Rebecca Marrow and Halimah Manan collaborate to investigate why feminism is still relevant.
Although many have become disillusioned with, and tired of hearing about, feminism, the movement is still important. The definition of feminism – the belief in the equality of men and women – has yet to be realised and, sometimes, yet to be fought for; certain issues have often been pushed to the sideline, overwhelmingly those of people of colour, and LGBTQ+, and plenty have been oppressed by ‘white feminists’.
If the feminist movement is to continue, changes must be made. From the often polarising hashtags which are popular among celebrities, like #FreeTheNipple, to the white saviour complex which has penetrated feminist activism since its inception, there is much to be desired.
There’s no denying that feminism has been a huge help in changing attitudes towards LGBTQ+ women. However, the movement’s tendency to assume that all women’s problems are identical is not incredibly progressive. Despite the positive effect that the movement has had on the community, mainstream feminism often perpetuates the idea that women who are trans, queer, or gay face exactly the same issues as cisgender straight women – and this is not the case.
Hate crime against women in general is high, but hate crime against LGBTQ+ women is even higher. The suicide rate amongst trans people is alarmingly high, with nearly half of young trans people attempting suicide, and many LGBTQ+ women find themselves homeless – with a lot of them being rejected from homeless shelters due to their sexual orientation or gender. Not to mention more general LGBTQ+ problems, such as heteronormativity, bi-erasure and the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of LGBTQ+ people in the media.
With these factors in mind, it is clear that feminism is still needed in society. Yes, cisgender straight women are in a much more equal position than they were fifty years ago, but the LGBTQ+ community still has a very long way to go – and although the feminist movement is being helpful by campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights, the assumption that all women face the same problems, no matter what, is problematic. For the movement to remain relevant, feminists would do better to recognise that LGBTQ+ women face hardships specific to their gender identity and sexuality, and take a more intersectional stance on the issue.
For people of colour (poc) like myself, the feminist movement is steeped in controversy. On one hand, it poses a great way to challenge discrimination and objectification but, on the other, many feminist issues are Western-centric. And, when they’re not focused on the West, issues picked up tend to be painted in such a way to deride a whole culture and are overwhelmingly narrated by white people; their cultural ignorance is taken as law over the voices of poc who have candid experiences of such issues. For example, the popular (and mostly debunked) myth that female genital mutilation (FGM) is primarily an issue in Africa and the Middle East, implying a vast continent is complicit in such violence and that the West is somehow superior. While this isn’t particularly new – the suffragists used imperial rhetoric about saving their ‘Indian sisters’ to prop up their claims to the vote – it is outdated and exhausted.
Such cultural ignorance can be extended to the popular perception of Muslim women, who have been widely racialised as ‘oppressed women’ without enough reflection on the many differences between us. There are some feminist movements – or individuals – who have ignored our voices and, if feminism is to continue to be relevant, this is an example of what must change. From topless protests demanding we take our clothes off, to porn exploiting the figure of the ‘oppressed Muslim woman’ under the guise of ‘empowering’ us, and general comments on how our choice to cover up is not our own, the insensitivity and saviour complex has got to go.
However, that’s not to say that feminism isn’t and cannot continue to be for people of colour and other marginalised groups. Merely that intersectional feminism must recognise our voices and give space to them, as opposed to drowning them out. The internet and social media, in particular, have given rise to various publications and websites which advocate specifically for the voices omitted from the mainstream: Media Diversified, Muslim Girl and Black Ballad – plus Gal Dem (launching in September) – are a few of many.
Even so, to continue to be relevant, the feminist movement must acknowledge and remember that violence perpetuated against women, while manifesting differently across cultural boundaries, is not endemic to culture but to the patriarchy. As well as recognise that, as horrified as you might be, the West (read: mostly Britain and then America) is complicit in misogyny across the world because of colonialism and the hegemony that followed, through the structures of power left behind.
One of the ways in which the feminist movement has adapted itself to stay relevant is its use of social media. The use of hashtags like #EverydaySexism and #FreeTheNipple demonstrate how feminism is making good use of sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to advocate change. The movement has used the internet to educate people and inspire women to fight back against the sexism they suffer on an everyday basis.
Despite these noted benefits of social media as somewhat functioning to diversify narratives in the movement, it should also be recognised that the most popular or ‘mainstream’ social media, tend to be white. For example, in April, Akilah Hughes pointed out that YouTube rarely promotes black YouTubers. Additionally, movements like #FreeTheNipple, which have gained plenty of traction recently, don’t always cater to women of colour, though they can often take precedence over more pressing concerns.
Regardless, the argument that feminism is no longer needed in society ignores the role that social media plays in giving women the support and platform that they need in order to call out misogynistic behaviour. Feminism’s adoption of social media to further its cause not only demonstrates how it is keeping with the 21st century, but also how many women are still onboard with the movement – clearly so many of us identify with the term ‘feminist’ – and how relevant the movement still is.
Why should women run the gauntlet of harassment while out jogging? See our timeline today for hundreds of examples http://t.co/7bPPmT8EJo
— EverydaySexism (@EverydaySexism) August 21, 2015
An example of a tweet by @EverydaySexism.
So, whether feminism retains its historically-charged name or not, it is still relevant in today’s world and can continue to be so with a rise of intersectionality and solidarity. While some might believe feminism has done all it can, until equality is fully realised for women of all races, genders and sexualities, the feminist movement has not run its course.This was a collaborative article written by Halimah Manan and Rebecca Marrow.