Feminism is the buzzword of 2014. Celebrities are “coming out” as feminists, rape culture is all over the news, and the gender pay gap is a huge topic of debate.
Recently, a Tumblr has emerged titled “Why I don’t need feminism”. It consists of women holding up signs, declaring why they, personally, don’t need feminism. A lot of these women… actually a lot of people seem to be confused about what feminism is.
There are a lot of myths about feminism. Some people believe that all feminists are crazy man hater lesbians that don’t wear bras or shave, and don’t want to get married or have kids. Well that’s just not the case.
“Feminism is the belief in political, social and economic equality of the genders”
That’s it. That’s all.
Now I know a lot of you are probably thinking “But Richelle, you’re a travel blogger. Why are you talking about feminism?”
I’ve been going back and forth about whether or not I want to talk about feminism on this blog for a while. It’s personal, political, and controversial. But you know what? Women’s rights affect me because I’m a woman. Feminism affects how I travel, it affects how I see the world, and it affects how people respond to me. My time abroad has also really opened my eyes to how women are treated in America, and how that differs from other places in the world.
As a solo female traveler, I need feminism. As a female expat, I need feminism. As a human being living in a woman’s body, I need feminism.
I need feminism because….
1. People are worried about me traveling alone because I’m a woman
Whenever I say I’m headed to another country people ask if it’s “safe” for me to go there. These people aren’t asking if the country is safe, they’re asking whether it’s safe for me to go there. “Safe” is code word for: is it safe for me as a woman to go there by myself. Whether it’s my parents worried about me going to Thailand, or the Chinese teachers worried about me traveling outside of a tour, I get a lot of questions. I’m constantly reading articles with the title: “Is it safe for women to visit (Insert country here)?”
You know what? I’m a lot safer traveling around Thailand than I am setting foot on an American college campus, where 1/4 women have experienced rape or violent sexual assault. Taking precautions to protect my own safety is an unfortunate reality of being a woman. Sure, there are places I will probably never visit because I’m a woman. But in the words of Jodi Ettenburg from Legal Nomads, “For each person that says ‘aren’t you afraid of solo travel as a woman?’ I respond that I’m occasionally afraid as a woman when I’m not traveling and occasionally when I’m traveling, but I can only travel in the body I’ve been given.”
There are things I will never do on my travels because I’m a woman. For example, when my male friend got sick and was unable to complete our horse trek in Sichuan, I chose to forfeit my money rather than continue on alone. The company let me do a day trip for free, which I still probably shouldn’t have done, considering it was just me and my Tibetan guide alone in the mountains… but at least I had a horse for a quick getaway? I just wasn’t comfortable spending the night alone in the mountains, a multi-day ride from the village, with a man I didn’t know. If I was a guy, I probably wouldn’t have worried about it.
The saddest thing I’ve learned from my travels is that I feel much safer in Asia than I do back home in America. The USA is not a safe place for women. In Asia, the only people who have ever catcalled me were other foreigners, I’ve only been sexually harassed at a club once, and I feel totally safe walking alone on my own. While there is deep inherent sexism in Chinese culture, it’s not violent like it is in America. Feel free to disagree, but in my honest opinion, I feel much safer as a woman in China than I do in America.
2. Almost 200 girls in Nigeria are still missing
You may think you personally don’t need feminism, but what about those 200 Nigerian girls that are still missing? These girls were kidnapped because they dared go to school. The girls are old news, and no one even talks about them anymore. Are they not important? I need feminism because these girls are still missing, and no one (mainly the Nigerian government) seems to be doing anything about it.
3. Female genital circumcision still exists
We’ve all heard of female genital circumcision, but most of us rarely talk about it because we don’t want to judge other cultures. I knew it was a horribly painful procedure, and limited a woman’s sexual pleasure, but it wasn’t until recently that I learned the extent of just how horrific female genital circumcision really is.
