June 29, 2017

Jennifer Walker

In 2014, UN ambassador Emma Watson delivered a moving speech on gender equality. This speech has reached millions of people worldwide and the HeForShe website that was created alongside the speech has over a million signatures of men and women pledging to stand up for gender equality.

The action Watson took has inspired many people worldwide to start fighting for equality both for themselves, and those around them, however, not even 24 hours after delivering her speech, she was threatened and harassed in the media.

Though the number of supporters outweighed the number of people who didn’t agree with her ideas, the backlash Watson received for voicing her opinion showed that we still have a long way to go before we truly reach a society where both males and females are equal.

To clarify, feminism is described as the belief that both men and women should be free and able to have equal rights and opportunities.

The word feminism became prominent in the 19th century when the suffragettes began fighting for the right to vote in elections, thus starting the first wave of feminism. It is thanks to these women that we have the ability and the bravery to stand up and advocate for gender equality.

The second wave came in the 1960’s and focused more on how the politics of feminism were linked with the personal, everyday lives of women, and how equality could be brought not just between genders, but for everyone.

In the 1990’s, third wave feminism came about to try and fix what people thought were mistakes in the previous waves, then beginning in around 2008, we came into the fourth wave, although there are many people who believe we are still in the third.

But this isn’t a history lesson. We need to focus on the issues of here and now. For example, body image. Think about it. It’s become more than a social norm for teenage girls to hate their own body. Any girl who admits to being confident in her body is called a narcissistic show off by social media, the previous generation, sometimes even her friends. This is just one example of how the self confidence of teenage girls is being destroyed.

Women are presented in the media as tall, thin, white, hairless, and middle to upper class. This is what the ‘perfect’ woman of this century is seen as and it’s what girls are shown from a very young age and are told to aspire to. These images are drilled into our minds and are thrown at us from every direction, and for what?

To make us feel bad about ourselves? To show us that we can never be as naturally beautiful as photoshop can make us? To shame us into buying a product? To buy us?

The patriarchy is defined as the systematic cultural ideas that we have in society that value masculine tendencies and characteristics over ones. This is presented to us in everyday situations, the workplace, social media, television and movies.

The Bechdel Test was established to show audiences how women are (or aren’t) portrayed in films. There are only 3 criteria needed in order for a film to pass the test.

  1. the film must have at least 2 named female characters.
  2. They must have a conversation with each other, and
  3. It must be about something other than a man.

Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) in a survey of around 2,500 films, only about half of them pass the test. Just to clarify, passing or failing doesn’t mean that the film is good or bad, however it does show how poorly women are shown in films. If you want proof, take The Avengers franchise. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is one of the strongest members of the Avengers group, and a notable main character, however, her image isn’t even shown on the posters or promotional pictures for the Avengers: Age of Ultron film. What kind of message is this sending to young girls, by not even showing them that there is a female character in the film?

Some examples of films that fail the Bechdel test are:

  • The entire original Star Wars trilogy, where there is a total of only 3 named women in the series.
  • The whole Lord of the Rings series where no female characters even meet each other, never mind have a conversation.
  • One that has been debated is the Harry Potter series. While the books do pass the test, there are rarely any instances in the films where two women have a conversation. Though there are times when women do talk to each other, they barely count as a full conversation, and for a series spanning 8 films each over two hours long, this is problematic.

Statistics have shown that on average, more females have depression than men, however more men commit suicide. This is partly because men are told that expressing their emotions makes them weak and less of a man, which is wrong and very harmful. Men should be able to cry and express their emotions as much as they would like to and shouldn’t be told that it is wrong to feel, which is essentially what they are being taught and have been told every day since they were born.

Boys are expected to be tough and strong and dominant even since primary school, and girls are expected to play along with it because ‘boys will be boys’. Little girls as young as 4 and 5 are told that if a boy is mean to them, it means they like them. But that’s absolutely ridiculous. How about instead of pulling their hair and calling them names, they should actually be nice and show just how much they like them by not ruining little girls self esteem before they even know what self esteem means.

These behaviours can often lead to males being violent and having a negative opinion of women. Since they have never been told that their behaviour is wrong, and they think this is the way they should behave towards women, their attitudes stay the same throughout the rest of their school years and into their adult life.

Studies show that 1 in 3 women have been victim to an abusive partner and around 4,000 women each year are killed by their abusers, and around 75% of those happened as the victim tried to leave the relationship. So yes, I suppose boys will be boys. But at what cost?

A lot of people think that ‘feminism’ is a dirty word because it has its roots in the word feminine, which is why many feminist arguments are pushed to the side by people who claim we are only pushing our own agenda. But isn’t this essentially what we are trying to do? Why shouldn’t we be fighting for our own rights? Why should we stop trying to be equal to men just because some rich, white male says we shouldn’t? This is why we need feminism. To show them that women can be strong, we can be powerful, and we will be equal. Yes, people do think feminism is a dirty word, which is exactly why I used it so much during this piece. We shouldn’t be scared to fight for what we believe in, but we can’t fight if we’re too scared to even say the word.

-Jennifer Walker

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