When a friend asked novelist and famed feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, advice on how to raise her young daughter as a feminist, Adichie wrote a letter which has now become a feminist manifesto called Dear Ijeawele. Not to compare myself to the Queen herself, but I had a similar question from a teacher friend recently. She was shocked to find that the majority of her year 9 class hated feminism. Yes, kids who were literally born in the 21st century still believe that the world does not need feminism. I mean, we got the vote, so now we’re just being greedy? Short of telling my friend to put all of Ngozi’s books on her curriculum ASAP, I decided to write a short letter myself.
Dear Year 9s of Ms X’s class,
Hi, how are you? Enjoying your education? Which by the way, half of you are only allowed to have now because feminists fought for that right. Ah feminism, that tricky word that makes you roll your eyes just like whenever some old person tries to bring back ‘Yolo’ ironically.
Feminism seems to be everywhere right now and I understand it can get a little overwhelming particularly when you’re being told what it is and what it is not. Feminism like many movements is complex and rightly so. Yet guess what? At its core, feminism is about respect. It is about equality and justice for everyone regardless of their gender. Feminism is not misandry (hatred of men) or believing women are better than men (inequality). It is called feminism, because contrary to what some asshole with a bad haircut on YouTube is telling you, women are still not on equal playing terms with men. We may be 52% of the world’s population, but we still have to fight for our rights.
As someone old (i.e. someone born in the late 20th century), let me share a few memories with you. This is what old people do.
When I was around 10, I had a best friend who lived so close to my house that there was just a short beaten track between us. One day we were skipping through the track (we skipped in the 90s) saying hi to anyone who walked past. A gangly looking 20 something year old man greeted us – by grabbing my friend and feeling her across her pre-pubescent chest. He walked on. We stopped skipping, feeling something was not right but we were too innocent to comprehend what. Was this respectful? A grown man groping a young girl?
In my 20s, I yearned to work for the bright lights of the film industry – by becoming a coffee runner. I scored an interview for a job at a local TV company and thought I nailed the interview. I was then informed that I didn’t get it as the entire crew was male and as a woman I would “upset the balance”. Was this respectful? Or an actual human right violation?
In my 30s, I went to a prestigious US film school on full scholarship and was excited that the course had made a conscious effort to enroll equal numbers of all genders. Yet in my course, I was constantly dumbfounded at the number of micro-aggressions and obvious offensive statements I would hear from my classmates about women in the industry; “I don’t like being on set with women”; ‘I don’t like being told what to do by a woman”; “It must be really hard to direct as a woman as it’s not natural”. Surely these statements are anything but respectful?
I’m now on a roll. And remember I’m just one person.
There was also the time I got asked to date a director 20 years my senior to get a job; and the time I found a date rape drug in my drink and my flatmate had to save me; and the time I went to an advisor to ask advice on starting my PhD and was ‘advised’ to get married and have babies instead; and the time I saw a husband punch his wife in the face at a party because she wanted to leave; and the time men didn’t want to date me because I earned more money than them (OK, so that last one happened to a friend – I’m a writer, I never make money).
When you say that you don’t think you need feminism you are either saying that these things don’t happen, or that they don’t matter. My point is this, when you are treated as lesser than another, you can be treated as badly as someone wants. You are not on the same playing field and you are not seen as an equal.
Feminism is all about gaining respect. It has always been about that.