What, do you mean I still need to call myself a feminist?

By Josie Swords | 28 Sep 12
Picture of graffiti that says "I Heart Feminism"

By Josie Swords. This piece is part of our September focus on Women’s Rights. See all of this month’s articles here.

“Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948.

I am university educated and work full-time as a public servant. All my life my parents have told me that if I work hard I will be rewarded by a merit-based system that sees people as people, not as a particular gender, race or sexuality. However, it’s clear to me that they lied.

As a human woman, born onto Earth in the late 1980s, the international community endowed me with a pretty decent set of rights through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (thank you Eleanor Roosevelt), and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination, also known as the Women’s Rights treaty. Topping it all off, the creation of UN Women in 2010 (amalgamating four UN bodies for women’s rights) established a super body to advocate for women and gender equality.

All of these feats could only have been achieved through a connected, energised global feminist movement that has spent decades upon decades making sure women’s rights and their equality to men – easily overlooked – have been given international attention. I define feminism as the movement for gender equality through upholding women’s rights. When feminism achieves its goal – gender equality – it will have made itself redundant.

On paper, it would seem that I wouldn’t need to call myself a feminist in 2012 because gender equality has been reached.

In response to the people who believe feminism is about taking things away from men, I beg to differ. In my experience, feminism is a tool than men can use to analyse their position in society and address issues facing their gender which hamper gender equality. For example, fighting for paternity leave, busting the belief that “boys don’t cry” and combating rape culture.

Closer to home, Australia provided me with a pretty good set of legal rights by the time I was born (great timing Mum and Dad). Since the late 1960s, legislation has passed to give women equality in the workplace and in their homes. One of the recent achievements for women in Victoria was the decriminalisation of abortion in 2008. On paper, it would seem that I wouldn’t need to call myself a feminist in 2012 because gender equality has been reached.

However, when I started in my graduate role, it was with full knowledge that female graduates earn $2,000 per annum less than male graduates when entering the workforce. If that’s not depressing enough, over the course of my career I can look forward to a 17.4 per cent wage gap with my male counterparts. And a glass ceiling. For no reason other than my genitalia (which I didn’t choose, by the way).

Want to run the world but can’t run the dishwasher? Pathetic.

As well as the financial deficit, I will also spend more of my “free” time getting ready to go to work than my typical male counterpart, due to expectations that women still exist to decorate a room. This underlying expectation means women take more time, use more products and spend more money than men to prepare for their workplace. On the other hand, men who groom too much are considered “unmanly” and generally, gay (not in a complimentary way).

Imagine what I could be doing with that extra time. Sleep, read the paper, or plot my next career move. Take the total accumulation of that time over my life and compound it with the prospect of doing the majority of the housework and childrearing compared to my male partner over my lifetime (statistics say this will happen), not to mention that birth thing, as well as holding down a job. And I’m expected to do it all because gender stereotypes say that women are “better” at those domestic things. I don’t care if I’m better at it than you buddy, I’d rather do my fair share and you can just lift your game. Want to run the world but can’t run the dishwasher? Pathetic.

I expect to be treated with dignity and respect. However, on the many occasions where I’ve spoken out against sexist behaviour, I get accused of being a “feminazi” and told to stop being so uptight. I wasn’t raised to put up with discrimination or behaviour that makes me feel unsafe or devalued – and I’m sure the majority of men in my community were told the same thing. However, I’m the one who’s looked down on for asserting myself.

On a daily basis, I deal with a multitude of factors on a personal level which hold women back all across the country despite an international and national framework which says I am technically equal.

By contrast, I jealously watch my male housemate get up 20 minutes before his tram leaves, shovel in breakfast, walk out of the house in smart but comfortable shoes, happily afford his tram ticket because he will rarely have to worry about gender-based financial exploitation and not give a thought to the safety of his sexual parts in public places. I envy him because he’s never been confronted by a society that tells him it is normal for him to feel less safe, less financially secure and less able to assert his wants and needs in his surroundings of his genitalia.

As a young woman who knows what my rights should be and believes that the world is a better place when men and women are truly equal, sometimes I look at all of the hard work of women’s rights campaigners before me and want to scream: “Seriously? I still have to call myself a feminist?”

Josie Swords is the co-founder of feminaust.org, a hub of robust and challenging debate from all feminists, pro-feminists and feminist-curious-ists. She is also the Chair of the Young UN Women Australia – Melbourne Committee.