Writing an article on feminism makes me feel as if I should have been a member of the band, The Brave and Foolish, founded by the elder son of a very good friend of mine. After all, I am elderly, white, English-speaking and male, one of those, who feel that they rule the world, however mistaken they are in such beliefs.
Wikipedia tells us that feminism is “a range of political movements ideologies and social movements that share a common goal: to define establish and achieve political, economic, personal and social rights for women.” Furthermore, it seeks, “to campaign for women’s rights, including the right to vote, to hold public office, to work, to earn fair wages or equal pay, to own property, to receive education, enter contracts, to have equal rights within maternity, and have maternity leave.” Now all of that is very worthy and prompts surprise that in 2017, just more than half of the world’s population continues to have such battles. Political systems as they exist around the world, societal norms, but above all major religions, especially the three ‘great’ monotheisms deem the female sex to be the lesser of the two.
There are several important issues which adversely affect women all over the world and it would seem necessary for them all to coalesce around these and seek to change them. However, feminism, like so many other movements, has split into many factions that waste as much energy on fighting among themselves as pursuing the major goal, which must surely be to trim the sails of the patriarchy. I find it curious that so many similar movements subdivide in this way. Socialism, for example, is similarly fractured. Christianity has divided into more sects than there are days in the year. Each of them argue over tiny points of order and doctrine – which are quite incomprehensible to outsiders – rather than getting on with their major tasks. It is distressing to observe that feminism has chosen the same route.
If I were a woman, I would seek to attack existing political systems, major religions and matters to do with health the family. There is still a small handful of countries in which women are not allowed to vote. Female enfranchisement has in all cases followed men’s entitlement to vote. The ruling assemblies worldwide are still largely dominated by men and relatively few women have ever been heads of state or leaders. The few that have made it have been very successful: Golden Meir, Indira Gandhi, Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher and Helen Clarke come to mind. Several Western countries have put into place measures to try and increase the number of women members of Parliament and the trend is upward but still moving very slowly. A good deal of research points out that where several women are present in assemblies or on committees, the debate is generally more civilised and productive.
The same observations apply to company boards, the number of female CEOs, chancellors of universities and similar organisations remains small. Men are greatly overrepresented as holders of such posts and members of such panels. Again, female representation is growing, albeit slowly. Women have a great deal of work to redress these imbalances and if I were one, I would seek to contribute.
As a woman, I should vehemently object to men being paid more than women for carrying out the same work. There does not seem to be any possible logical explanation for this, but overall, women’s wages are about 80% of men’s. This gap is also slowly closing but it is one that could be slammed shut overnight.
The principal religions worldwide are almost all dominated by men, who justify this state of affairs by reference to Scripture. Most branches of Christianity have strenuously fought against the idea of female priests and especially female bishops. The justification for this comes from the fact that Jesus of Nazareth chose only men to be his apostles. There are Bible verses which state that women have no business to teach men. The Koran holds that the testimony of a woman is only worth half of that of a man. It mandates that the inheritance of a woman should be half that of her brother. Islam has strict rules about female dress and whether or not women can leave the household unaccompanied by a male relative. It even mandates the circumstances that should be applied to corporal punishment for females. Orthodox Judaism is not free from such lunatic ideas: women are obliged to shave their heads and wear wigs after marriage. The government of churches and mosques and synagogues is almost exclusively in male hands.
Many societal attitudes flow from these religious practices. In many parts of the world honour killings are common. Family and tribal honour are frequently measured in terms of their daughters’ hymenal integrity. Where women raped, for example, the family honour is sullied and the only way to remove the stain is to kill the woman. Forced and arranged marriages are still common which means that a girl has little or no say in who is granted the right to invade her person in the most intimate fashion. Female genital mutilation is still widely practised in many parts of Africa and the Middle East. Often, this entails having parts or all of one’s external genitalia hacked off with a rusty, sardine tin lid. There can be no possible justification for such barbarism and it seems to be carried out because men have been taught by custom not to accept uncut women as brides.
As a woman, I would work hard to change the antique beliefs that stem from religion and from the equally outmoded customs that have been derived from it.
Turning lastly to family and health matters, I would find it hard to understand why access to education was not equal for both boys and girls. Much research has shown that the fastest way out of poverty is to raise literacy levels in women. In places where women are educated, birth rates drop, the overall health of the family improves progress becomes possible. There are still far too many places worldwide where society works hard to prevent girls from attending school. The story of Malala Yousefazi, a young woman who was shot twice in the head by a member of the Taliban on her way home from school illustrates this point all too vividly.
As a woman, I would expect to have unfettered access to abortion services, impartial and expert contraceptive advice and access to the morning after pill. I would expect such services to be delivered professionally and not at all subject to the conscientious considerations of the healthcare professional concerned. I would consider that it was my entire right to determine the number and the spacing of any children that I bore. Were I to get married and then divorced, my wishes about the future welfare of my children should be paramount in almost all circumstances. It is pretty well established that the future well-being and mental health of very young children separated from their mothers are often imperilled. I see no particularly good reason, other than custom, why a woman and her children should automatically adopt her husband’s name. In many progressive northern European countries, this is no longer the case.
The list of issues outlined above is almost certainly incomplete. However, political equality, educational rights, freedom of and from religion, access to female centred healthcare and equality in matters of employment and remuneration would not be a bad start. I am not quite sure under which heading to include the matter of female attire. It is still the case in 2017, that men feel that they have a right to determine what women wear! There have been recent reports in the British press about certain companies demanding that their female employees wear high heels, tight clothing and that they refresh their make-up several times during the day. It is quite obvious that the management of such companies consider their brand will be improved by having sexy looking girls in the front office. Such practices are illegal in the United Kingdom but are, nonetheless, still widespread. I have not learned about companies requiring male employees to sport codpieces.
February 5 2017