The Sydney Feminists
Feminism: Frequently Asked Questions
This section isn’t especially long, because we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. There is already a fantastic Feminism FAQ blog that answers a whole array of questions over at ‘Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog’. We encourage feminists and those curious to learn about the movement to have a look through their website.
Why do people ‘become’ feminists?
People become feminists often in response to a stressful situation or period in their lives that “opens their eyes” to the institutionalised sexism in society. This can be after experiencing misogyny online, sexual harassment at work or even domestic violence in the home. Others come to feminism through education, such as taking a women’s studies course at university or reading a thought-provoking book like Germaine Greer’s famous ‘The Female Eunuch’. Whatever the reason, people “come to feminism” because they are no longer blind to certain problematic aspects of our society and culture and wish to challenge the status quo. They can do this in their personal live or by becoming activists.
What do people mean by “waves” of feminism?
The short of it: Women have been fighting for their rights for a long time, but it is only in modern history that an actual movement was acknowledged. “Waves” is a metaphor for the push for rights that occurred when a great number of women and their allies began to demand and create change. The first wave of Western feminism came about at the end of the 19th century when women advocated for the vote. These women were known as the suffragists and fought hard to win the vote in their country. The second wave of feminism occurred at the end of the 1960s and dominated the 1970s, as women became disgruntled with the demand for them to be both career women and homemakers without an adequate setup to accommodate them, (such as affordable child care, maternity leave etc.). Women were (and still are) earning significantly less than their male counterparts for the same work, and could not own property in their own name or even have their own credit card. Second wave feminists fought to attain these and many other rights. Third wave feminists came about in the 90s. It is debateable whether we are still in the third wave or whether we are now in a fourth wave. Third wave feminists demanded much the same as second wave feminists, but with a better understanding of the intersections between race, class and sexual orientation. Western feminism had (and to some degree still has) a reputation for being dominated by white, middle class women’s issues. Third wave feminism sought to address this by looking at the intersectionality between gender, race, class and orientation, and broadening the focus to be more inclusive of the unique issues experienced by different women. [Read more about the three waves of feminism here and here.]
What is “patriarchy”?
The Cambridge English Dictionary describes patriarchy as “a society in which the oldest male is the leader of the family, or a society controlled by men in which they use their power to their own advantage.”
There are many signs that we still live in a patriarchy, from the obvious male domination in key decision making positions (politics, business, finance etc.) to the small things (like the majority of women still taking their husband’s surnames).
When feminists are accused of opposing men, the counterargument is always that women are in fact opposing patriarchy.
Feminists do not hate men, but we do want to change the patriarchal society we live in to be more egalitarian.
Male violence against women is also a symptom of patriarchy and is at epidemic proportions. Globally, women aged between fifteen and forty-four are more likely to be injured or die as a result of male violence than through cancer, traffic accidents, malaria and war combined. [source: Unicef]
Society hasn’t always been male dominated and led. There is a fair amount of historical evidence that at varying times in various cultures throughout history, women and men held more equal power than they do in many countries today. [See our “Why Feminism is Relevant to You” article for more info on this.]
Feminists believe a society built on egalitarian principles would benefit everyone, including men, and so we are constantly fighting to change or dismantle the patriarchal structures of modern day society.
Can men be feminists?
Many men support women and share feminist beliefs, and so there are many within the movement that encourage and welcome men’s inclusion. Without male support for feminist goals, the movement would stagnate, as men are still the key power holders in society. Some people are fine with men describing themselves as feminists, whereas as others see it as co-opting the movement which was started and designed to prioritise the needs and aims of women. The term “pro-feminist” or “feminist ally” is used by men and women who prefer to leave the name itself for women only.
In short, men are needed in the feminist movement if we are ever to see significant change. As men hold most of the power and the top positions, they have the ability to create the changes that are necessary for feminist goals to be achieved. For this reason, amongst others, most third wave feminists welcome the inclusion of men in feminism.
[Check out Michael Flood’s piece on men and feminism].
Why does Australia need feminism?
Australia is considered a modern, first world country and so many assume that gender inequality is a thing of the past here. Indeed, Australia was the first country in the world to grant women both the right to vote and run for office (New Zealand was the first country to grant the vote to women).
However, the sad truth is that there are still many inequalities within Australian culture and society. See the “What is Feminism” page for some depressing statistics if you need proof! At time of writing, the Australian Bureau of Statistics published the latest research showing that the gender pay gap has increased from 17% to 18.2% and that "Intimate partner violence is the leading cause of preventable death, illness and disability in Victorian women aged 15-44 – more than smoking or obesity or illicit drugs or alcohol." [Source].
Australia has a pretty “blokey” culture, and attitudes towards women are still fairly regressive. One only needs to look at mainstream advertising to see how disrespected women are (although this is the case in many countries). Feminism is as needed in Australia as it is everywhere else in the world.