Is feminism still relevant today?

Asisa Singh and Bee Boileau debate for and against the motion

Yes

When the UK’s wage gap stands at 19.1% and 1 in 3 women have been sexually harassed at work it is apparent that feminism is still very relevant. The drastically lower wages women are paid for doing the exact same job as their male counterparts reveal the attitudes women in the workplace face: equally capable women are less well regarded and are passed over. This deters women from entering the workplace in the first place – after all, why would someone want to enter an environment in which they are constantly excluded, simply for their gender? When men and women are not treated equally and harassment in the workplace has become the norm, how can we say that feminism has served its purpose? Feminism is the movement that has allowed us to achieve so many things, such as the Equal Pay Act, which subsequently helped to reduce the wage gap. However, the injustices against which feminism is fighting are still prevalent, albeit on a smaller scale. Until women are treated equally in the workplace and are free from widespread harassment and objectification, feminism is incredibly relevant because these changes are much harder to bring about by individual people making small changes by themselves. Only by having an entire movement dedicated to equality can improvements be made.

Whilst there have been significant improvements in the last 100 years, misogyny is still ubiquitous: from cat-calling on the street to inequality in the government, these attitudes which objectify and demean women, can be seen throughout society. Women can now vote and attend school in the Western World; these are victories of the feminist movement, which unites people and organises the particular aspects of misogyny tackled in different areas. For many centuries, disorganised calls for change from individual women achieved very little – it is only by mobilising these calls that we have achieved change, and this is the way to continue achieving better rights for women. However, these are such basic measures of equality that to suggest that because women are no longer chained to the kitchen sink we no longer need the feminism movement to fight for equality only shows how much we do need feminism; to combat this perception that women should be grateful for these scraps they’ve been thrown, and that nothing more needs to be done.

In addition to the wage gap there is a severe lack of representation in public bodies. For example, women make up just 29% of MPs and just 20% of US senators, which is especially problematic when creating legislation impacting women. This could be seen when our very male dominated Parliament voted to continue classifying tampons as a luxury item, or the outrageous conditions surrounding getting an abortion in the US. When women’s needs aren’t represented in government or in business (women make up only 23.5% of board members in the FTSE 100) it makes it even harder to achieve equality. If women’s views and concerns aren’t taken into account when creating policies a society is created in which laws disproportionately benefit men. When we achieve more equal representation in public bodies it enables us to use the law to help women, rather than hold them back. We absolutely need feminism to fight for equal representation of women’s issues and to stop men overriding women to make decisions on predominately ‘female issues’.

Yes, the feminism movement is not perfect, but the changes it makes help women of all backgrounds and races. We need a movement to represent us and, whilst the origins of the movement may not be perfect, feminism has evolved since then. So, when there is equal representation for people of all genders; when I can expect to be paid the same as male colleagues for doing exactly the same work; and when women can walk down the street without being continually harassed.

Asisa Singh VI

No

Feminism has always been a movement for privileged, white women. Voting rights in the UK were at first only granted to women who had graduated from a university or who owned property; suffragettes in the US argued that the reason why white women should have the vote was that they would prevent black voters from having so much influence. Although feminism has indisputably brought significant advances in gender equality, these have always been granted first and sometimes only to white, middle/upper-class, heterosexual women.

In the United Kingdom, it has become difficult to define the objectives of contemporary feminism. The movement has fissiparous tendencies, spawning superficial campaigns against the phenomenon of “manspreading”, or the tampon tax, or the dangers of page 3. Different branches of feminism often have contradictory and prejudiced views. Radical feminists, such as Germaine Greer, argue that transgender women are ‘really’ men and that misogyny is the only real axis of oppression. White liberal feminists spend their time reassuring other white, middle-class, heterosexual women that it is still a Good Feminist Choice to wear makeup or take their husband’s last name on marriage, or protesting that women should be able to wear whatever they want (unless, of course, they are wearing a hijab or niqab, in which case they are being subconsciously oppressed and should be shown the error of their ways, as these feminists would wrongly claim).

No other axis of oppression has so mainstream a movement for equality, which is a distressing function of the hyper-education and articulacy of privileged women – their voices are prioritised. In fact, feminism often provides opportunities for conversations about issues such as racism and transphobia to be shut down, or at least derailed with comments such as ‘don’t pit women against one another’. Intersectional feminism at least attempts to make feminism relevant for a more diverse group of women, and recognises that there are multiple factors such as homophobia, classism, ableism, racism, and transphobia that can affect the way in which women experience misogyny.

However, it still forces all inequality to be looked at through the lens of sex and gender discrimination. Intersectional feminists are rightly concerned that non-white women earn less than white women, yet are unable to discuss the fact that non-white men also earn less than white women. They will acknowledge that bisexual women are significantly more at-risk from sexual violence than women of other sexualities, yet cannot properly address the fact that 40% of the UK’s homeless youth are LGBT. Oppressions that do not neatly tie into a point about sexism are merely ignored by adherents of what is now a very dated ideology, yet is the only mainstream social movement that addresses the problem of inequality. To properly address the problem of inequality in 2015, a new movement is needed: one that is able to fully address racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination without being a subset of the movement primarily focused on white, straight, middleclass women; one that does not carry the toxic, biased history of feminism; and one which is able to cater for all women at its core rather than as a side note.

Bee Boileau VI