Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Are we wasting our time with feminism?

Am I wasting my energy by banging on about feminism?

From trying to ban the boobs on page 3 of the Sun to putting a woman on British banknotes, there are more feminist causes and campaigns than you can shake a phallus at. But are we barking up the wrong tree?

Women in the west

There is an argument that feminism has done a lot of its work. Women are doing pretty well (in the west), so we should focus our energies on other issues and inequalities.

And it's true that in a lot of ways things aren't really that bad - women in the UK are entitled to free education, to maternity leave, we can drive cars, have our own bank accounts and own our own homes.

Women in the UK have more or less equal rights with men, even if we don't quite have equal opportunities, but that doesn't mean that the work of feminism is done. Sexism is still rife. A CMI White Paper on Women in Leadership this year found:

  • Women earn on average £423,000 less than men in similar careers during their lifetimes
  • 47% of the workforce is female, but only 32% of managers, directors and senior officials are women
  • Only 15.6 of directorships are occupied by women on the FTSE 100
  • Women receive less than half the bonuses than their male counterparts (£7,496 compared to £3,726)

Choosing a cause

There may still be work to be done before we have complete equality, even in the UK. But could our efforts be put to better use elsewhere? Should we put the feminist agenda to one side and be championing human rights or the eradication of poverty instead?

If you follow the logic that there are more important things to support, putting issues in a hierarchy, then we'd end up only ever championing a single cause - the one at the top of the hierarchy.

We'd have to decide a single topic that is most important and pledge our support only for that. Would you choose cancer or world poverty?

More than just helping women

Of course, feminism is intimately connected to a lot of the most important causes - to name but three:
  • Education - girls are more likely than boys to be denied this
  • Violence and abuse - women are more vulnerable to this
  • Poverty - childcare means this often has a bigger impact on women than men
Pursuing feminist aims can have huge benefits - for example, educating women and improving their employment opportunities can help lift both them and their families out of poverty. This means that feminism does much more than helping women - it can positively benefit everyone, including men. 

Women may be doing OK, but we still need to pursue a feminist agenda, because it's only fair that women and men have equal rights and opportunities, but also because by providing these things we can improve life for women, men and children in so many other ways.