Do you know the true meaning and cause of feminism? How is feminism still relevant today? Along with International Women’s Day, Sonia writes how we can #BreakTheBias for women.
“You’re a girl, you need to behave yourself.”
“You shouldn’t wear that outside.”
“You’re just a woman. Let men do the work.”
If you’re of the female gender, you’ve probably received these or similar remarks before. Women have always been told what we must do, what we’re capable or not capable of, down to the choices and ways we live. Till today, gender inequality is still evident. But why should we let others control our life and dictate how we’re supposed to live?
In conjunction with the 2022 International Women’s Day (IWD) theme, #BreakTheBias, let’s talk about what feminism truly is — to celebrate women achievements, raise awareness against bias, and stop the misconception of feminism.
The movement became a huge and controversial issue in the 19th century as women became more conscious about their rights and the sexist oppression targeted towards them.
Before we get in-depth into the history of feminism is, here’s what feminism means to some:
A movement to promote equal opportunities for both men and women.
A movement fighting justice for women in the social, economic, and political aspects.
A movement by women who faced discrimination to fight for equal rights and treatments as men.
Although some have an idea of what feminism is, not everyone truly understands the whole context of feminism. It’s often caused a stir among people because of the way media has portrayed feminists. Not only that, some have taken it to an extreme level to discriminate and hate on men instead, causing more misunderstanding to the true cause of feminism.
Feminism discusses gender equality for women and men. Women have always faced issues such as unfair promotion and wage discrepancy in the workplace, having their opinions brushed off as they're deemed insignificant, not being free to choose our own clothes, and the list goes on. In contrast, men have received better treatment than women a lot of the time.
Take for instance, in Malaysia, it’s only very recently in 2022 that Malaysian mothers are allowed to pass their citizenship to their overseas-born children, whereas the constitution has always allowed fathers to automatically confer citizenship to their children born abroad.
In essence, people must understand that the word ‘equal’ and ‘same’ doesn’t align on the same level of definitions. Hence, feminism isn’t about being on the same level on everything, but it’s receiving equal treatment despite gender differences. This is why we should be careful when interpreting words that may cause an unnecessary stir. This is because there are victims who may be suffering from excessive backlash or criticism due to misinterpretation of words.
Feminism has a long history from when it started during the 19th century when Abigail Adams, the first lady to President John Adams, saw how important is access to education, property, and voting in women’s equality. Thus, she started a rebellion in which she threatened her husband in written letters that came into action to call for greater freedom for women.
The 1st Wave of Feminism started with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, where abolitionists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott proclaimed the famous Declaration of Sentiments. Later on, the movement’s success started to show as countries gradually gave women the right to vote, with New Zealand in 1893, Australia in 1902, and later on Finland in 1906 and the UK in 1918.
The 2nd Wave of Feminism was after the 19th Amendment was passed and secured with suffragists’ efforts, like Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt, where women finally earned the right to vote. Many people referred to feminism as ‘women’s liberation’ during the second wave. National Women’s Political Caucus was founded by Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Bella Abzug. Steinem’s Ms. Magazine became the first magazine to feature feminism as a subject on a cover.
The 3rd Wave of Feminism later discussed the topic of who benefits from the feminist movement. This is because critics have asserted that white, college-educated women profited the majority of the advantages during the 2nd Wave of Feminism and that feminism has failed to address women’s issues throughout the globe in terms of colour, religion, class, lesbians, and others in minority groups.
In the 21st century, the #MeToo Movement and Women’s Marches can be seen evidently during the 2010s when many feminists critically point out prominent sexual assault cases and ‘rape culture’. The #MeToo Movement gained prominence in late 2017 after the New York Times publication of a damning investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made against influential film producer Harvey Weinstein. On the other hand, America’s ex-President Donald Trump confronted allegations and had about 3 million people protesting in cities across the globe at the same time, giving feminists a high-profile platform to advocate for full rights for all women globally.
With the feminist movement still ongoing and countless support, we should continue to #BreakTheBias. As the younger generations know, we should all embrace our differences in terms of gender, colour, and class. We can improve ourselves and make the world a better place for the future generations so people don’t have to constantly and continuously fight for gender equality.
The achievements of women aren’t intended to disparage males, but to emphasise that with gender equality, everyone has an equal chance to perform well without being overshadowed by others or forced to give up something because ‘women aren’t supposed to do such things’.
Malala Yousafzai, the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize nominee challenged the rights for equality on her personal mission to speak up for the rights and access to education for young women in her nation, Pakistan, due to the country's scepticism towards women. She generated countless headlines worldwide for the progress and equality of young girls, in Pakistan and globally.
Not only did she survive the Taliban attack on her for advocating for young girls' voices for education, she’s still advocating for social change for young girls and women today through The Malala Fund.
Celeste Chung, a young Malaysian-born youth activist for gender equality founded the non-profit organisation, Youth for the Future Organisation Malaysia (YFTF) at the age of 15 to provide a platform where people can learn and grow from. In her interview, she stated that despite there being several setbacks, it didn’t stop her journey in advocating for gender equality in education in order to show the world what women were capable of, which led her to the founding of her organisation. Currently, she’s actively advocating and empowering through volunteering to motivate youths to strive for a change.
Many Malaysian women like Pandelela Rinong, Heidi Quah, Dr Nur Amalina, Dr. Nur Adlyka, and more have also proved to break barriers and showed exemplary traits in Malaysian history.
Thus, in line with IWD this March 8, let’s continue to encourage gender equality. Along with the 2022 IWD theme, let’s continue to #breakthebias against women while celebrating the achievements women have made and prove that we’re capable of anything if we put our heart, mind, and efforts into it. We should also remember the true definition of feminism and not get carried away and change feminism’s true cause.
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