Why Feminism – Positive Change for Women and Girls – is needed more than ever!
On Saturday 25th October I was very fortunate to have a display of my Art and Book (The Art of Birth – Empower yourself for Conception, Pregnancy and Birth) and participate in the Feminism in London Conference at the Institute of Education. It was a day full of talks, workshops, displays of art, stalls relating to all things that affect women’s lives in one way or another and the European Premiere of the harrowing Documentary “Pornland: How the Porn Business has Hijacked our Sexuality” by Gail Dines and author of the book with the same title. Dines’ contribution to the conference certainly took centre stage for me. Her film in particular, left me feeling angry, sad, despairing, traumatised and energetically fuelled to do my bit to prevent the situation it presented from going any further!
If we look at the definition of Feminism, it states that it is the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. Feminist activists campaign for women’s rights (and women’s issues) – such as in contract law, property, and voting – while also promoting bodily integrity, autonomy, and reproductive rights for women. Feminist campaigns have changed societies, particularly in the West, by achieving women’s suffrage, gender neutrality in English, equal pay for women, reproductive rights for women (including access to contraceptives and abortion), and the right to enter into contracts and own property. Feminists have worked to protect women and girls from domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. They have also advocated for workplace rights, including maternity leave, and against forms of discrimination against women.
Although many of these improvements have positively affected lots of women’s lives, particularly in Western cultures, there is still a long way to go in other parts of the world as well as on our doorstep. There are also new issues emerging which need addressing and in this light, Feminism is still an absolute necessity in today’s society.
On the one hand I believe that women can truly empower themselves by not buying into social pressure to be or act a certain way to gain approval from men or society. But as Dines puts it quite bluntly, women are either sexualised or invisible and she takes Miley Cyrus as an example of a woman who has been rebranded several times in her life in order to stay in the lime light. All women are on this spectrum of being desirable enough or not noticed and that is why the beauty industry and the media have such a powerful influence on women’s lives to make them feel acceptable.
I also believe that what you put out in the world i.e. how you talk, how you act and what you think about yourself, is reflected back to you. This is put quite simplistically but it does have a point. If I value my own talents, my looks, my intelligence, my body, my sexuality and that I know my own rightness and self-worth in society, then that is a jolly good start. I can speak from experience on this one as I no longer experience things I used to when I was younger and coming from a more aggressive, self defended perspective. I have found that healing my own wounds (as well as an attempt to heal the patriarchal wound) have increased self esteem, assertiveness and I generally attract more positive experiences. Having said that, sexual violence is a continual undercurrent threat for women in society however transcended we have become. It is one way some men can retain their power.
However, issues relating to women are mutating. Just when we think we have many of the above issues covered i.e. we can vote, buy a house, have a career, an abortion and generally be considered equal to men, we find sexual violence is on the increase, the porn industry is destroying our vulnerable young men’s (in particular) image of sex, relationships and intimacy, not to mention sexism sprouting up all over the place. I was just looking at the X Factor where Cheryl gave a strong opinion and was put down and suggested she got out of the bed the wrong side by Simon Cowell AND Dermot O’Leary! It seems that if women feel strongly about things, then they are belittled for being either hormonal, got out of bed the wrong side, having her period, got a problem etc, or are seen as an activist, a feminist or a mad bitch! When a man gives a strong opinion, everyone sits up and listens! Ok that is a mass generalisation and not wholly true but there is an element of truth in it.
One thing that became 100% clear to me from the FIL conference was that we have to wake up to the topic of Porn. Dines, who has been researching the industry for the past two decades says, astonishingly, the average age of first viewing porn is 11.5 years for boys and with the advent of the Internet, it’s no surprise that young people are consuming more porn than ever. And she also shows, today’s porn is strikingly different from yesterday’s Playboy. As porn culture has become absorbed into pop culture, a new wave of entrepreneurs are creating porn that is even more hard-core, violent, sexist, and racist. Proving that porn desensitizes and actually limits our sexual freedom, Dines argues its omnipresence is a public health concern we can no long ignore! What are we going to do about it? I think we need to start by having the ‘conversation’ about porn with our children and keeping an eye on their internet usage but it needs a whole lot more than that!!!
The other concern I have is to the increasing use of the word Rape amongst young men, teenagers and boys. It is quite rapidly becoming a ‘normalised’ word brandished around as mild banter! When I hear a boy use it jokingly and perhaps not really knowing the full extent of what they are saying, makes it all the more horrifying. It is as if we have a law protecting women from sexual violence and then it gets re interpreted in other ways like in music videos, unacceptable words used in popular banter, sexism whether covert or overt, destroying the awesomeness of sex to one of violence and degrading a woman to a set of three orifices.
I can go on and on and I am not able to give a comprehensive critique of feminism all in one go but I’ve tried to highlight that some of the problems are in some ways getting worse and in other cases are being sugar coated. And I haven’t even mentioned the violent sexist PS3/Xbox games aimed at boys! Nevertheless, it’s a fact that the re-adjustment of the sexes needs to happen on both sides of the coin. For example, Patriarchal cultures are criticized for “limiting forms of masculinity” available to men and thus narrowing their life choices. Some feminists are engaged with men’s issues activism, such as bringing attention to male rape and spousal battery and addressing negative social expectations for men. The conference was primarily focused on women’s issues but we do appreciate men suffer too and we are also very grateful for male support on these topics. I only know wonderful, kind, intelligent, thoughtful, gentle, enlightened men so I don’t wish to make out all men are these awful perpetrators but there are still problems and misogyny in the world which need highlighting and changing for the better of all involved.
What I hope to get out of this musing? I invite you to all pay attention, share these concerns and become activists protecting the lives of women globally so we can truly live along side men, confidence in our difference but equal in respect and value and most of all feeling and being safe. We also need to protect our boys so they can grow up feeling confident in their healthy masculine, respecting their own sexuality, respecting women and living a fulfilled life without a distorted view of women, sex and violence. And… I’m still contemplating what I can do personally to make a difference… http://stoppornculture.org/
The UK organisation is Resist Porn Culture: http://www.resistpornculture.org/
Peace and Love <3