By Naomi Panovka, Canada.
The extent of oppression that a women will face in her life varies greatly depending on her country, identity, and opportunities. FGM, child marriage, and honour killings are the reality of millions of women around the world, while women in my country, Canada, are lucky enough to generally lead safe and secure lives.
It is undeniable that the progress of feminism has been asymmetric. While the legal rights that women have earned ought by celebrated, the illusion of equality makes it far easier to deny the very real and tangible ways that the patriarchy continues to disenfranchise women. Feminism is still needed in countries where women experience the highest degree of legal protection, and here are 7 reasons why:
"Be The Right Kind of Girl"
The patriarchy has tried to dictate who we perceive as being respectable women, by laying out a series of expectations that we are supposed to follow. Have any of you ever heard the following phrases?
“Make sure to wear makeup and heels to you presentation, it will make you look more professional.”
“Always have good manners. Make sure to smile and look happy so people think you are confident.”
“Always listen and provide emotional support to boys. It’s our job to be there for them. Don’t burden them too much, they work hard enough as it is.”
From the expectation of unpaid emotional labour to always being well-mannered and polite, women’s behaviour is frequently policed. Not all women meet the standards of how they are supposed to act, since we all have different needs, desires, and personalities. Unfortunately, women who fail to meet these standards often experience discrimination, and doubt their lifestyle choices.
Discrimination isn’t only intentional. Scarily, individuals regularly deprive women of rights and opportunities while believing that their choices are normal, or even desirable! Subconscious bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.
For instance, female businesses founders only received 2% of venture capital dollars in 2017. Unfortunately, decades of witnessing men achieve the most corporate success, particularly in the tech industry, have led investors to believe that women lack the “innate genius” that men possess.
Additionally, voters are far more inclined to respond that female politicians are “bossy and shrill” in surveys, while male politicians are perceived as being more professional.
Subconscious discrimination is incredibly difficult to deconstruct, as our choices and belief systems have been influenced by intergenerational notions of what women should and shouldn’t pursue. However, it is necessary; subconscious biases are responsible for denying women countless opportunities.
Microaggressions are comments and actions that subtly and often unintentionally express a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group. Sadly, women are subjected to a variety of microaggressions, such as:
“What she’s trying to say is…” This is also known as “mansplaining” — when a man attempts to translate for a women, implicitly assuming that she is incapable of explaining things for herself.
“When are you having kids?” This implies that all women plan on becoming mothers.
“What, is it that time of the month?” This invalidates the legitimate feelings of women by saying that their emotions are just a hormonal surge.
Although microaggressions may come across as a trivial issue to those who haven’t been impacted by them, the emotional toll they take on those affected shouldn’t be disregarded. The effect of microaggressions is often cumulative- it becomes dehumanizing to continually be underestimated and ostracized during social interactions.
Additionally, microaggressions often perpetuate macroaggressions and stereotypes, as society begins to believe the judgements about women (i.e. all women have kids) that microaggressions condone.
Discrimination in the Workplace
In addition to the fact that the pay gap still exists in nearly every developed country, women face numerous barriers in the workplace, including pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, and the exclusion from the “boys’ club culture” that still subsists in corporate environments.
All of these factors make it immeasurably harder for women to secure promotions despite performing at the same caliber (and often better) than their male colleagues, and has led to a massive gap in CEO and upper management representation.
In Canada, one of the most progressive countries when it comes to corporate representation, only 8.5% of women hold top jobs. Although it is great that workplace participation rates amongst men and women are beginning to equalize, being locked out of top jobs is not only despicable in that it caps the potential of women, but it prevents women from making multi million dollar salaries at the same rate as men, and disallows younger female employees from seeing female leaders navigating their profession.
Sadly, the discrimination of women is evident throughout a variety of companies, from Nike, where women have recently brought a lawsuit against the company for ignoring complaints of unfair treatment for years, to Uber, where a hostile work environment has subjected numerous women to sexual advances from male superiors.
While the #MeToo movement has begun to make much needed progress in holding rich and powerful rapists accountable, the movement still a ways to go in deconstructing a pervasive rape culture which continues to blame and shame women.
Rape culture describes the trivialization, normalization, and victim blaming associated with sexual assault. It’s when a pop song says “you know you want it.” It’s when girls who wear short skirts to parties are told that they “asked for it” after they were raped. It’s when the Game of Thrones airs a scene of rape and viewers think that it’s “hot.”
It is great that the #MeToo movement and public testimonies of women have finally stopped Harvey Weinstein from committing assault with impunity. However, Weinstein is a symptom of rape culture, rather than it’s cause.
Until women can wear whatever they want without being blamed after being assaulted, until women aren’t gruelled about their sexual histories in a courtroom, and until the sexual assault allegations of women are taken seriously, rape culture will continue to deny justice from victims and normalize sexual assault.
Media Portrayal of Women
Within mainstream media, ranging from advertisements, to television, to magazines, the portrayal of women is often incredibly sexist. Sexist when the women is the sidekick to the male superhero. Sexist when the man is the doctor, and the women is the stay at home mom. Sexist when the young girl plays with the easy bake oven, and the boy plays with action figures. Sexist when thousands of companies objectify women by using sex appeal to increase their sales.
The mainstream media is incredibly instrumental in shaping the perspectives of young children. Constantly seeing men occupy positions of power and certain professions reinforces the subconscious biases and binary expectations described earlier. Although there is some positive media representation of women (ie. powerful characters like Merida from Brave), this is still the exception rather than the norm.
Not All Women Are White Women
Even if you don’t believe any of the reasons listed above as to why feminism is necessary, this pressing reason can’t be overlooked. Not all women living in privileged countries are privileged women. Women of colour, LGBT women, poor women, disabled women, and other women of non white cis hetero identities face unique forms of oppression which are often ignored by the mainstream media.
This year, at least 7 black trans women have been murdered in the US, part of an ongoing epidemic of violence against the trans community. While third wave feminists are engaging in sex positivity, 800-1200 women and children are trafficked in and out of Canada every year as sex slaves.
Even feminist events themselves are often exclusionary to other women, such as the Women’s March, which wasn’t wheelchair accessible. While privileged women are still disadvantaged as a result of the patriarchy, it is vital that feminism helps uplift the most marginalized women.
Although the structural inequalities which women face are far more visible in certain countries, feminism is needed around the globe to tackle issues ranging from intersectional oppression, rape culture, and workplace discrimination. How has gender inequality impacted you? Let us know in the comments below!
Authors explore the development and application of various feminist theories on our modern society.