Having reached the end of another year the feminist community is looking back on its successes and creating hopes and plans for the next twelve months. Will women finally gain equal representation in top jobs? Will we be able to provide safe spaces for victims of domestic abuse despite brutal cuts to services? Will at least one guy think twice before declaring that a girl is a number, rather than a human being? Will ‘make me a sandwich’ jokes go back to the 1950s where they came from, oh and the people that tell them too?
Can we stop at least a few young girls from looking at themselves in the mirror and hating what they see? Will more little girls play at being firefighters without being inundated with dolls this Christmas? Will more young boys be able to play with dolls without their parents snatching them away, for fear they may be gay? Can we stop thinking that being gay or a woman, or both at the same time, is some kind of flaw? Furthermore, will we stop telling young girls and women that they are to blame for abuse and harassment they experience, that the source of all that is bad in their lives comes from them being born with lady parts and that these parts are their hottest commodity, as well as being something to guard with their lives and the only measure by which we judge how much we respect them?
Various articles have popped up here and there discussing that 2013 was the best year for feminism, the worst year and everything in between. At one point, you’re convinced that no gender inequalities are going to stand in your way, that the world is on your side, then a few hours later revert to curling up on your bed, screaming into your pillow about everything in life that just seems to be out to get you. If nothing else, it was an educational year overshadowed in many cases by pure frustration.
So what have we learnt, or what has been reinforced, which we find so frustrating? If we haven’t learnt anything else about feminism and the fight against the patriarchy this year, we have revealed gaps in our own armour. The more we put up our own arms in defence against oppression, the more gaps we create between us until we end up squeezing our eyes tight, holding up our own shields and leaving space for our oppressors to get between us and strengthen our divides until we can hardly see or understand one another any more.
The patriarchy is a sneaky thing, it will ensure that we fight one another in order to do its own job. It is behind every rape, every sexist heckle, every ruler relegating women to second class citizens, every camp claiming to ‘cure’ members of the LGBT community, every film which puts great female characters in the shadows, every music video objectifying women of colour, every person telling people to ‘man up’ and every employer who gives a new father a mere couple of weeks to take care of a newborn while at the same time giving women more and ensuring that they are held down in their career as a result. Furthermore, it makes itself all the more powerful by making sure that we always have somebody else to blame.
Previously, when blatant, institutionalised sexism ran amok, it was clear what needed to be fought against. Blatant and institutionalised sexism, along with classism, racism, homophobia and transphobia, still run riot in society, yet so many who do champion equal rights, are left lost in a haze of discrimination coming from all sides, leaving those, who are not active feminists confused as to where they fit in and what they should be fighting against. We become our own enemies, we’re divided, we doubt ourselves and take those who are on our side down, meanwhile the patriarchy looks on, licks its lips and says ‘all the better to kick you when you’re down my dear.’
The words of wisdom of the year, for me, come from the mouth of a drunk, who, in the film ‘Catching Fire’ tells Katniss, the heroine of the story to “remember who the real enemy is.” We know who our enemy is, much like the ‘Capitol’ in the film, our enemy pits us against one another, whilst still giving us the illusion that we need and benefit from it. There is no single group of people who we can call ‘the patriarchy’, and there is no town in which they all live in together, celebrating their continuing abuse of anybody who is not white, middle class, male, heterosexual, where the chink of their champagne glasses, simultaneous back-scratching and ego-rubbing drowns out the sounds of the real world outside. But we can at least learn to identify how the patriarchy works as a concept and where to find it. It works by pushing the majority of us down, whilst shoving its ideology down our throats and letting us churn it out time and time again. Delegation, with the purpose of allowing the majority to do the work whilst the minority reap the benefits. The capitalist dream!
So now that we have achieved a state in which many will admit they believe in gender equality, how and why are we still spreading inequality, perpetuating stereotypes and pushing against ourselves, whilst the patriarchy pulls the strings, which are bound tightly to us? ‘Why’ is easy, most of us do not realise, or even tell ourselves that what we are doing is furthering a just society. How we do so is evident in our reactions to the oppression of others. Rape survivors are asked what they were wearing or how much they were drinking, perpetuating the myth that a rapist is a sex manic stranger, who simply attacks based on the amount of skin shown rather than to dominate. The focus seems to always be on ‘crying rape’ rather than actual rape. No wonder so many are not prepared to report their trauma. Female celebrities attack one another for showing skin rather than question what lies behind their decisions. Every woman in the spotlight is expected to be a role model and pounced upon as soon as they make a very human mistake.
Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself. Your body is for you and your boyfriend. It isn’t for every spunk-spewing dirtbag on the net, or every greedy record company executive to buy his mistresses diamonds with.Sinead O'Connor to Miley Cyrus
We buy magazines which still focus on ‘how you can please your man’, the ‘women’s’ sections of papers scold celebrities for putting on a few pounds, whilst telling our children to be thinner and more attractive. A fellow writer for the Wessex Scene summarised and highlighted why feminism is still relevant and was called the ‘white face of imperialist feminism’ for doing so. We regard others with nothing but suspicion and criticism, turning so intelligent, useful and essential debates into slanging matches. In reaction to the ‘Everyday Sexism Project’ the first words to come out of some peoples’ mouths questioned how many of these instances are made up – as if making up stories of harassment serves us any purpose. When a woman wants to vent about an issue which truly concerns her, she is met with a tidal wave of “so you think this only happens to you? Don’t you know that this happens to men too? Why do you hate men so much?” We would rather believe that something is a lie than face up to the hard truth.
If there is anything that we should take away from this year, it is to recognise that we are all in the same boat – though of course we all experience varying degrees of oppression – we are still standing on that boat, throwing bits of sail and deck at one another. In the next year, we should be focussing that energy into recognising similarities, breaking down the barriers between us, rooting the patriarchy out of its cabin and throwing it overboard.