OPINION: A Critique of Contemporary Western Feminism
By Kaitao He
The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the USU or the Pulp editorial staff.
On the eighth of March every year, International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women, as well as their vital contributions to our personal or professional lives and society as a whole. In addition to this, International Women’s Day commemorates the achievements of feminists and their efforts to improve society by promoting gender equality.
Many people in our society, particularly amongst today’s youth who were born into a world where female empowerment has achieved so much towards gender equality, argue that feminist issues no longer exist. That equal treatment has been achieved. That today, women are on par with men in almost every way. Though this isn’t necessarily true, it’s easy to see why people feel this way.
Whilst gender inequality and issues relating to it continue to exist in today’s society, the values of the traditional feminist movement are shared by many people in Western nations. It is now the norm to support traditional feminist values which include, but are not limited to, equal representation before the law, women’s suffrage and the right to access education regardless of gender and solidifying traditional feminist values into the core of our modern society.
According to the 2018 Australian Human Rights Commission report on gender equality, the presence of women on ASX-listed company boards grew from 8.3% in 2009 to 26.2% in 2018, and the domestic stereotype that women should be more involved in parenting is disappearing with 90% of Australians believing involvement should be equal.
So, if traditional feminism has been so successful, what does contemporary feminism aim to achieve?
Few people living in today’s society are able to escape the messages of contemporary feminists, whether it be through the news, magazine articles, blog posts, music or even YouTube videos. Contemporary feminism is a movement that raises awareness and places focus on topics such as abortion, the pay gap and workplace discrimination. This movement, emerging in its current form at around the turn of the millennium, has been extremely influential thanks to their embrace of the digital age and new forms of communication. But there is one, glaring issue.
Often times it feels as though the contemporary feminist movement has lost sight its fundamental roots. But more often, it feels as though contemporary feminism has taken the success of traditional feminism for granted whilst overlooking the lack of progress in gender equality across the world. The feminist movement has always been advocating for progress and will continue to do so, but it is important to remember that whilst we as a society are able to move forward, many foreign nations are stagnated and continue to harbor antiquated gender ideals.
The notion that marital rape against women could be legal in the second most populated country on Earth, India, is absurd, especially when juxtaposed against societies like Australia, sending a powerful message about the progress of international feminism. This is exacerbated by the fact that many other countries, such as Singapore, have similar laws to India regarding marital rape. As recently as 2010, the World Health Organisation recognized that “honor killings, female genital mutilation, trafficking, restricted mobility and early marriage” still plague nations across the world and have yet to be resolved. Moreover, a 2013 United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report on girls’ education found that “31 million girls of primary school age out of school” as opposed to 27 million boys, and “two thirds of… illiterate people in the world are female”.
It is easy to forget that we live in a privileged society where the freedoms of speech and thought are guaranteed and where the majority of people are able to spread their opinions across the world in a matter of seconds using modern technology. With these powers come the ability to help others who need it. Countless organisations have been created in recognition of the discrepancies in gender equality between countries and aim to improve the lives of and empower women, such as One Girl, a Melbourne based charity which works to improve the quality of education for girls in Sierra Leone and Uganda. Commit 2 Change is another organisation that helps improve educational access to girls in india. More broadly, organisations such as United Nations Women and the International Women’s Development Agency raise awareness for gender inequality and female empowerment.
This International Women’s Day, let us continue to celebrate the success and progress of traditional feminism, and let us continue to commemorate the contributions of women to our lives and society: but let us also start focusing on gender equality as a global issue.