Pretty much everything is cut off with a hot knife while these girls are still conscious and unmedicated. Then the girl is sewn up, and deprived of water so she won’t urinate while she’s healing. Only a small hole is left for urine and menses. When a woman finally has sex with her husband, he basically rips the hole open. Cringing now? The reason so many of these women die in childbirth is because the skin can’t stretch to let a baby out, meaning the skin is literally torn apart by the baby.
Okay… I’m going to stop talking about this before I faint.
4. The celebrities who’s nude photos were leaked in the recent “scandal”, were asked what they expected, having taken photos like that in the first place
Let’s nip this in the bud right here. This nude photo leak isn’t a “scandal”, it’s a sex crime. If their emails were hacked, or bank accounts, would they be asking for it then? These women are consenting adults that took private photos for themselves and a partner. Nothing they did was illegal. You know what is illegal? Hacking into people’s private information. That’s stealing, and it’s sexual assault.
Just because you consent to have sex with one person, doesn’t mean you consent to have sex with everyone. Just because you take a private photo for one person, does not mean you consent to have it shown to the whole world. These women were not “asking for something bad to happen” any more than a woman who wears a dress or drinks too much is asking to be sexually assaulted. What happened to these celebrities isn’t a scandal, it’s a sex crime.
The way we’ve been treating these celebrities sends a horrible precedent. Have we not forgotten the high school girl who’s leaked nude photos caused bullying that led to her suicide? Let’s stop blaming the victim here.
5. THESE STATISTICS:
According to a major study among American college students:
- 1/4 college aged women have been date raped or have experienced a violent sexual assault
- 84% of women who have been date raped knew their attackers
- 33% of men said they would attempt to rape someone if they knew there would be no consequences
- 42% of the women who were date raped reported it
- 27% of the women who were date raped didn’t know at the time that what they experienced met the legal definition of rape
- 84% of the men involved in date rapes didn’t know that their actions met the legal definition of rape
It looks like there’s a huge education problem here. A lot of people roll their eyes at the notion of educating men not to rape, but obviously there are a lot of young men who seem to be confused about what rape is. Eighty four percent of date rapists didn’t realize what they did qualifies as rape in the eyes of the law? Obviously there’s a problem here.
You know what’s also super scary? 33 percent of young men surveyed said they would rape someone if they knew they could get away with it. That is really, really scary. You know what makes it even more frightening? Only 3/100 rapists ever even spend a day in jail. Don’t tell that to the 33% listed above. Multiple courts have even deemed it impossible for a rape to have taken place because the woman was wearing skinny jeans. What?? Apparently skinny jeans can’t come off without the woman’s help. Are you kidding? Well these courts weren’t.
6. A girl at Columbia University is carrying her mattress around in protest of her serial rapist getting off without punishment
Speaking of horrible things happening to women on college campuses, a junior at Columbia is staging a visual art protest until her rapist is expelled or chooses to leave the school. This girl was raped in her own dorm bed by an acquaintance, and received no help from the university. She decided to come forward when she met two other students who had been raped by the same man. The university decided to try each case separately, rather than treating it as a serial rape case. Each case was dismissed one-by-one and this man received no punishment. In protest, this woman is carrying a mattress with her everywhere she goes, to show the effects that rape leaves on women. She is not allowed to ask for help, but can accept it if offered.
To watch the rest of this video, click here
7. My students in China asked me how many children I am allowed to have in America
As I said before, I feel a lot safer from sexual violence in China than I do from America. Unfortunately, China has its own major problems when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. While we all know about the One Child Policy, most people don’t talk about what happens when a woman has a child she’s not supposed to have. While some rich families can get away with having a second or third child by paying a heavy tax, women who are poor experience forced abortions, or must give the child away to a relative or friend while they hide from the Family Planning Police.
Multiple classes of students, and many Chinese teachers at my school have asked me how many kids I’m allowed to have in America. When I tell them I can have as many kids as I want, they’re shocked. Then I inform them that China is actually the only country in the entire world that tells families how many children they’re allowed to have. But for some reason, it just doesn’t seem to sink in. I almost want to shake them and say, “Did you hear what I said? China is the only country that tells you how many kids you can have. Literally the only one!!!”. For most Chinese women it’s not a big deal, it’s just a normal aspect of everyday life. Sort of like how I always have to check behind my car seat, or watch my drink at the bar.
