Why We Still Need Feminism in the Twenty-First Century
Mariel Vander Schuur | Michigan, USA
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are different from my own.” (Audre Lorde)
Feminists are often told that we want for nothing; that we are ungrateful and unappreciative of the rights we possess, and that for the women of the past, things were far, far worse. And how can we possibly argue with that? A large majority of women today have rights our predecessors only ever dreamt of: the right to vote, to work freely in whichever career field we choose, and to receive an education, all alongside our male contemporaries. It is irrefutable that progress has been made, and that women today are better off than we were before the first and second waves of feminism. So that leaves many people asking the question: in one of the most progressive societies to date, why is feminism still necessary?
I think that Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Pakistani activist for girls education, sums up the motivations of the modern feminist movement perfectly: “I raise up my voice not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard.”
Feminists are often told that we should be grateful, because “women in *insert random developing country here* have it way worse.” To me, that sounds like a prime argument for why feminism is still alarmingly necessary in the 21st century. Feminism isn’t selfish, and as a feminist living in a first-world country, my activism is not just for my fellow American women, it’s for women all over the globe, especially the women that experience sexism in more dangerous and radical forms. Not all feminists speak out and protest because they actively experience violent oppression or discrimination: they speak out for their sisters who do, and have no opportunity to safely make themselves heard.
While, on paper, women are the most equal to men that we have been in human history (in regards to the lack of a large presence of gender discriminatory laws in the majority of countries), we still have a long, long, way to go.
According to UN Women (formally known as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women), 650 million girls living today were married as child brides, 200 million women are victims of genital mutilation, 15 million adolescent girls have been raped or sexually assaulted, and 71% of all victims of human trafficking are girls.
These statistics just go to show that even if you don’t personally need feminism, there are millions of women all around the globe do. And while we will likely always live in a world of violence, inherent biases, and discrimination, modern feminism is working towards a future where sexism and violence against women are ultimately less prevalent.