, we should never be afraid to fail. A failure is not something to be ashamed of, it is something to learn from. We should however, be very afraid to never try. One of the most surprising statistics to come out of the election was the number of women who voted for Trump because they did not believe that a woman’s place is in the White House. It is therefore not just criticism from men that women must overcome, but criticism from ourselves.
In striving for progress rather than perfection, Hillary Clinton has paved the way for the next generation of women to move up the ranks to positions of seniority, not necessarily for presidential election but for life in general. For that next promotion at work, or election to member of parliament, if we don’t try we will never know. Emma Watson argued that “It is time that we all see Gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are.” Celebrating and supporting each other, regardless of religion, gender, sexuality or race is the only way that we will ever reach our true potential.
Back in September we took the girls in 6:1 to Cambridge for the day to hear from a number of speakers and take part in various workshops. Our headline speaker was Hayley Barnard who spoke of the importance of using failures as learning points to move forward. She also gave the great advice of “if you don’t ask, you won’t get”. This links well with the idea of ‘if you don’t try you will never know’.
The message that I want my students in school to take from this is that as women, we are often the under-dog. This does not mean that we should shy away from challenge and allow our male counterparts to assume roles of responsibility over us. It also does not mean that we should see ourselves as in direct competition with men, fighting for the right to call ourselves the best. It means that we should face those challenges head on, supporting those around us, regardless of gender. Now is your time to take to the global stage and continue the journey of great women who came before you. Whether your strength is academics, sports, the arts, etc…. your time has come to make your mark. Do not dwell on the failures, but learn from them and move forward. Pick yourself up when you fall and adjust to face the next challenge more effectively.
So remember in those moments of self-doubt, that we all experience from time to time, ask yourself, just as Emma Watson did,
“If not me, who? If not now, when?” (Emma Watson, 2015).
Miss Rebecca Kneen, Deputy Director Sixth Form