When I first studied abroad in China, no one had ever heard of Seattle. When I went back this year, everyone exclaimed “Oh! Seattle, I want to go there!” Apparently a really popular movie called “Beijing yushang Xiyatu” (Beijing meets Seattle) had just come out. Since everyone seemed to be freaking out about this movie, I decided to watch it. The whole movie is about a woman who has an affair with a married man and becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Rather than have an abortion or risk her child not having access to education or healthcare, she books a 6-month trip to Seattle. This woman sneaks her pregnant belly past customs, and makes her way to a Chinese birthing house, where she lives with other women who are trying to have their babies in America. I was shocked. The plot of one of the most popular movies in China is about a woman running away to America to get around the One Child Policy?!
8. Women still make 77 cents to every dollar a man makes in the same job
Women face a lot of a discrimination in the workplace. To be honest, we can’t really win. Either we’re too soft-spoken and not assertive enough, or we come across as “bitchy” and “abrasive.” There’s also this article by Kim O’Grady, a man who realized his feminine name was keeping him from getting interviews for jobs he was qualified (and over qualified) for. He put “Mr.” on his resume and landed interviews for every job he applied for.
To be honest, I could rattle on all day about this, but I’m just going to let you watch this hilarious Funny or Die video instead
9. Female writers receive sexually inappropriate and horrific comments on their blogs and articles every day
I have yet to receive any hate mail (guess I’m not famous enough yet), but this one definitely applies to me as a blogger. Women receive horrific and personal comments every day on their blogs and websites. A lot of these comments are sexual and violent (or both), while others criticize the author’s looks. Can someone please tell me what my physical appearance has to do with my writing?
If you want to be scarred for life, check out this article about why women aren’t welcome on the internet.
If you want to double over in laughter, check out Liz from Young Adventuress’ post on the hate comments she’s received over the years.
I have yet to receive any hate comments, but I’ll probably have a few after this article…
10. I can’t go to a club in America without having someone grind their crotch on my behind or touch me inappropriately
My presence in ‘da club is not an invitation to touch my butt.
If I’m not interested, I’m not interested. It doesn’t make me a bitch, and it certainly doesn’t make me a “whore” (Can someone please explain to me, how turning down sexual advances makes me a whore?) A lot of women pull out the “boyfriend card” to get guys to leave them alone. I refuse to do that. You know why? Because if a guy won’t back off until you lie about having a boyfriend, it means he respects a fictional male over your own personal agency. It means he’s backing off because you “belong” to someone else. I don’t belong to anyone. I’m a strong and independent woman!
11. I used to get catcalls on the way to work at 9am
Who catcalls someone at 9am? I would get catcalls on the way to work at least once a week. I even had a “morning stalker.” This guy ran into me on the way to work one day. He tried to start up a conversation with me, but I wasn’t interested and I politely said I had to get going. So instead of taking that as a hint and backing off, he waited for me to walk to work every day. Literally, every single time I walked to my internship, I braced myself for this guy to pop up.
I tried pulling up my hood, bringing a different bag to work and strategically holding my umbrella so he wouldn’t see me. He never said anything inappropriate, he normally just tried to talk to me, or ask me out. But nevertheless, it made me really uncomfortable. Finally, one day I couldn’t take it anymore. I turned around, looked him dead in the eye, and said “YOU. NEED. TO. STOP. Leave me alone, and do not talk to me EVER again”. That was the last time I heard from him…
While you might be laughing at my response, imagine if that guy was Elliot Rogers. I’d probably be dead right now.
