Solidarity is Key

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This article is part of Canvas’s International Women’s Week mini-issue

It is often noted that in degrading women, in offering them less opportunities than their male counterparts, society as a whole is undermined and degraded. Yet it is easy to overlook the fact that the same is true for relations inside the women’s liberation movement. Conflicting strands of feminism are all too used to question the actions and motives of competing factions and interpretations of gender equality. Whether it be Betty Friedan’s seminal work, ‘The Feminine Mystique’, [1] advocating an impassioned understanding of societal oppression or Caitlin Moran’s comedic analysis of female trials and tribulations, the lines are clearly drawn.[2] That is not to say that uniformity within the women’s movement is the key to gender equality; the vast and varying plethora of feminism allows so many people to relate to and feel a part of the fight for change. But feminism, with its internal battle-lines, must overcome animosity resulting from such divisions; for just as society is degraded by undervaluing women, the fight for equality requires solidarity if it is to avoid undermining itself.

It is not as though the fight for equality is over. Feminism has ridden three waves and is arguably fast approaching a fourth.[3] Women’s rights have been debated, promoted, entrenched and advocated. Yet society continues to degrade, marginalise and disrespect 51 per cent of its share. There has been a great deal ‘done’ for women. In Britain, during the 95 years since women achieved the vote, and 38 years since the sex discrimination act was passed, there have monumental changes and achievements towards eradicating the gender imbalance. But an underlying, undeniable, pervasive misogyny is consistently demonstrated, reinforced and encouraged.

On a national level the figures remain disconcerting; women account for 22.5 per cent of British MPs, 15.6 per cent of High Court Judges and 10 per cent of bank CEOs.[4] Furthermore, campaigns such as No More Page 3 demonstrate that whilst activists are willing to tackle inequalities, wider society has yet to recognise the abhorrence of commonplace objectification. As yet only 83,650 have backed NMP3, against The Suns circulation figures of 2,409,811.[5] On an individual level, sexism also remains pervasive, as demonstrated by The Everyday Sexism Project, which catalogues personal experiences of gender-discrimination. [6]

When such discrimination continues to blight the lives of women it reminds us there is still progress to be made. In recent weeks the release of Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘memoir–slash–”sort of feminist manifesto”’ on how to achieve success as a woman in the world of business has again demonstrated conflict and division. [7] Whilst some have celebrated her drive and tenacity, others have hailed her an ‘it-girl’, intent on flogging feminism in order to further her own career. [8] Perhaps Sandberg’s conception of female success and equality is limited to a somewhat elitist view. Indeed, her conception of what it means to be a feminist may be completely irrelevant to other working mothers who do not have the same life experiences as Sandberg.  But it should be enough that she calls herself a feminist, that she identifies with the movement towards gender-balance.

Society just needs feminists. It needs angry feminists, and quiet feminists, female and male feminists, young and old feminists. Society needs feminists in business and feminists in part-time unskilled labour. Feminism needs to be pervasive; it needs to become the new norm, the automatic setting. We need to stop questioning each other, questioning feminism’s proponents instead of its opponents. Feminism needs to be bold and determined; but equally may be underlying and measured. We all need feminism, statistics demonstrate this, and experiences throughout society reiterate this further. Equality works for all, whilst inequality degrades all. Society will not stop questioning, judging and exploiting women whilst feminism undermines itself. Feminism needs feminists who try and get along, for feminisms sake. It is a sisterhood after all, right?

Written by Eleanor Pierpoint

[1] Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York : Norton, 1963).

[2] http://www.how-tobeawoman.com

[3] Deborah Solomon, ‘Fourth-Wave Feminism’, The New York Times, 13 November  2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/magazine/15fob-q4-t.html?_r=0

[4] http://www.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/blog/entry/gender-balance-the-canary-in-the-mineshaft

[5] No More Page 3 http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/dominic-mohan-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3; The Sun circulation figures http://www.mediauk.com

[6] The Everyday Sexism Project, http://www.everydaysexism.com

[7] Belinda Luscombe, ‘Confidence Woman’ Time, 07 March 2013, http://ideas.time.com/2013/03/07/confidence-woman/

[8] Nisha Chittal, ‘On the Sheryl Sandberg Backlash’ 25 February 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nisha-chittal/sheryl-sandberg_b_2755348.html