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2014 is being heralded by many as a fantastic year for feminism. From Malala Yousafzai winning the nobel peace prize to Emma Watson’s UN #HeForShe campaign gaining widespread media coverage. Feminism in 2014, if nothing else, has opened up the door for a wave of discussion about the injustices that still exist in the world. Many others have also been chiming in on the best way to make positive change towards gender equality, with wide ranging opinions on the best way to ensure equality for all genders. This has been echoed in Lancaster too, with the LUSU boycott of The Sun and the self-defining requirement of the newly established liberation positions. This is still bringing in opposition by some, despite being seen by others as methods of seeking a fairer society. Some fear that these moves are dampening free speech, alienating people who are just trying to help and making us come across as pedantic when there are much bigger issues we need to be facing. I believe that this stance rests on an assumption that equality has for the most part been gained in the western world, and if we were only a bit more polite and a little less alienating to men we could go the whole hog. This not only universalises the feminist struggle, where equality is seen to have been met because middle class cisgender white women can have a career now, but also disallows women from challenging the sexism we face every day in all of its forms.
I never see men at Lancaster as passionate about gender equality as when they find out that they cannot run for the Feminist Society’s president position. Men who would have never considered stepping foot into one of our meetings suddenly become gender equality crusaders who believe we’re the sexist ones and that we’re ruining it for the real feminists who just want equality for everyone. What disappoints me most, but doesn’t surprise me, is that those who oppose this very rarely actually want to learn about the real misogyny that continues to affect women, or get involved in activism on campus. This opposition sends feminist groups a clear message: they do not really care about feminism, they only care when they lose out. Men may be alienated by the idea that they cannot run the society, others may be alienated by this too, but many fail to consider the realities that many women all over the world face in being able to lead groups of their own and have their own space in a world that alienates them. I believe that the more women are able to lead movements as a group, discuss this issue as a group and shout their feelings from the rooftops, the more we will be heard.
Many argue that if we believe in equality our movement needs to give everyone equal opportunity to be involved as much as they wish, but this ignores the fact that women are put at a significant disadvantage throughout their lives. This disadvantage is often perpetuated in subtle ways: from the language we use, the toys we are encouraged to play with, to the way we are told we’re supposed to feel; but it all contributes to a society in which women are told they should not be angry, assertive or exhibit qualities that can truly challenge those who belittle us. The patriarchy creates a false gender binary of men and women, where one is supposed to be the opposite of the other. Within this world, it is often acknowledged by feminists that there are expectations about “correct” masculinity too, and those who do not conform to these ideals can find themselves struggling against a world that does not fit them. But women are structurally subjugated to a far more extensive level, to an extent that today we still struggle to get into leadership positions, still take the majority of caring roles and still experience extraordinary levels of gendered violence.
In light of this, Women’s liberation is fundamental to the feminist fight and should be led by women. We also need to acknowledge that women are allowed or feel able to be leaders in very few spaces. Women often have to be encouraged to take up leadership positions, whereas men see those leadership qualities within themselves. Because of this, it’s important that women are the leaders of their own movement, and it is equally important that women are vocal when they do. Otherwise, we still remain in the confines set up by those who wish to oppress us.