We’ve had two months of 2017, and it’s been so far interesting. President Trump celebrated his first month in office, Victoria had it’s worst aviation disaster in thirty years and for the first time ever, my family went on our biennial India trip without me. Despite the many new challenges we’ve already faced, there is one topic still thriving in the undertones of huge political and social issues: feminism.
In the last three or so years, there has been a renewal of the movement. It is commonly referred to as ‘third-wave’ feminism (the first two being the suffragette and ‘burn the bra’ movements respectively). In its early stages, Emma Watson campaigned for equal rights as a UN ambassador, with the launch of her He For She campaign in 2014. It was informative and a solid attempt at doing the right thing. While there were instances where she brought up common feminist myths, she also hit the nail on the head more than once. She noted that feminism is not a ‘man-hating’ movement- that’s misandry- but rather a campaign for equal rights. She is theoretically correct. Feminism is a branch of egalitarianism- ‘the doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities’ (Google). Its essence is to give women the same rights as men, in a social, political, legal sense, where there are disparities. There are definite grey areas in our society that need a feminist perspective, but at least in the West, we are not in dire need of the movement. Despite the current narrative run by a lot of media, women in the West are not oppressed.
What a generalised statement. Who am I to discount individual experiences of oppression, or what someone feels is oppression? But I am looking at the broader picture because the counters to my arguments also look at the broader picture. And before I’m attacked, let me set something straight: I’m an egalitarian. I feel that a world where someone is treated better than the rest because of sex, class, race and more is unjust. Going by that standard of definition, then yes. I am a feminist. Unfortunately for many of my peers, I don’t agree with most of the arguments modern feminists bring to the table. My opinions aren’t new, but my experiences as a woman (growing up in a mostly female family, in all-girls schools in both India and New Zealand, and in female-dominated work spaces) have led me to counter the ‘oppression’ Western women face. The two issues that I hear about the most are the wage gap and the rise of a rape culture. The alleged wage gap is the elephant in the room for me, and an argument I’m almost afraid to tackle. But I’m insolent, and will do so anyway.
The wage gap argument says that for every $1 a man earns, a woman earns 0.77c. Dramatic, is it not? It is very easy to bring up that statistic to create impact. Still, I’d have to respectfully disagree. Economists have debunked this idea many times because it doesn’t consider the factors that lead to the overall outcome. Generally speaking, women prioritize different things to men. In my own experiences, majority of the women I know have chosen lower-paying jobs to their male peers. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. Among my friends’ circle, I see girls choosing jobs in teaching, nursing, writing, administration, marketing and other more female-dominated fields. Softer fields in comparison to construction, engineering, mathematics and so on. Two out of those friends- both slightly outside my direct group- chose engineering, a traditionally male-dominated field. Within my school year alone (in an all-girls school), the list expands in a similar vein. In my workplace, most of my colleagues are female. It’s a contact centre; you’re off your feet most of the time, you do a lot of talking and administration and you don’t really work beyond your set hours. Added to all of this is the fact that most women do get pregnant and go on maternity leave for extended periods of time. In the past year alone, our whole department has seen five or six such cases (and if you consider the window of women who are at the right age, in the right relationships and who are or are not planning for kids, then five or six suddenly seems very high). Furthermore, I’ve seen many women work part time, take less overtime and more leave to be home with their families than men. All factors that lead to a definite shift in overall value a person brings to the role, which eventually impacts their pay. Again, this is my general observation, and I don’t intend to offend those who make different choices to this. But don’t just take my word for it.
Time magazine, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Examiner and so many more highly acclaimed publications have put together their research to conclude that when the outside factors are considered, there is no question as to why there would be a ‘wage gap’. Most of these articles have been written by women. I don’t know whether that’s significant, but it’s an interesting point to note. Economist Claudia Goldin, scholar Christina Hoff Sommers, political commentator and attorney Ben Shapiro and many more have pushed for the counter-argument to modern feminism. As a lot of my readership do lean towards the left politically, here’s a little disclaimer- the latter two are acknowledged conservative personalities, but please don’t discredit them because of it. Their academic backgrounds and use of facts and logic is what prompts me to listen to them.
Ronda Rousey said it best when she was asked her opinion on the wage gap: “I think how much you get paid should have something to do with how much you bring in”. If we consider lifestyle, chosen fields of work, and other such factors, the 1:0.77 ratio shrinks to virtually nothing. For example, if a man and woman started studying to be a doctor in the same field at the same time, got to the different stages of their careers at the same time, put in the same amount of time, brought the same value and level of skill to the job as each other, then there would be no reason whatsoever for them to be paid differently. It’s all about circumstance.
