Why do we need feminism?

TW: Sexual Violence

In the 21st century, it is far from uncommon to hear people saying ‘’I don’t understand why feminism still exists, women already have equal rights’’ or ‘’feminism today is just about being a victim’’. As a feminist myself, I get tired of feeling like I must ‘justify’ why I call myself a feminist, because I can’t understand how anyone could possibly disagree with a movement that is all about equality. 

Intersectional feminism was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a lawyer, civil rights advocate, leading scholar on Critical Race Theory, and a feminist. Intersectionality, according to Crenshaw, is “a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other’’. Essentially, this means that the inequality a white, queer woman experiences will be different to the inequality that a Black, straight woman faces, which equally, is different to the experiences of a South Asian disabled, transgender woman. These intersecting identities explain that women are not a monolithic group, and therefore, feminism needs to address the oppression that different groups of women face around the world.  

We need feminism today because more girls and women in India have been discriminated against and killed in the past century than in any other modern-day genocide. In fact, the pressure on women in India to give birth to boys means that baby girls are 75% more likely to die from infanticide. Many may try to dispute this by stating that ‘women outlive men worldwide’, and this is true, as men are more likely to die during conflicts and they are more burdened with illness in their lives. However, is femicide is the murder of girls because of their gender alone. We need feminism because without activists working to end gender based violence, thousands of girls and women will continue to fear for their lives. 

We also need feminism to end the marginalization and oppression of transgender women, as they face attacks from multiple sections of society. In 2017, the Trump administration reversed a policy to protect transgender people from discrimination in the workplace, and the original protection was only reinstated by the Supreme Court in 2020. Furthermore, vague vagrancy laws are used to unjustly abuse trans women across Asia. In Malaysia and Indonesia, ‘dedicated religious police are charged with arresting trans people under these (vagrancy) laws’, while in Nepal, Human Rights Watch reported that four trans women were arrested and charged under the Public Offences Act (1970) “that can result in up to 25 days in detention and a fine amounting to more than US$300”. If that wasn’t enough, trans women also have to deal with Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, also known as TERFs, who exclude trans women from feminism and claim that they are a threat to ‘women only’ spaces. As a result of this rhetoric, only 30% of women’s shelters in the US are willing to accept and house trans women, despite the continued danger they face on the streets. Intersectional feminism today aims to create an inclusive society that understands and fights for the rights of transgender women and men. 

We need feminism today because the majority of the world’s poor are women. Ella Whelan, a political commentator and author of the book ‘What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an end to Feminism’ states that feminism today is a ‘middle class girls club’, and is therefore redundant. But how can this be true when women from all socio-economic backgrounds fight for economic emancipation? Across the world, women earn 24% less than men. Many dispute the gender pay gap, but whether the pay gap is accounted for by what jobs women ‘choose’ to do or how many hours they do or don’t work, the global reality of unequal access to education and employment has led to disparities in poverty. The UN identified that between the ages of 20-34, women are more likely to be poor than men. While this aligns with the average child rearing age, it doesn’t mean that women aren’t doing work because they have children. In fact, the unpaid work that women do as a result of gendered roles in society is the equivalent of $10.8 trillion a year, which is more than three times the size of the tech industry. Feminism is vital to ensuring that girls worldwide are able to have an education and have access to work without discrimination based on gender, race, sexuality or disability. 

Lastly, we need feminism today because of the sexual assault and harassment that women endure worldwide. #MeToo as a movement sparked a global awareness about sexual assault, power dynamics and consent. Notorious Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had over 80 victims come forward to speak out about his inappropriate and predatory behaviour. However, in the wake of these revelations, it’s now not uncommon to see headlines such as ‘Has #MeToo Gone Too Far?’, the underlying implication being that women are now too sensitive and need to stop overreacting to innocent advances. 

However, I would argue that the #MeToo movement gained such traction because sexual assault is an issue that victims have never been able to speak about until now. Only 1.7% of rape cases end in conviction, yet because it feels uncomfortable to hear about the widespread prevalence of sexual assault in society, many would rather avoid the issue or deflect from it. For example, I frequently hear men and women claim that women falsely accuse men of sexual assault for sympathy and attention. This is in spite of evidence which indicates that one in five women are sexually assaulted at college and one in four black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18, while only 4% of cases of reported sexual violence are false. In fact, a man is “230 times more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused of rape“. We need feminism because we need to start believing women, men and non-binary people when they bravely speak out about an assault.  

While I acknowledge that this is not a comprehensive or expansive list of the issues and oppression that women face today, this article highlights a few reasons that intersectional feminism isn’t going anywhere. There’s still a lot of work to do. 

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please use the following resources. 

Student Services : studentservices@bath.ac.uk ; 01225385538 

Student Union : union@bath.ac.uk ; 01225383800 

Nightline : 01225383030 

Bath Mind (mental health charity) : wellbeing@bathmind.org.uk ; 01225316367 

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