Less than two weeks ago a man who hated women killed six people. Every single day since then I have seen a man on the internet telling people (normally women) that misogyny doesn’t exist. Every. Single. Day.
Three weeks ago I went to a work conference and spent an evening explaining to a bunch of otherwise lovely and very clever people why feminism is important and relevant in the 21st Century.
I would love for the battle to achieve equal rights for women to be over, I really would. When I was a child I read about the suffragettes, women’s battles for the vote and the fight for equal pay and I really thought that the war had been won, that women were considered equal. Then I grew up.
In school, the girls were always judged on their appearance – I was considered “ugly” so I always came in for particularly nasty bullying both in school and out. As I got older my friends and I considered it par for the course that we would get felt up without our consent in pubs and clubs. When I waitressed the chefs physically and verbally harassed every woman who came into the kitchen. A senior male colleague once thought it appropriate to complain to my manager about my “very short” skirt (it was knee-length) and told me that laughing at things was inappropriate because I sounded like a giggling schoolgirl. The (male) sales assistant who sold me my new, painstakingly chosen bike spent all his time talking to my boyfriend. The other week a man cycled behind me for over a mile so he could look at my bum. And, like virtually every woman I know, I’ve been shouted at in the street by random men more times than I can count.
You know what the worst thing about that list is? That I feel lucky to have got off so lightly. That I am extremely privileged to experience society as a middle-class, thin, able-bodied straight, cis, white woman and thus will never have to endure the hardships that many women face just trying to exist as equal members of society. Most women will endure far worse verbal, physical or sexual abuse than I have ever encountered and this will be accepted by the world. Their experiences will be dismissed or ignored or never even shared. And when a man kills a woman it will be considered an “isolated incident” or the work of a “lone madman” rather than the product of a society which is profoundly unequal.
I am so angry. I get more angry every day as I see women’s concerns about ingrained sexism, rape culture and violence against women being dismissed and belittled. I’m angry that young women today grow up in a world where their right to equality is less understood than it was twenty years ago. I’m angry that women continue to be defined by whether or not they’ve popped out a baby but at the same time they’re likely to get discriminated against because of it. I’m angry that young men continue to be taught that expressing their emotions is weakness and that hurting others is strength.
I have no idea how we fix this. I grew up believing that women were equal because they’d fought and won so many battles. Now I struggle to believe that genuine equality will be achieved in my lifetime. So yes, feminism matters.