The last argument I have against this idea of wage gap, is that it is illegal. In New Zealand alone, the Equal Pay Act in 1972 made it so that no one in the same field and same position would be discriminated against based on sex. If it is true that women are blatantly paid less than men, we’d see a load of employers getting away with the injustice and employing lots of women for a more cost-effective production.
Let’s now look at the second biggest issue, of ‘rape culture’. It’s a sociological idea that came about in the seventies. It suggests that as a society, we ‘victim blame’ women who are raped and have normalised and become desensitised to issues of sexual violence against women. Once more, I’d have to respectfully disagree. There have definitely been cases where rapists have gotten off on lenient punishments- as in the case of Brock Turner, for example- and people do still victim blame. Yet it is a small percentage and Western society as a whole agrees that rape and rapists must be condemned. Rapists are reprimanded (not to mention despised), and if they get away too easy, then the public responds in a ferocious way- again, as with Brock Turner. But we have not become desensitised to the plight of rape victims. We are sympathetic and angry on their behalf. We rally for them, spread their stories to raise awareness and spit at the monsters that violate them. Social media has been great in raising awareness and becoming a platform for people to speak up. It’s heartening to see people standing up for human rights. So no, the West isn’t a rape culture.
I’m someone who has grown up in both New Zealand and India- the East and the West. I can tell you now what a stark difference there is in the two cultures. My friends and I are able to walk up and down Queen Street in short dresses, make up and high heels after midnight and feel relatively safe. No one bats an eye, and if they do, well that’s the extent. My sister and cousin just returned from India and kept going on about how people stare when they are dressed in t-shirts and shorts in the middle of the day, in 30-degree temperatures. They noted men leering, and family members shaming their clothes. In the West, you’d be lucky to find people with so many clothes on in the midst of summer. There I went to a resort, and wearing a bikini was seen by many outside my group as immodest; yet here in New Zealand, we can happily joke about togs vs undies. There, a girl was raped and murdered in the most brutal of ways because she dared to go to the cinemas alone with a boy- that too at night. Here, the young couple next to me watching Iron Man can’t keep their hands and faces off each other. India isn’t awful, and the larger population are clearly strongly against rape. Yet it is a more common phenomenon there and sees a lot of blasé responses from a large enough group of people that suggests that it is normalised to a degree. It’s the opposite of the Western world, which leads me to say that we don’t live in a rape culture in the West.
The point I’m trying to get at is not that one society is better than the other (I’d still go running back to India on one leg if you asked me to), but that we don’t seem to count our blessings enough in the comforts of our Western bubbles. We forget that our culture is so against rape, we have even gone as far as convicting innocent men and robbing them of their futures because the alleged female victim said so. We don’t question it enough because if we do, we’re bad people. I don’t condone victim blaming and I certainly don’t condone rape. Yet I believe that fact-checking and investigation is integral in making any rational decisions. Question not because you’re a sexist doubting Thomas, but because you’re a seeker of absolute truth. And (to bring back a high school favourite), do the right thing, ’cause it’s the right thing to do.
While there are many more issues that I could address to counter feminism in the West, I think I’ll stop there (or we’ll be here forever). They are but two chunks of a diverse topic. Feminism is still needed in the twenty-first century, but beyond the Western sphere. In India, outside the main cities (and even sometimes within) women give dowries upon marrying. The practice of dowries is an outdated joke in the West, and yet it is still a reality for so many. In Pakistan we were recently shocked by the story of the honour killing of Qandeel Baloch by her own brother. Which one of your brothers would shame and kill you for being a social media star who emulated Kim Kardashian too much? At most you’d get a brotherly teasing. As much as I’m trying not to be, I’m becoming that person who tells you to forget your own worries because there are others out there who suffer more. I hate that argument because I always think that what’s a problem for one may not be for another- it’s just human nature. Yet in this case I’m willing to be that person.
The wonderful thing about feminism in 2017 is that we can do so much for it. Through social media, we can reach the world. Third-wave feminists are wonderfully passionate; just think of the change we could achieve if those passions were channeled outward to situations and people who need it most! Instead so many have manifested a Marxist notion that really turns them into their own worst enemy. It’s important to determine where the issues are and deal with them logically. So I ask you to look at your lives and count your blessings. If you want change, show it in your actions. Teach your children to treat everyone the way they’d like to be treated. ‘Stop making stupid people famous’ (if you disagree, you can cash me ousside, how bow dah?). Read the news. Be aware, calm and educate people. Don’t be condescending or ignorant, and practice patience. And you never know. You might just change the world.