You may remember that a year and a half ago I interviewed a selection of women on their experiences of sexism abroad (found here). I actually at the time interviewed around ten people, all who gave interesting responses that I’ve used in various anecdotes at dinner parties. I decided against publishing them all at the time to avoid repetition, but I’ve been thinking more about it recently as the last question I asked each of them was: “What are your views on feminism?”.
I was curious to catch up with these respondents almost two years later to see if their answers had changed. In the past year and a half we’ve seen high profile names jumping on the feminism bandwagon, from Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, to Emma Watson’s iconic speech in front of the United Nations.
So, has the perception of feminism changed? I caught up with a few respondents to find out…
Fiona, 23, is a PR executive from Nottingham who studied French and Spanish at the University of Leicester.
April 2014: “I consider myself to be a feminist in that I believe in equality and freedom”
December 2014: “Ha, that’s a very diplomatic answer! Maybe I was more reserved with my wording but I think the main idea is the same. There are a lot of crazy views out there when you look and it’s easy to get wrapped up in them. I try and be fair and give people the benefit of the doubt. Now I’m older I’m aware of sexism but also aware that I can rid myself of it by being really good at what I do (working for a technology company taught me that). There’s an element of injustice of course but the easiest way to get past it is by being so good that no one can criticise you for being female. I have more confidence to say things as I see them now but also the patience to let some unimportant things float by me. I do [consider myself a feminist]. A few years ago the feminist movement was quite angry, particularly on social media. I followed a lot of the more vocal people who would find something every few minutes to become enraged about and, while some of it was justified, a lot just felt like they were looking for problems. Realised that surrounding myself with negativity wasn’t doing me any good so I unfollowed and unliked all of the main offenders, including people I knew in real life. A lot of those voices are still out there but I think that the conversation is calmer now, more equal. Emma Watson encouraging men to join in was great since it needs to be a fight for equality for everyone. It might be that feminism feels different to me now because I’m older, maybe it hasn’t really changed. Things are changing for the better in some parts of the world but not in others, I do think that we are focusing on that more now which is good for us all.
Kayleigh, 23, studied Linguistics at University College London and currently works as a Marketing Executive in Brighton, England.
April 2014 response: I don’t understand how anyone can not be a feminist in this day and age! Women and men are equal and should be treated as such.”
December 2015 response: “I’m still very much a feminist. I think the internet has dramatically changed the way people view feminism – both for the better and the worse. It’s led to more people becoming aware of the issues women face in modern society, so it has amazing potential to win over hearts and minds in that respect. But it’s also very easy for opponents of feminism to start flame wars on social media, which reinforces non-feminist opinions in a certain proportion of society (‘LOL look at all these hysterical women making everything about them! Not all men do that you know’). I absolutely stand by what I said in April 2014, I still struggle to comprehend it when anyone, but especially women, say that they’re not a feminist. Anyone who thinks that feminism doesn’t apply to them is wrong, because it affects everyone, in the same way that racism, homophobia, ableism are issues belonging to society as a whole. Men have a part to play in feminism just as much as women do, and it’s time everyone started taking more responsibility for their actions, or their lack of action.”
Julie, 22, is studying languages at an English university.
April 2013: “I’m not really sure [if I’m a feminist]. I think a lot of men need to learn to respect women more! (not all) To be honest I think things like pornography can be damaging to views about women. Since coming to university I’ve become a lot more aware of feminism and why it exists. Whereas before I didn’t think it was very relevant and it wasn’t something I particularly cared about.”
December 2014: “Yes I would say I’m a feminist. It seems to be talked about in the media a lot more recently. Things like Uni Lass, Emma Watson’s speech at the UN… you generally just hear about it more often, which has changed people’s view of it. Maybe it’s become more socially acceptable. I still agree with what I said before, but I guess the fact I would now give myself the feminist label is the biggest difference.”
Bethan, 23 on New Year’s Eve, studied French and German at Cardiff University and is currently living and working full-time in Germany
April 2013: “I think women should have equal opportunities as men.”
December 2014: “I think my views on feminism are…complex and ever-changing. Sometimes I really, truly know what I believe and what my opinions are and then other times I have a gut reaction to something and I think “That wasn’t exactly a feminist-friendly thought.” It’s difficult for me to put into words about how I feel but I am definitely a feminist and am proud to be so. I think it is something that has to be discussed and discussed properly. I think the sharing of articles on social media opens up discussion into the subject but I think there should be real, grass roots discussions in school so that children don’t grow up fearing the word or associating it with bad things. It’s not an issue that will either be solved over night or ever disappear but through discussion and education it can be understood and change can and will be welcomed. I read through my answers [from April 2013] and I was cringing. Some of what I said was just me victim-blaming or deferring blame to women. I spent a lot of time on the Internet after my Year Abroad and read different articles and found [the social networking site] Tumblr. A lot of the stuff I read on Tumblr opened my eyes to the different levels of feminism, to the discussions revolving the issue and also, probably, shaped my beliefs a little more. I’m not a massive sharer of opinions and at the time I said what I believed was what a feminist would answer. I think it’s great that young women are standing up and saying “Yes I’m a feminist.” and making people discuss things. I wouldn’t say they’ve changed my perception but more affirmed it. When I answered the question I think I knew what feminism meant, I just didn’t want to be associated with the “bad press” feminism draws sometimes. I feel like I’ve changed more as a person now too. In April I would never have stood up and stated my opinions for fear of looking silly or making people dislike me but now my attitude is more: “This is what I think and believe. If you like it, great and if you don’t, it doesn’t bother me.”
SO: What can we see from this?
In my very mini survey I only interviewed independent, highly educated or intelligent, British women, so we can’t make huge assumptions. What we can see, however, is there is certainly a slight shift between feminism in 2013 and feminism in 2014. It’s starting to lose its ‘dirty word’ status, although perhaps only slightly.
When I see both men and women saying “bloody feminists”, or, the worst “feminists will want men to get pregnant next!” I grit my teeth and cry out with despair, especially because the terminology is just not understood. I’ve had talks with highly educated men who have told me “oh, equality isn’t a problem anymore”, or the complete contradiction in terms (and I’ve heard this a few times) “Of course I believe in equal rights for women, but I’m not a feminist.”
What we can interestingly note from the responses is how many of the April 2013 answers talked very neutrally whereas now many more responses discuss women, women’s views, and use the word feminism far more.
The world is changing, certainly, but is it changing quick enough? There are many areas of the world where women are still routinely oppressed, especially in male-dominated societies. Women certainly have less access to education, and 2014 Nobel Prize winner Malala is a prevalent example of the challenge for girls across the world to have access to an education. There are societies where women are forced into marriages and many countries where domestic abuse towards women is rampant, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Equally, there’s much to be done to help men achieve gender equality in certain spheres, especially in terms of suicide and domestic abuse. Men are routinely encouraged not to exercise ‘feminine’ traits such as expressing feelings which can be very detrimental. Men also struggle to fit archetypal roles of ‘dominance’ and are taught from an early age not to play with ‘girls’ toys’, that ‘pink is a girl’s colour’, and that women can wear men’s clothes, but men can’t wear women’s clothes.