It does not matter whether the rhetoric is surrounding feminism or equality. It is when the rhetoric goes silent we need to worry.
Every year International Women’s Day provides us with the opportunity to take a moment and look at how far women have come but it also holds a magnifying glass up to how far women have to go. It of course greatly depends on your location in the world. If you happen to live in the Western world, then you live in a world of apparent freedoms as a woman. You can vote, drive, apply for any job with a fair amount of certainty that your gender won’t, or shouldn’t, stop you from getting it. Not too far away, and not too long ago in the distant past, this was not the case. Yet despite all the good feminism has done, it’s been tarnished with a “feminazi” paintbrush and as such developed a strand of misandry so ingrained in it as a theory that equality got lost in the midst. As a result, feminism has lost its way with arguments flying that the downfall of the third wave feminist movement is the lack of a cohesive voice.
The first week of March magnified feminism, as it’s want to do every year around International Women’s Day. This was especially the case if you lived across the pond in a country that prides itself on free will. Governor Bob McDonnel passed his controversial ultrasound bill requiring women who want an abortion to have an abdominal ultrasound. The Arizona senate passed a bill allowing doctors to not inform their patients of prenatal conditions can lead to mother’s opting for abortion. Meanwhile in the UK every broadsheet ran stories on the 8th of March with the requisite focus on women but it was the novelist Linda S. Grant’s twitter feed that perhaps provided the starkest understanding of feminism. Her twitter feed has since been immortalized in a tumblr page. The responses to each event were far from uniform, but a discussion was ignited.
One recurring theme this year has been a discussion about sluts. It’s transgressed into the most flippant of insults with the most grievous of repercussions. Most recently Rush Limbaugh caused outrage last week when he personally attacked Sandra Fluke and dubbed her a slut. The backlash was widespread, with even Obama weighing in on the Republican commentator because of a word. But, it is in fact nothing to do the word but the entire patriarchy that it stems from. After all,the SlutWalk marches back in the summer could have easily been called whore, tart, or slag walk if that had been what Michael Sanguinetti had tarnished women with all those months ago in Toronto. The responses to both insults haven’t been to the word, which is abhorrent in itself, but to what it actually is a far bigger picture of. And the responses to both have varied greatly, not only amongst men, from distaste to support.
But it appears that although each new topic provided more and more conflicting arguments 2011-2012 has been the year feminism came back into the mainstream. Reproductive rights discussions are back on the table whether you’re in the US or in the UK. Slutwalks became a global phneomon, rightly or wrongly. And Caitlin Moran won the “Galaxy Book of the Year” for “How To Be A Woman”. The past 18 months have undeniably seen a resurgence in popular discussions of feminism from Caitlin Moran to Sandra Fluke or the thousands of women in Tahrir Square.
Generation Y’s version of feminism has often been dismissed for its lack of a unified voice or mission. And the questionable female role models available to it. But perhaps we have dismissed it too brashly. The children of the 80s are not fighting for the vote or for the ability to open a bank account without their father’s signature so instead the small victories won are dismissed and forgotten. It is these victories that are perhaps most significant, as it is these that prove how far women have come. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, in reality little has changed. The fight remains the same, women just want their voices, needs and opinions to be heard in whatever way possible whether they live in Arizona, Egypt or the UK. In what has been defined as a generation of lost voices the last year has seen a resurgence in young women getting out there and making their voices heard, whether it be in Tahrir Square or Trafalgar Square. This isn’t just white noise anymore. But even if some feel it is just white noise, it’s there and it’s getting louder. It doesn’t matter that Generation Y hasn’t molded a unique voice; it’s not done it on any political front. The important aspect to remember is that no matter what the rhetoric is surrounding feminism or equality there is rhetoric. It is when it goes silent we need to worry.