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Follow-Up: The Benefits of Feminism and Shaking the Stigma of the 'F Word'

October 19, 2017

 OFFICE OF THE MINORITY LEADER VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

 

The most recent focus of the Bridge the Divide community has been feminism and its importance across the political spectrum. In her follow-up to weeks of discussion Dalya Al Masri gives a wide range of thoughts on feminism including the real-world benefits of women in political positions, the ideological transitions between send wave and third wave feminism, the stigma towards feminism and how to stop it, and  women's rights across the globe.

 

The progression for women’s involvement in society has been slow and steady. Although voting rights have been established in many countries for decades, female politicians have only recently become regulars in major parties' presidential nominations. Decades of slow progress culminated last year in Hillary Clinton’s presidential nomination. Nonetheless, while women make up a quarter of state legislators in the US, the contribution of women in major political positions remain disproportionately low.

 

For centuries, women have been the target of sexism and inequality, seen as reproductive machines. In the American political arena, women make up around 19 percent of all members of Congress and less than 25 percent of all state legislators. The expansive history of politics has been tainted by the inequality and disinvolvement of women. Feminist agendas are political movements for reform in specific settings. They foreground women's concerns, perspectives, and efforts to be recognized as integral members of their respective societies.  Thus, the history of feminism is a gendered narrative of political history that goes well beyond adding a comment on fashion. It necessarily expands the very meaning of political and of what constitutes politics.

 

There exists a notion that women are unfit to handle political matters in governmental institutions based solely on their gender. Where is the fairness in such a claim? Why is the female gender subject to such chauvinism and prejudice? This is a truly unpragmatic source of commentary. The issue does not pertain to a lack of qualified or educated women, but men who hold government positions who are hesitant to hire them, prolonging the cycle of male dominated patriarchy.

 

The shift from second wave feminism extended to legal and institutional rights for women. In addition to these institutional gains, third-wave feminists believe that there needs to be further changes in the stereotypes, media portrayals, and language that defines women. Their purpose is to celebrate diverse identities and abandon the "victim feminism" ideology enforced in second wave feminism. The goal of feminism, especially in the political system, is to work towards equity and equality.  It is about educating people on systematic oppression and easily forgotten privilege. Feminism isn’t about making people feel bad or specifically targeting men because they have grown up with a certain level of privilege; it is a term that encourages diversity and racial, disability, and sexual parity, opening the chance to adjust the mindset of today’s society.

 

There is a stigma against individuals who claim to be feminists. They are rendered with attacks by society that conceptualize feminism as a platform that hurls verbal abuse towards men. This is far from accurate. Releasing the distaste attached to “the F word” is far more important than most people realize. It is increasingly vital in politics and the creation of policy.

Women have been struggling to break into politics since it became legal for them to hold office. Whether it is the issue of getting women to take their own stand on an issue that predominantly affects them, or running for office, female political participation has always been an issue. This issue is intersectional, affecting women of every class, race, sexual orientation, and nationality differently. Women of color make up 13.8% of state legislatures. This percentage is significantly lower for queer and disabled women, so if we view feminism as encompassing all women, we must also understand the privilege Western and European woman hold over women of color.

 

Why is feminism so important in politics? Women add elements of collaboration and cooperation. On average, women sponsor and co-sponsor more bills than men do and enlist a great number of co-sponsors. Feminism works to demonstrate that women can hold paramount positions in our political arenas. When women of diverse backgrounds hold offices, issues typically left out of discussion are finally addressed, such as reproductive rights, childcare, and labor equality. Issues concerning women cannot be tackled if enough women do not possess political roles. It is time to combat the misconceptions against feminism and understand that we must all be feminists.

 

When we expand the feminist campaign in developing nations, it narrows even further. In countries ranging from China to Syria to Lebanon, it is evident that these nations have not had a strong female presence in politics for decades. In nations such as India, despite the longstanding and vigorous women’s movement, patriarchy remains deeply entrenched in the society’s core beliefs, influencing the structure of its political and social institutions and determining the opportunities open to women.

 

Conservative traditional rules play a large role in Arab nations. There exists the conviction that women are not supposed to hold vast position, because they are incapable and unfit. The statistics involved are startling but not surprising. Arab states’ rates of women’s political representation are 17%, compared to 27% in Europe and Latin America, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. While some Arab nations have attempted to bridge the gender gap in the political arena by means of constitutional reform (e.g. Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco), the majority of the Arab world continues to lag behind with the lowest percentages of women in legislatures globally (e.g. Qatar, Yemen, and Oman).

 

Pakistani society maintains this conservative ideology today, even though their constitution specifically states the equality between men and women. In reality, female political marginalization and other forms of gender discrimination continue to be the norm. The perception of women is that they are the property of their father and brothers. Feminism is not deemed an issue of concern in these nations, which is extremely concerning. There is no emphasis on women being involved in politics. Although, there has been some success, such as Saudi women being allowed to vote and run as candidates in municipal elections for the first time in 2015, gender gaps continue.

 

When we consider feminism in politics, men should be involved. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has inspired government officials from across the world, as he equalized his cabinet back in 2015 with 50-50 male and female representation. Feminism is not an attack on men. It is a movement for equality and progression among men and women. We cannot go backwards to the suffragist periods where women needed to fight to receive basic rights. We must work together to create an equal playing field where all men and women are not judged by their respective genders. We are living in an era where millions of women are educated, qualified, and deserve the opportunity to fulfill their career aspirations, if they choose so, in government.

 

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