Can feminism survive the next generation?
We need feminism. It has given women the vote, given women control over their own destiny, given women the independence and rights they deserve.
Feminism is a powerful force for good; it is the mechanism for total equality between men and women. However, feminism is also in crisis. Not only does it have a long, long way to go before it reaches its goal of complete equality, it suffers a negative image among young women, and men, for whom it should be a rallying cry.
It is an image that prevents the movement being much larger than it already is; an image that is pushing the date of total equality further and further into the faraway future.
Sixteen-year-old socialist Ben Stevens is a perfect example. He says “when I hear the word feminism, I think of what can only be described as radical feminists”. He is, however, passionate that “men and women should be equal”.
This sentiment is, perhaps more worryingly, echoed by many of Ben’s female peers for who feminism is arguably more important.
Amber Shepherd, also 16, told me “I don’t like classing myself in that way, I mean, more women should be in roles of power to fix that [inequality], and I want to be successful in the profession I choose. But in all honesty, I get confused about feminism.”
Another 16 year old girl, Beth Lewis captured the problem of feminism in this generation perfectly: “I think women should have equal rights. But I’m not a feminist. I’m not a man hater, y’know?”
Clearly, if we want equality, feminism must reinvent itself. The wider feminist movement must show that it is still relevant, that there is still a fight to be had, and that any woman or man is welcome to join. One of the most pressing issues surrounding feminism is the idea that feminists are man haters.
Anyone who remembers, (or is experiencing), their teenage years will certainly remember, probably with a little embarrassment, that one of the major parts of being a teen is ‘dating’. We can smash the patriarchy into tiny pieces but no amount of smashing is going to get rid of the haze of hormones we suffer in our teens.
The vast majority of teenage girls just aren’t going to sign up to a movement if their perception is that it involves hating men and refusing to shave their legs. Of course feminism isn’t and shouldn’t be about hating men, but this image is very real and needs changing immediately.
Similarly, the idea that to be a feminist you have to look and be a certain way is nonsense. Shaven legs, unshaven legs, straight, gay, old, young, male, female: if you believe men and women aren’t and should be equal, congratulations, you’re a feminist.
One of The Independent’s flagship columnists Laurie Penny told me how she thought young people we beginning to embrace feminism: “Feminism isn’t something you are, it’s something you do – and right now young women everywhere are beginning to understand that the fight for a world where gender is not destiny is far from over.
“There’s a backlash on against women’s sexual and economic freedom, and it starts at school, as we’re growing up, wherever young women and girls are told to quiet down, to ask for less, to cover ourselves up, to take up less space, to do as we’re told, to narrow our horizons and be ashamed. Fortunately, that’s the sort of nonsense the next generation seems far less prepared to swallow,” she added.
Feminism is not dead. The vast majority of young people are feminists, even if they don’t identify as one. Feminism just needs to shake off the negative image it appears to suffer amongst many young people and march proudly into the future, smashing through that glass ceiling right after it has smashed through its own poor image.Tagged in: feminism, feminist, generation, generation y, generation z, girls, school, women
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