12. The scariest moment of my life started with a catcall
Unfortunately, things don’t always go so smoothly. Sophomore year of college I worked for DC Reads, a tutoring program at a local elementary school. My school was in a pretty decent area, surrounded by fancy offices. One day I was walking home at 6pm by myself. I had to stay late because one girl’s mom was an hour late picking her up from the aftercare program, and the actual aftercare teachers told me I had to stay with her because they had stuff to do (It was a great program…)
So here I am walking home from work at 6pm, in the dark, in a “good neighborhood”. About two blocks away from my school I heard a man say something to me that sounded like a catcall. I didn’t quite hear what he said, but I knew it was directed at me. He was learning against the wall of a liquor store, and seemed to be in his late 40’s or 50’s. I kept walking and pretended like I didn’t hear anything. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him get up from the wall and start following me. “OH MY GOD!!” The panic alarms started going off in my brain. I was on a busy street but I was still scared. I immediately ran across the street on a yellow light, to a concrete island. I was standing there with about five other people, thinking I was safe, until I turned my head to be sure, and there he was, standing about five feet away from me.
The man was starting right at me. This stare was not a “normal stare”, it was something I can only describe as an “I’m going to rape you, stab you to death and then eat you” kind of stare. He didn’t seem to register that I caught him looking at me, and continued to stare at me like he wanted to kill me and peel my skin off. I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid to keep walking because I was in a business district. God forbid I turn down an empty street!
It’s crazy how much societal pressure keeps you quiet. I didn’t want to make a scene, even though I knew I needed to. So I gathered all the courage I possess and tapped a young couple in front of me on the shoulder. “Do you mind if I walk with you?”, I asked. “That guy is following me.” They looked over, and the man was still staring at me. He didn’t even seem to register that people were looking in his direction. “Oh my god!” the girl said, “Please walk with us.” So the three of us continued on together for another three or so blocks while this man continued to follow us. Eventually he realized that he wasn’t going to get me alone, and walked off in another direction, looking back at me every few seconds until I was out of sight.
That experience was literally the scariest thing that has ever happened to me. You may think that catcalls are innocent, but now every time someone catcalls me I think back to that moment and how I felt. You know what’s really sad? My story is not unique at all. My roommate at the time was followed home from work all the way back to our dorm less than a month before my incident.
13. Men still think it’s funny to talk about women like they’re commodities
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the joke, “just because there’s a goalie doesn’t mean I can’t score.” So… you’re comparing women to a soccer goal?
One time two guys made up a football analogy about me behind my back. It was something along the lines of “Someone threw the football to Guy #1, but Guy #2 intercepted the pass.” So… am I the football in this analogy? These guys may have thought their little joke was funny, but I wasn’t laughing. Basically what they were saying was that I was inevitably going to end up with Guy #1, but Guy #2 intervened. The funny thing is, I had absolutely no interest in Guy #1. Guy #1 was actually my best friend’s ex boyfriend, and he cheated on her. Talk about not going to happen! And after hearing this little “football analogy”, guy #2 definitely wasn’t getting any either.
The more we talk about women as inanimate objects with no personal agency, the more we start to think of them that way. It’s not funny. I am not a football.
14. 400,000 rape kit tests lay in freezer storage while the perpetrators walk free, sometimes for years
I didn’t even know what rape kits were until recently. Basically, if you’re raped you can go to the hospital and have a “rape kit” taken in as evidence. In order for this to work you must go to the hospital almost immediately after being raped, which most rape survivors don’t do. Then, once you’re at the hospital, staff will swab your entire body for evidence, and take photos and samples. The whole process takes over an hour, and many say it traumatizes the survivor further.
The problem with these rape kits? They sit on the shelves for years while the rapist roams free. Could you imagine if it was a murderer instead of a rapist we were dealing with, and we just let the evidence sit in a storage locker for years without starting an investigation? These rapists are wandering around, possibly committing other rapes, while all the evidence sits in a freezer waiting to be tested. Let’s stop focusing on “anti-rape” nail polish, and start talking about getting rapists behind bars.
15. One time a middle-aged man lifted up the back of my dress to see my butt in my underwear
You know how I said I’m rarely harassed in China? Well sexual harassment really does happen anywhere. I spent a weekend in Shanghai when I studied abroad in China. My friends and I were at a club in the French Concession, dancing and having a great time. Towards the end of the night, I was standing there talking to one of my friends, when I felt a breeze on my backside. I turned around to find a drunk middle-aged Chinese man holding up the hem of my skirt to get a look at my butt. I screamed, and he fell back into his seat laughing with all of his buddies. A part of me wanted to slug him, but I would have had to lean right over him to even reach his face. I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to do. I just left. Now I can never go back to that club without being angry and remembering what happened there.
