Let’s start with an analogy:
Say you’re an equalist. You find yourself in a hypothetical cabin. In the cabin, you find standing in the center a table, and on it are two identical glasses of water. You also notice a jug of water sitting in one corner of the room. As you move closer to the table, you discover that one of the glasses is filled to the brim while the other is only half full.
Being the equalist that you are, you take it upon yourself to make the contents in both glasses equal.
Your first action, it would seem to me, would be to pick up the jug in the corner and fill up the half-filled glass.
You could pick up the full glass, if you don’t want to break a sweat and walk to the corner, and empty its content into the half-filled glass until both glasses hold the same content. (For one who’s interested potential maximization, this option would make little sense, as increasing the content of one glass would mean diminishing the content of the other.)
You could pour some the contents of the full glass on the floor until it equals that in the half-filled glass. (Which makes the least sense of the three options, seeing as you would be wasting content)
All in all, it seems obvious that, to achieve equality and without wastage, every effort of yours would be put into filling up the glass that is half full. It would make no sense, as an equalist, to immediately after encountering the glasses, walk out of the room with the conviction that both glasses are full or to pour the contents in the half-filled glass away. It would make no sense to assume that, given enough time, the content of the full glass would somehow seep into the other one until both are equal.
The analogy is simplistic, I know, but for the purpose of this conversation, it will suffice.
We hear people affirm everyday that they are all for gender equality, but they are not feminists. We all have that one friend that wears the gender ‘equalist’ tag proudly, but God forbid they go near feminism or even associate with it. Whenever the issue of discrimination towards women is brought up in a conversation, they’re quick to say, “Hey, men are just as oppressed too.” They usually appeal to personal experiences—being brought up in an egalitarian home/society, having no contact whatsoever with discrimination against women etc—during arguments.
To those people, I ask: What exactly do you mean when you say “I support gender equality but I am not a feminist”?
People who make these affirmations can be likened to the one who walks out of the cabin immediately after encountering the glasses, saying both glasses are equal. The truth is, to say that you’re a gender equality advocate but not a feminist would be to willfully ignore the calcification, over time, of discrimination against women based on their gender. To make such a statement would be to pretend to be unaware of the disparity between men and women especially with regards to education, economic sustainability, parliamentary participation, income levels, employment and a host of other indices. One might be wont to use personal experiences to negate or dampen the prevalence of discrimination against women in the society. Experiences sometimes conform with facts. Sometimes they do not. Your personal experiences alone, however, are not facts.
So here are the facts:
Ri Liu, a data visualizer based in Melbourne, started a very interesting interactive series in 2014, showing the percentage of men and women that attended secondary school in a given country since 1990. Liu used data from the United Nations Development Program’s 2014 Human Development Report. The disparity between male and female secondary education participation is saddening (confirming a 2005 BBC report on poverty and illiteracy that “women are more at risk of illiteracy with only 88 women considered literate for every 100 men”). Ri Liu also publishes graphs highlighting gender disparity in labor force participation, income participation and parliamentary positions participation.
The UN, in 1979, adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), thought to be the international bill of rights for women. Part of the text of the convention reads: “The Convention provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men through ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life – including the right to vote and to stand for election – as well as education, health and employment. States’ parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations. It affirms women’s rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children. States parties also agree to take appropriate measures against all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of women.”
The question the I-am-gender-equality-advocate-but-not-a-feminist individual should be asking is why the UN didn’t just stop after the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but went further to adopt a treaty specifically targeting women, seeking to address and eliminate every form of discrimination against them? I mean, surely, women’s rights were covered in the international bill of rights, right?
A lot of people see feminism as one bile-filled, attention-seeking, axe-wielding movement ready to take the head off the one who disagrees with it. And because of this perception, they miss the essence of the movement.
Feminists are not coming for your wives. No.
Feminism is not seeking to ruin your daughters. No.
Feminism is aiming to make both glasses equally full by filling up the half full one. It is trying to make men and women equal (have equal rights, have equal access to fundamental necessities of life; better health, education, income and economic viability etc) by throwing its weight behind women. To, therefore, say that you’re an advocate for gender equality but not a feminist is to subtly admit that you plan on doing nothing to bring about the equality you speak so proudly of.
I have no idea what on earth you mean.
Written by Godswill Vesta