Four women walking away from the camera in the alps.

I consider myself to be very lucky. I grew up with a loving, supportive, comfortable family. I was 100% supported in whatever I wanted to do with my life. At no point did I feel like I was held back by the fact that I’m female. If I’d been born just a few decades ago then this would likely not have been the case. Yes, the women’s movement has progressed so much in the last 100 years. Yes, we have equality in many ways now; we have the same voting rights as men, we’re allowed to continue to work after we are married or have children, we’re even allowed to become things like lawyers and police officers (I might be watching The Good Fight as I write this…). So why is it important that feminism is still a thing? Why is it important we continue to support women’s movements? You see, I believe that the disparity between how a man lives and how a woman lives is so ingrained in our daily lives that we don’t even notice it. This is the reason why feminism and women’s rights movements still exist and why it’s important that we continue to celebrate women in the way we are on Force Mujer.

It isn’t as easy as that though, is it? There’s negative connotations associated with the word ‘feminism’. A guy once told me recently that he’d never met an attractive feminist. I told him I didn’t know whether to be offended or not. He laughed and said; ‘oh no, you’re not a feminist, are you?’ as if it was a joke, that I didn’t fit the idea he held in his head of what a ‘feminist’ should look like. Feminism means ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’, but say this word and too many people immediately think of angry bra-burning women chanting ‘down with the patriarchy!’. This isn’t what feminism is though (‘bra-burning’ was the phrase used by reporters covering a women’s liberation protest in the 1970s when no bras were actually burned), and, I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to too many people, you don’t have to have a vagina or identify as a woman to consider yourself a feminist. I know, ground breaking.

So let’s look at some of the ways women’s lives are different to men’s. First, let’s look at employment. Women reach a stage in their lives where they are considered to be ‘of child-bearing age’. For around 15-20 years, every time we’re passed over for a promotion or rejected for a new job, there will always be that doubt in our minds that we didn’t get the job because there is a possibility we might go on maternity leave at some point. Hire a man for the same position and at most an employer might lose two-weeks for paternity leave. Some employers are attempting to mitigate this by offering men the chance to share the mother’s maternity leave, which is great. It means that a woman is no longer expected to take a risk in her career by taking up to 12 months out to look after a baby. But what if the father earns more money than the mother? This is the case in about two thirds of households, so how many parents can afford for the higher earner to stay at home during what is one of the most expensive times in their lives?

Okay, so sure, men and women should be paid the same for the same job, right? It’s illegal for a company to discriminate due to gender, so why do we still have a gender wage gap? Well, this is caused by the fact that there are more men in senior positions than women. For example, in 2018 there were only seven female CEOs in the FTSE 100 companies. SEVEN. As mentioned above, it’s far more common for a woman to take a career break or work part time or flexible hours to enable her to look after children, this could be a contributing factor in the fact that there are fewer women than men in senior positions meaning the gender wage gap is unlikely to fall. This means that as a woman, even in 2019, we still have to choose between a career and a family. I’m not a man, so can’t speak for them, but I imagine that not many men have had to worry about making this kind of decision.

So that’s our careers, but in what other aspects of our lives do we accept the disparity? How about getting ready for a night out? You’ve put on some music to get you in the mood, you’ve shaved your legs (because you want to not because the patriarchy says you should!), painted your nails, there’s been fake tan and false eyelashes and you’ve created an entire floordrobe by pulling out everything you own trying to decide what to wear. We’ve all heard the rule, boobs or legs, but not both. So you go for a low cut neckline and show some cleavage, but wear a long skirt or trousers with it. Or you wear a short skirt, but make sure to match it with something high-neck. Boobs or legs, never both. Why do we have this rule? Because someone may think you’re a slut if you show off both. You’re suddenly not classy anymore.  As a woman, what we wear determines how sexually promiscuous we are deemed to be. Do men have this problem? How many have to carefully consider every element of their outfit before they leave the house in order to feel safe?

As a woman, we’re often groped or touched inappropriately by men without our consent. It’s only been in the last few years that this kind of behaviour has finally been given the name ‘sexual assault’ and not a harmless “bit of fun”. So when you’re on a night out and some guy cops a feel of your butt as you pass, he’s assaulting you. But, and I don’t know about you, for years and years I just accepted it as something we had to endure as women. I remember when I was in my early 20s a man in a nightclub thought it was okay to reach up under my dress and try to pull my leggings down. Another guy in the club spotted it and tried to come to my rescue by pulling him off me. A fight broke out and my rescuer was kicked out of the nightclub, despite at least five other women protesting to the bouncer that it was the first man who should be kicked out; apparently, I wasn’t the only one of his victims that night. How many of your friends have a similar story? And not just one, but more stories than you can count on one hand, perhaps even one for every night out they’ve ever had.

So we accepted that being groped in public was just par for the course. There is nothing we can do about it. But there are things we can do to prevent more serious assaults happening, right? As mentioned above, we don’t dress in a provocative way. We don’t walk home alone. We carry keys between our fingers in case we need to defend ourselves against an assailant. We text friends to check in that we’ve arrived home/our destination safely. When something does happen to a young woman, take Grace Millane for example, the questions surrounding her death are ‘why was she travelling alone?’. Or poor Libby Squire who was recently found dead in Hull after a night out, people are blaming her friends for putting her in a taxi and not making sure she got home okay or commenting that she was ‘falling about drunk’. When the question in both of these cases should be focussed solely on who killed them and why. The narrative around the death of a young man is very rarely one of victim shaming. I could be, and I’m happy to be, proven wrong if you know of any examples.

What about all the ways that the world is designed with men in mind? Have you ever thought that your smart phone screen is too big? Interesting, because they were designed and tested based on the size of male hands, but women’s hands are often smaller. Bullet proof vests are sized for men, despite the fact that women are actually allowed in the Police Force these days. Seat belts in cars aren’t built to accommodate breasts. Women often feel cold in offices, because the air conditioning is set at a lower temperature for men as their body temperatures tend to be higher than women’s. And let’s not forget the recent NASA debacle with the first all-female spacewalk cancelled because of incorrect sized space suits, which are designed to fit most astronauts (and coming in three sizes; medium, large and extra-large, we can assume that this means ‘most men’). If you find this kind of stuff interesting then you should read the book; Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez.

Women will always be seen as the weaker sex, both mentally and physically. We will always face comments of ‘oooohhh time of the month, is it?’ if we’re grumpy or emotional. People will pay us compliments such as ‘you’re strong for a girl’, when they could just say ‘you’re strong’. When we achieve important things, the media will report on what we were wearing instead of what we did. Feminism is important because for a lot of reasons we’re still fighting for that equality. But even if we were there already, why shouldn’t we celebrate all the women who have come before us?  Why shouldn’t we celebrate the women who fought so that we could vote? Or the women who proved that we can be just as fierce on the front line of an army. Or the women who have made it to the position of CEO in a FTSE 100 company while also raising three kids. Or the women exceling in their careers, looking after their families, keeping the house clean, going to the gym regularly, drinking enough water, being a good friend/daughter/sister/mum all with the support of their self-proclaimed feminist husband/partner or bossing it on their own.

Women can be bad ass. We’ve overcome so many obstacles to be as bad ass as we are today and I’m so damn proud of the fact that I’m female. So to women, to those who identify as women, to the men who fight for equality for women, let’s stand as feminists together and celebrate us. Cause we’re bad ass.

Four women walking away from the camera in the alps.
You don’t need a vagina to be a feminist. Pic courtesy of Cormac Quilligan.
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