16. People still think rape jokes are funny
They’re just not funny, okay?
17. I’m afraid to go to India by myself
I still can’t figure out how I feel about India. I know a lot of really great Indian people; my cousin’s husband is Indian and he’s one of the nicest men I know! But to be honest, rape culture in India really bothers me. The comments from the government about rape really bother me. I shouldn’t have to hold my arms a certain way while I walk down the street in India to keep men from grabbing my boobs. It’s not just India, Egypt also has a huge sexual harassment problem, especially towards foreign women.
A part of me really wants to go to India. I love the culture and the food! I want to wander the temples, ride in rickshaws and see cows strolling the streets. I’ve read a lot of articles on why it is safe for solo female travelers in India, and one of my favorite bloggers, Hippie in Heels, lives in Goa.
But to be honest, I just don’t know if I want to put myself in that position. I don’t know if I want to support a country with my tourism dollars that gives men a pass on the rape and murder of women. But then I think about where I’m living right now. Do I want to live in China, a country that forces women to have abortions? What about America, where 97/100 rapists never see the inside of a jail cell? I guess I’ll just have to move to Antarctica.
18. Almost every guy I’ve dated has called me crazy, irrational, or emotional and used the word “overreacting” to describe my valid emotions and concerns
The word “crazy” really pisses me off. By calling a woman crazy, you’re implying that a she has a mental illness because she dared have emotions that were inconvenient for you. While I’m not dismissing that some women (and men) have intense emotional and psychological issues, most of the time guys use this word to describe girls who are perfectly normal and rational. “Crazy” is a giant cop-out.
After being called “crazy” and “irrational” by multiple guys over and over again, I honestly started to believe it was true. I thought, “maybe there’s something wrong with me? Why can’t I control my emotions in a relationship?” As it turns out, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me, and every concern I’ve had has been valid, rational and reasonable. I’m not crazy, I’m not overemotional, and I’m not irrational. You know what these above scenario is called? Gaslighting- minimizing someone’s feelings and reframing them as unreasonable. Gaslighting is typical abusive behavior.
Don’t believe me? Hear it from Harris O’Malley, a man that realized calling women “crazy” was abusive, and it was ruining his relationships.
If you call me crazy, irrational, emotional or imply I’m on my period, you better start packing your bags.
19. My insurance refused to cover my medically necessary birth control
Birth control is a hot topic in America. Here’s the deal guys: a lot of girls have to take birth control for medical reasons. I have suffered from severe cramps my entire life. My middle school nurse had my schedule on her calendar. Like clockwork I’d come in every month and she’d have the heating pad ready for me. It got to the point where I was self medicating, taking at least 8 Advil every day of my period. That’s not healthy!
Eventually I started taking birth control pills in high school. After trying a few prescriptions, I finally found a medicine that worked. I no longer had to curl up in a ball and cry once a month. I never had to miss school or work again! Unfortunately, my health insurance refused to cover birth control, even for medical reasons.
For me, birth control is a medicine, in which one of the side effects just happens to be that I can’t get pregnant while taking it. It regulates hormones, cures chronic acne, heals ovarian cysts , helps regulate irregular periods and lessens severe cramps. Birth control isn’t just birth control, it’s a hormonal medication.
I need birth control to function as a normal person in society. I can’t very well miss one or two days of work every month! But in order to get my medicine, I had to go to Planned Parenthood. That is absolutely 100% ridiculous.
During the last presidential election, I was actually very concerned that if Mitt Romney were elected, I would no longer have access to my medicine. If Obamacare was repealed and insurance companies were no longer required to cover birth control, I’d have to get it at Planned Parenthood again, which the Republicans were also talking about de-funding. If my completely necessary prescriptions were taken away, I would have rioted every single day until they changed the law back. Taking away my medication just because a symptom happens to be that I can’t get pregnant is so unbelievably wrong. I’m actually furious right now as I’m typing this. Whew… deep breath.
