“Feminism” was declared Word of the Year 2017 by Merriam-Webster. Undoubtedly, in 2017, women’s voices reverberated. Women have marked the year on various fronts, from the phenomenally successful Women’s March, which saw more than a million participants in the US alone, to the sexual harassment scandal in Hollywood which gave birth to the MeToo movement around the world and the year ending on the highly symbolical arrest of Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, who refused to remain silent in the face of Israeli occupation. Feminism remains, however, an issue that still divides.
As early as the 18th century, women, such as Olympe de Gouges and Mary Wollestonecraft wrote extensively to champion the social and national rights of women. As time and centuries went by, women became more assertive of their rights and began to demand that the establishment recognise them as fully fledged members of society, and as independent beings who refuse to have every aspect of their lives regulated by others than themselves, in different parts of the world. Each period saw a different set of reclamations from women. While the win of the women’s suffrage marked a major turning point in Europe and the States, women continued to campaign for different rights, in the face of inequality.
As subsequent writings and protests show, the core fight of feminists is not to be against men but to enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men. For too long, women have not been invited to the conversation regarding their roles in society, their rights and their access to opportunities, when they are no less capable or intelligent than men. Decisions were being taken about them without any consultation with them, which is why at some point women have had to force their way in the conversation.
Today, thanks to previous feminist movements, women’s empowerment has grown by leaps and bounds, with still a lot of work to be done. However, many women today do not hesitate to proclaim themselves as “not feminists”, as if the trend is for a woman to be scared of feminism. When asked why, the response generally stems from the misunderstanding of the term. Perhaps the counselor to the American president, Kellyanne Conway’s famous declaration in February 2017 of feminism being “anti-male” and “pro abortion” is the most common misconception among many.
Merriam Webster perfectly defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests”. Thanks to the battles fought by women of the different waves of feminism, women of today have choices, regarding various aspects of their lives. However, women who choose to stay at home or not, women who choose to get married or not, women who choose to have children or not, find themselves having to justify or defend their choices to none other than…other women. This makes for a deplorable situation as women should be the first ones to support each other.
To be a feminist today, means to stand up for the rights of women, to defend other women in the face of adversity, to raise awareness among men about the importance of the rights of women. To be a feminist today means not reject feminism completely because it would mean rejecting the freedom that one has today to precisely voice out and taking for granted the rights and opportunities that are still denied to so many women around the world. Most importantly, to be a feminist today, means to stand in solidarity with women, irrespective of their choices, regardless of one’s gender.