What’s the face of feminism?
Feminism has had many faces over the years. We’ve had Mary Wollstonecraft, Emmeline Pankhurst, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, and Naomi Wolf.
But the new face of authentic feminism, I’d argue, is a sixteen year old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai.
Much of the critique of feminism in Western countries and among Christians is that the battle has been won. Women have rights, right? So what more could they possibly want?
This makes me angry. Very angry.
Malala Yousafzai lived in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, overrun by the Taliban. When she was eleven, the Taliban issued an edict that girls could no longer attend school. With her father’s support, Malala went to school anyway. She began campaigning for the right to education, particularly for girls and was featured in two New York Times documentaries for her outspoken activism. When she was fifteen, she was shot by a member of the Taliban. Unconscious and in a critic condition, she was flown to Birmingham for surgery and amazingly, survived. On her sixteenth birthday, she addressed the U.N.
Dear friends, on 9 October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too. They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed… we realise the importance of light when we see darkness. We realise the importance of our voice when we are silenced.
In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realised the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. The wise saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It is true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them.
Malala’s story has achieved international prominence because her father is a well-known activist, she is incredibly articulate (and English-speaking) and her oppressors are practically a byword for evil. It’s an easy story to tell and an easy one to sell.
But what about the hundreds of thousands of women sold in sex slavery every year?
Or the millions of girls aborted simply for being girls?
These sort of everyday evils often escape our notice. This is in part why we need feminism.
Anyone who says feminism has achieved its purpose has clearly never bothered to remove their head from a certain nether region. Because if they did, they would see that women are still overwhelming disadvantaged and oppressed throughout the world.
And it’s that “throughout the world” bit that really matters. If the only women who mattered were white, western, and middle class then yes, maybe feminism could tone it down a little. Maybe you could argue feminism has achieved its major objectives. But most women – yes, most – still lack the sort of freedoms my friends and I take for granted every day.
This has been the major achievement of third wave feminism. (What’s third wave feminism, you ask?) It’s tempting to dismiss the third wave for promoting promiscuity as empowerment. I know I certainly hate that aspect. But one undoubted good of third wave feminism is that feminism began critiquing itself and feminists realised that they often neglected the equally important vectors of race, class, and ethnicity in shaping disadvantage.
With the third wave, feminism truly went global.
And by God, it needed to.
Obviously, it is impossible to capture the personal experiences of half the planet. Still, a few stats might be in order just in case anyone thinks feminism is redundant in our world today.
- Women make up around 70% of the world’s poorest people.
- Women earn about 3/4 of the pay the men do for the same work.
- Women aged 15-45 are more likely to die or be maimed from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.
- 70% of women murdered are murdered by their husbands or long-term partners.
- 130 million women have undergone genital mutilation.
- Women make up around 80% of all people living in slavery today.
- 1,000 women die unnecessarily from childbirth every day.
- Due to sex-selective abortion and infanticide, about 100 million girls have been killed and sex ratios dangerously unbalanced.
These, I gathered from the website Half the Sky, the addition to the book of the same name which you should all read. As Half the Sky points out, while discrimination can be a real problem in many Western countries, it is rarely lethal. That is not the case in the rest of the world.
“In India, for example, mothers are less likely to take their daughters to be vaccinated than their sons – that alone accounts for one fifth of India’s missing females – while studies have found that, on average, girls are brought to the hospital only when they are sicker than boys taken to the hospital. All told, girls in India from one to five years of age are 50 percent more likely to die than boys of the same age. The best estimate is that a little Indian girl dies from discrimination every four minutes.”
– Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, 2010, p. 39
This pattern is evident across the world, particularly in places of conflict and/or scarcity. When societies who value men above women suffer, women suffer more because they’re not as “important” or “useful”. It’s appalling but irrefutable logic.
But I’m not just a feminist because women are still oppressed and disadvantaged throughout the world.
It might be dangerous being female in the world today, but we females are also dangerous. Women aren’t merely victims, we are also the solution.
I’m a feminist because I believe empowering women is the quickest way to change the world for the better. Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he’ll eat for the rest of his life. But teach a woman to fish and she’ll feed her family, her village, and heck, probably her nation. According to some research, “for every dollar a woman earns, she invests 80 cents in her family. Men, on the other hand, invest around 30 cents.” (Again, from Half the Sky website) Women are also far less likely to spend money on alcohol, drugs, sex or other vices.
Women, with their focus on family and better impulse control, are the untapped resource in the war against poverty. And we are only slowly waking up to this. Women are strong, powerful and we can change the world for the better. We are dangerous.
I’m a feminist because the world is bigger than my backyard. The future of feminism belongs to the Malalas of the world, not the Mileys.
She is why I will call myself a feminist.