20. America is the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave
Are you kidding me? How is this not in the law books by now? How is maternity leave part of a benefits package?! Maternity leave should be a right for every woman. So many women who work hourly jobs are forced to choose between making ends meet and recovering from giving birth. Giving birth is really hard on your body. Women need time to recover and bond with the baby. We can’t do this if there’s no money to pay bills or put food on the table. We are the only developed country that doesn’t require paid maternity leave. THE ONLY ONE.
You know what else we need? Paid paternity leave. A man has a right to spend a week or two at home bonding with the baby and taking care of the mother. I’m for gender equality here. The only difference is that a woman must actually physically recover from giving birth.
Honestly… I could go on and on. I haven’t even touched on female body image, the cosmetics industry, how we treat female politicians or the fact that “feminism” is sometimes seen as a dirty word.
So what can you do?
Girls… Speak up!
Identifying yourself as a feminist, and being proud to call yourself one is a huge step in the right direction. Speak up for your rights, and call attention to issues that are important to you. You don’t have to stop wearing makeup and grow hairy armpits. I love wearing makeup, dresses, high heels and feminine clothing. I like pedicures, shopping, sappy chick flicks and Ryan Gosling’s abs. You can be a girly feminist. I don’t hate men. I want to get married and have kids someday. I just care a lot about my rights, and the rights of women all over the world.
If you personally don’t feel like you need feminism in your everyday life, be a feminist for the 200 Nigerian girls, or the girls suffering from female genital circumcision, or the girl at Columbia University.
What about the guys?
If you are a guy and you’re still reading this: Congratulations! You’re probably not a sexist jerk. We all know that #NotAllMen are sexist or abusive towards women, so what can you, a nice upstanding gentleman, do?
1. Don’t laugh along
If someone makes a rape joke, or compares a woman to a soccer goal, don’t laugh along! A well placed “Hey, that’s not funny”, goes a long way. It may sound simple, but standing up to peer pressure can be hard. Don’t call a guy “whipped” for respecting his girlfriend, or play along when others use offensive language.
If you witness a girl being harassed on the street, in the club, at a party, or in the office, please say something. Some girls might not appreciate it, but I do. While most of us don’t necessarily need a “knight in shining armor”, peer pressure goes a long way. I really hate saying this, but guys won’t change until it becomes uncool to treat women poorly.
3. Stop using the word “crazy”
Please stop referring to your ex-girlfriend as “crazy”. Like I said, it’s a huge cop-out. I don’t care if you feel like she was an emotional mess, it’s not cool. Calling a woman “crazy”, “irrational”, “emotional” or saying she’s “overreacting” in an argument will get you nowhere. It automatically puts the woman on the defense, because now she somehow has to prove to you that she’s not “crazy” and her emotions are valid. If you want a long-lasting relationship with a woman, don’t use any of these words ever.
4. Embrace the F-word.
So many sexy guys cough JosephGordonLevitt cough are coming out as feminists. Why not be one of them? Feminism isn’t just for women. Don’t you want to live in a society where women aren’t date raped in their dorms or harassed on the street? Think about your sister, girlfriend or future daughter. Do you want her dealing with the things I mentioned above? What would you do if her campus administration refused to charge her rapist? How would you feel if a creep in the bar lifted up her dress? What would you do if her rape kit sat there for years untested? Women are human beings, and we deserve respect. By labeling yourself as a feminist, you’re taking a stand for equal gender rights.
Feminism also stands up for the rights of men. Feminists are the first in line to say that men can be raped, sexually assaulted and suffer from domestic abuse. Feminists want paternity leave. Feminists have no problem with stay at home dads. Why do we have to put men in a box? Why is it so weird if a guy wants to be a primary school teacher, nurse or flight attendant? Why are there almost no male babysitters? Feminists fight for the rights of men too.
#NotAllMen treat women poorly, but #YesAllWomen have to deal with harassment and sexism every day. Help be a part of the solution.
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