The F Word And Why It Matters To You
August 31, 2012
By: Victoria Finan
Congratulations! If you are reading this, chances are you are a student at our lovely university and had to pass all manner of exams/initiation ceremonies/voodoo rituals to get here. You’re at a university famed for its rabbits, its LCR and its infamous 5Ls (if you aren’t acquainted with them already, you soon will be). Welcome to UEA, I hope you’re going to love it!
But now it’s getting serious because I need to have a little chat with you all about the F word. No, I’m not talking about THAT word, although what you do in your own time is your own business (just, for the sake of your flatmates, keep it quiet). I’m not even talking about the word Fresher- you’re probably bored silly of rules and ‘how to’ guides by now. I’m talking about a concept that has been taking the world by storm for decades, that is sweeping across campus and that affects each and every one of you reading this. It is, of course, FEMINISM.
Oh yes, I know that some of you will already have your mouse hovering over the X button in the corner, but please wait, let me explain to you what we’re all about and why you’re probably already one of us. The ‘traditional’ image of a feminist that you may have in your mind is probably a lady throwing herself under the King’s horse in the name of ‘Votes for Women’ or a group of screaming women throwing their bras on a bonfire whilst discussing how long they’ve been letting their pubic hair grow for. And you’d be right- these women were feminists. But there are a thousand other types of feminist- and we want to knock the stereotype down. In its most simple form, A FEMINIST is someone who believes in GENDER EQUALITY. A person, male or female, who believes that men and women have the right to live their lives as equals in society. So, a couple of examples- that women who are doing the same job as men should be paid the same amount for it. That women should be allowed to wear whatever they like without being accosted for sex. That if a man wants to stay at home with his children, he should have the right to do so without being told that he’s not a ‘real’ man if he lets his partner be the main breadwinner.
All sounds pretty simple so far, right? I mean, who doesn’t want equality? Women can come to university and they can work in whatever career they choose? Surely feminists’ work here is done. If only it was that easy. Believe it or not, the gender inequality battle is raging on every single day.
Now, I’m going to address each of the sexes here. Girls: Have you ever been made to feel uncomfortable or that you’re ‘asking for sex’ because you’ve worn a ‘revealing’ dress on a night out? Have you ever looked down at a girl your age pushing a pram down the street because she’s not at university or having an amazing career? Have you ever spoke about a topic perceived ‘manly’- maybe football or cars, and felt belittled by others in the group who assume know nothing about it?
Boys: Have you ever made a rape joke? Have you ever told a woman to ‘get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich’? Have you ever felt society might look down on you if you go into what are perceived as more womanly careers, maybe teaching or nursing?
If you have answered any of these questions as ‘YES’, then maybe you’re beginning to see for yourself that gender inequality is still a very real problem in our society. The problems are even worse abroad- for example countries such as India in which Female Genitalia Mutiliation (the forced removal of the clitoris, the gland which is responsible for female sexual pleasure) is still commonly practised, or in the Middle East where a woman can still be stoned to death for committing adultery. We can’t change these terrible problems overnight- and it will need a huge force of people to stand up and say ‘THIS IS WRONG’ for anything to be achieved. So, whether it’s as simple as educating and empowering yourself and your friends or whether you want to change the world, are you ready to stand up and be counted? Are you willing to make a difference on your campus, in your country, in the world?
I hope for many of you, the answer to this question is a resounding YES. It’s time for the world to sit up and realize that both men and women should be able to achieve anything they like. If your lifetime goal as a woman is to be a mother, bake cakes and have a kitchen that looks as if Cath Kidston vommed on it- that’s great! Just make sure that it is your own decision and not one that has been forced on you. If you see yourself as a board executive earning some serious dollar and having a say in the higher echelons of a company, or maybe even running one yourself- that’s great too! Just make sure it is what you really want rather than telling yourself constantly that women ‘have to have it all’.
I have barely scratched the surface here and if any of what I say has interested you and you want to explore further, you’ll be pleased to know UEA (along with many other universities) has a very active award-winning Feminist society in which we discuss Feminism linked with topics as diverse as politics, the arts and the media- along with an opinionated yet friendly Facebook group which you are more than welcome to join. There are also some fabulous introductory books to the subject, with Caitlin Moran’s memoir-cum-feminist-rant ‘How To Be A Woman’ being a hilarious and accessible read, or you could even try one of Mary Wollstonecraft or Simone de Beauvoir’s seminal texts on the subject. Whether you choose to align yourself with the movement or not, I hope that this articles has made you pause for just a moment, move your mouse off that little X button and caused you to question what you can do to help achieve a world in which your actions and opinions and not your gender are the things that really matter.