There must be two statements considered when asking whether feminism is equality. The first of these is what is feminism? Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the ‘advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of equality of the sexes’, it must be understood that feminism is not about female supremacy or male oppression, but about a larger social movement, which seeks to recognise that as human beings, we all have the radical right to be treated equally. Yet even I will admit this definition is somewhat out-dated; feminism is no longer as easily confined into a box, because as it stands now feminists fight for so much more than ‘traditional women’s rights’.
Even more important in considering this statement is the definition of what equality is. Too common is the response “I’m not a feminist, but I believe in gender equality” or “I’m not a feminist but I’m an egalitarian or humanitarian.” Perpetuating such a statement is to ignore what equality in this context means. You want men and women to be equal? Go ahead.
For equality to exist as society stands now, men would have to experience the same levels of oppression that women do currently. This would mean that a man would not have yet been the President of the United States (but he could have won the popular vote), and only 15.6% of men would be professors at Cambridge, or 1 in 5 men from the age of 16 would have experienced some form of sexual violence. This is not equality, at least not as a feminist would have it, because it does not involve the erasure of prejudices so as to ensure the equality of all the sexes. The so-called ‘gender equality’ many claim to support actually involves dragging men down to the unequal standards women live at now.
Therefore, feminists, in their attempts to make women equal to men, actually aim to elevate the social standing of women so as make it the same as that of men and in doing so benefit men too. What is crucial is that many of the oppressions men face actually stem from the preconceived gender roles that society has established for women. Men are less likely to get custody of the children in court, because women are stereotyped as the home-makers, the maternal ones. Boys from a young age are taught not to cry or show emotion, because weakness is for girls and if you run or throw like one that’s even worse. Perhaps what is most defining, however, is that the people who fight against these detrimental social constructs are the feminists in the first place. It was the Feminist Majority Foundation that organised the “Rape is Rape” campaign which caused the FBI to change the definition of rape to include men. It is the feminist organisation The Representation Project that demands that the media change its representation of men, producing documentaries like The Mask You Live In which examine the effects of toxic masculinity on young boys and why the dropout rates for males are so high. In advocating the rights of women, true feminism advocates for the rights of men also, because it is only by ending our interconnected social oppression that we can progress into a truly equal society.
All of the above is still a highly westernised view of feminism. Today, Feminism has moved beyond the typical definition provided into a movement which considers that women are not a homogenous group. Women are made up of all different races, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, social classes and a multitude of other variables. Arguably, ‘true feminism’ embraces intersectionality and acknowledges that women will face different forms of oppression depending on their varying identities.
Feminism as such is so much more than the fight against sexism, but instead comprehends that society is a complicated mess where sexism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia all intertwine. However, as is found in any other social movement, political ideology or group of people in society, there is not always consensus as to how exactly this can be achieved. Admittedly, it is a feature of any movement that there will be disagreement, and there will be individuals who misuse the label for their own gain. But it is misuses like these that must be renounced and admitted so that the real inclusive and diverse nature of feminism is predominant.
As was acknowledged on the signs of many marchers at the Women’s March this month with a quote from Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are different from my own.”
This is the opening statement for a debate proposing the statement, "This House Believes Feminism is Equality."