Over the past century the feminist movement has achieved remarkable advances in securing equal rights for women in the West, but in other regions around the world women are still treated as second class citizens – or even goods and chattels. Millions of women in developing countries live with subjugation, domestic servitude, rape, violence, honour killings, harassment, genital mutilation and restricted education as societal norms. They do not have the rights to their own bodies, their own opinions, their own lives, and often are denied rights to property as well. They are denied basic freedoms that are accorded to men in those same countries without question.
This session will explore why these issues are not a battle for women’s rights but a battle for human rights, in the truest sense of the term, and why “grievance feminism” trivialises and sidelines the real issues of fundamental gender illiberalism.
While there are clearly still serious issues to grapple with in the West in terms of gender equality (domestic and sexual violence in particular), modern feminism has been hijacked and trivialised by un-meritocratic and bureaucratic quotas, obsession with politically correct language, and the confusion of sexism with misogyny. So much so that many young women now spurn the label of feminist, equating it with vitriolic male-bashing and stridency rather than the essence of female liberty.
In September last year, the newly appointed Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women (popular young British actress Emma Watson) said, ‘…the more I spoke about feminism, the more I realised that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.” Two months later a furore erupted across the West when a male scientist from the European Space Agency held a televised address on the history-making success of the Rosetta spacecraft probe landing on a comet for data-gathering and robotic exploration. The address was overshadowed by the scientist’s poor choice of attire; a shirt depicting cartoons of scantily clad women. Undoubtedly in poor taste, sexist and unprofessional. But not of sufficient significance to warrant a feminist storm of such magnitude that it eclipsed the incredible achievements in space.
This and other comparatively minor issues of sexism and gender inequality are re-defining feminism in a detrimental way. A wave of constant disgruntlement and offence alienates feminist supporters and downplays the humanitarian crisis faced by millions of women across the globe. We need to restore the feminist cause to its noble and libertarian origins: supporting equal political, social, economic and educational rights for women – everywhere.