Is Feminism necessary in the 21st Century?
‘Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience’, implored Mary Wollstonecraft in 1792. In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft wrote on overcoming the oppressive social structures which denied women their potential in society, and the author became a leading figure in advocating for women’s rights.
The 21st century prides itself on claiming equality for the sexes, politically, socially and economically. The 20th century gave women in many countries the right to vote, to sit on a jury, to a seat in the House of Lords, and much more. It is undeniable that societies across the world have seen vast improvements to the treatment of women since Wollstonecraft’s day.
But is feminism still a necessity in our new world of freedom and liberation for women? I’d like to argue that it absolutely is, because, sadly, the position of women in society, the house, the work place, the government and the world is in constant need of redefinition. Here are three reasons why.
Deeply rooted in misogyny, the alarmingly high rates of gender-based violence deepen the need for feminism to remain in full force. Whilst men too fall victim to sexual harassment, women are affected at a devastatingly higher rate.
Tragically, crime statistics expose how one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, whilst one in two women have experienced sexual harrassment and 95% of trafficked victims are women. It has been proved that ‘the most harmful forms of abuse – sexual violence, especially – affect mostly women.’ The same source highlights how ‘three-quarters of councils have cut funds to domestic violence services due to government budget cuts, and a third of referrals to refuges are now being turned away’.
Whilst every case of violence is founded in different circumstances, perhaps the issue underpinning gender-based violence in general is the idea that women often adopt an inferiority complex to men. Whether this be rooted in physical strength or intellectual superiority, centuries past have shown that women are placed below men in the social hierarchy so that verbal, physical and emotional abuse on women is somehow justifiable. Such a power imbalance between men and women has shattering consequences and affirms how feminism is timelessly important, as the only way to reassert female power within society is for a movement to embody the sense of defiance that is needed against the status quo.
The gender pay gap
The infamous gender pay gap is the measure of the difference between male and female wage; if the pay-gap is 20% for a company, women are paid just 80p of men’s £1. In Britain, our gender pay gap is 18.1%, meaning ‘a woman who is doing the same job as a man, with the exact same qualifications as a man is still paid two percent less.’ In other words, a woman can achieve the same qualifications for a job, work the same hours and provide the same service as their male colleague yet earn less money for their work. This subsequently not only aids the establishment of a view that the workplace is undesirable for the working woman, but also reaffirms the fear that men deserve something more than women. Therefore, the workplace, a place where both genders have the right to learn, grow and discover, becomes another medium for gender inequality.
But the pay gap is not only an issue between men and women, but also between people of different racial backgrounds: the disparity becomes even more extreme when we consider how it affects racial minorities. For example, one survey stated that ‘while only three percent of all white women make it to the executive level of an organization (compared to six percent of White men), only two percent of Asian, Black and Hispanic women make it to the C-suite.’ Here, we can see that gender inequality bleeds into racial inequality, so that the white man rules the patriarchy and his female counterparts flounder below.
In light of the various legislative matters that have attempted to close the pay gap, the undervaluing of female skills in the workplace could help explain the disparity. The influence of gender stereotypes means that women are often seen as weaker and thus less valuable to companies. Such biases may not stem from a deliberate attempt to undermine the role of the working woman, yet this proves why feminist causes remain crucial for empowering the female population.
Perhaps the gender pay gap is why male leadership has become institutionalised into society, as lack of equal financial representation has led to the belief that men alone are fit for managerial roles. I ask you to picture a head of school, a consultant or a head of state - do you picture a man or a woman?
Unfortunately, countries across the world have not experienced the same advances in equality as has been seen in the west. In Syria, for example, the workplace is heavily dominated by men, with ‘just 14% of women in Syria participating in the workforce compared with 76% of men.’
Education remains a controversial issue for many cultures, with countless young girls being denied their fundamental right to education. The powerful story of Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan speaks for the desperation of many young girls to have an education and seek rewarding, fulfilling professions.
The public perception of women is another issue that still requires addressing. When some countries continue to deny women the right to a safe abortion (8–18% of maternal deaths worldwide are due to unsafe abortion), female safety is placed into the hands of people who lack any consideration for their well-being: a frightening sentiment. Moreover, while both girls and boys are affected by child marriage, girls disproportionally fall victim to it; in South Asia, 45% of women aged 20-24 years reported being married before the age of 18, with 17% of girls married before the age of 15.
These examples, among with many more, seek to show that there is a serious denial of rights for women in the eastern world. The perception that women are intrinsically inferior or different to men must be broken. There remain too many gender-based divisions in our society and beyond. The feminist movement offers a hope that the lives of women across the world will see a change. Whilst we may have overcome our political rights in the last century, the position of women remains one of neglect culturally and socially.
This isn't to say society should necessarily transform into a utopian vision where the glass ceiling is shattered, nor that women should overtake men in the hierarchy; rather, society should view everyone as equal, regardless of gender, race or background. It is therefore undeniable that the feminist movement remains even more important in the 21st century than it ever has before, to continue the change and fight for equality across the world.