A More Equal World for Everyone: Feminism
by Didem ÖZÇAKIR & Hülya AFAT
All human beings are equal and therefore should have equal rights, everyone can agree on that statement. However, when someone expresses that they are a feminist, that is a political and radicalizing statement. Women expressing concern about their own freedom has always seen as threatening behavior. Same for the women in power, when a woman takes control, suddenly everyone is labeling her as ‘bossy’ or ‘control freak’. Gender norms and stereotypes are seen as fundamental in the structure of society. Expecting women to be obedient and men to be aggressive has done nothing but harm to societal progress so far. Especially, associating the bodily power to authority made women be observed as fragile and/or weak. As expected these norms include only cis-gender women and men because Trans and Non-Binary community often get excluded even by “radical feminists” (TERFs) therefore their existence is ignored by traditional social structure. This exclusivity is also very toxic and restraining people from expressing themselves. Before we dive into today’s political landscape filled with obstacles that only apply to women, we need to look throughout the history of feminism.
Women’s rights are perhaps the most prominent issue of the 21st century. We have now acquired most of the legal rights that our ancestors have spent their lives fighting for, but we still have a long way to go. We still see how women’s bodies are objectified, how rape cases go unnoticed, or how underrepresented women are in the professional area. This situation is caused by the expected gender roles in a society, which actually damages men as well as women. In its broadest sense, feminism is the idea that no individual should be bounded by the expected gender norms of a society. As most of these norms currently disfavor women, feminism historically evolved to focus on the problems of women. Millions of people are still fighting to change the gender norms within society to have a more equal life for everyone.
Today, in most of the developed countries, women have the right to vote and are equal to men before the law. It is not a very controversial idea for a woman to have a professional career, take decisions of her own or have a free sexual life, at least when we compare it to the past. However, this has not always been the case. We have come to the point where we currently are in three waves of feminism-or four according to some. The wave metaphor was first used in 1968, in a New York Times article by Martha Weinman Lear called “The Second Feminist Wave”. In time, it started to be used to distinguish different generations and eras of feminism.
The first wave of feminism includes the first political movement dedicated to gain equal political rights for women and coincides with the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century. The women who fought for voting rights, equal representation before the law, an equal chance of education and employment, and right to own property -or the suffragettes- are all considered to be a part of the first wave of feminism. This wave all started with the Seneca Falls convention of 1848, a very important event that led to centuries of struggle for equality. It is thought to end in 1920 in the US, when all women were granted the right to vote with the 19th amendment. The second wave starts in 1963 with The Feminine Mystique of Betty Friedan. This wave opposed to the idea that women’s place is at home and their sole duty is to be housewives and raise children. Rather it states women has also a right to fulfill their intellectual capacity and self-realize. In this sense, the second wave is when women’s fight for social equality had a far-reaching scope. “The personal is political” was the motto of the second wave, they stated things that looked personal like sex, relationship or way families were organized were all political and systematic. This wave again had legal consequences like the legalization of abortion and birth control or theoretically ending the pay gap between genders. Starting awareness about domestic violence and rape cases or shelters for women are all a part of this wave. The third wave started during the 90s and is debated whether it has finished or not, and its defining features are as well debated. While focusing on sexual harassment, this wave also underlines the underrepresentation of women in the workplace. The idea that sex and gender are different things, also became widespread during this era, creating a place for trans rights. Eventually, we have come to the point where we are today all thanks to the fight of the previous generations of gender activists, both men, and women.
As we can see, the feminist thought gradually evolved upon the works of the precedents and according to the needs of the era. Whether we are in the fourth wave of feminism or not is widely discussed upon gender activists. Some suggest that we are in the fourth wave of feminism that uses social media and prioritizes women representation while empowering movements like #MeToo. Some others suggest that this kind of postmodern and post-materialist feminism is so diverse that it can not be reduced to just one wave, rather we are now living through a point where multiple feminisms, different yet connected, flourish at the same time.
Until 150 years ago, half of the Earth’s population did not have a right to vote. This sentence shows how late women were allowed to represent their ideas. According to the IPU, only three countries have women representatives more than 50% in their parliaments.(1) Even in the most prosperous and developed countries such as G7 countries, the gender pay gap is 16% on average.(2) Inevitably, women earning less than men does not help the equalization of power. Even the more-earning women like CEOs or actresses are subjected to society’s expectation of women, that shows even the power of money is unable to defeat the structures. As much as behavioral expectations, women are subject to cruel criticism on their looks. Society’s desire to establish control over women’s bodies is just another aspect of the patriarchal society that we will talk about later in this article. Now is the time to compare the progressiveness of the countries.
Some parts of the world are less progressed about women’s rights than others, and we can say that some of the progressed ones are aspiring to get less progressed in order to continue oppressing women. For example; Poland recently started considering leaving the treaty on domestic violence causing people to protest on the streets.(3) Very much likely Turkey is trying to do the same by intending to cancel the Istanbul Convention which we will examine the content of it later in this article. As a protest to attempt to cancellation of Istanbul Convention, Turkish women started an Instagram challenge that reached some of the most-known Hollywood actresses and were supported by them.(4) Another attempt of oppression of women’s rights was made in the USA in 2019. As a series of events, some (mostly Southern) states started an anti-abortion campaign and attempted to ban abortions or make abortion inaccessible. Alabama was successful to basically ban abortions state-wide by making abortions only legal in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest. 5 other states banned abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy, hence giving women almost no time between the realization of the pregnancy and the deciding to continue with it or not.(5) As you can observe the similarity between those acts of oppression is controlling the women’s body and disabling the women to make choices about their own bodies.
The bodily autonomy of a person should be the first of fundamental human rights. By making the decision making on their body hard, governments are implementing a policy to gain control of women’s bodies. Objectification of women’s bodies is already a huge problem fueled by social media, the entertainment industry, and men in power. Freedom of being able to control your own body should not be a right that we need to demand from the government. States are contributing to the act of oppression of women by not implementing discouraging penalties on the crimes against women instead of using law enforcement to protect their rights. Banning abortion would only make abortion performed in unsafe conditions, not punishing the harassers/abusers/rapists correctly would only encourage the act of violence. Every case of harassment/abuse/rape ending with a reduced/no sentence is an encouragement for the next act. This is why we need laws to protect especially women from acts of violence. Let us come back to the content of the Istanbul Convention to look more into the protection by law aspect of the issue.
A limited number of world leaders have shown their determination for creating a more equal world for every gender. This determination was shown officially in the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. Having been created in 2011, the Istanbul Convention came into force in 2014. It is very important in the sense that it signifies the determination of 34 ratifies of the convention in reforming their legal process to prevent domestic violence while also accepting their domestic and international responsibilities. Today, more than 90 percent of the sexual abuse cases go unnoticed. Even if a domestic violence case goes to the legal enforcement organs such as the police, the general tendency is to regard domestic violence in the scope of private life. Thus, legal enforcement organs are hesitant to step in before the case becomes irreversibly serious. Even for the proven rape, sexual abuse, or domestic violence cases, the legal consequences and penalties do not act as a deterrent since they are applied in a manner that makes the protection of the offender possible. A true application of the Istanbul Convention would mean reform in the legal process against domestic violence and sexual abuse. When we consider how the rate of femicides increased throughout the 2010s in the country, it is no surprise that people in Turkey are protesting for a true application of the convention. Conservatives argue that the Istanbul Convention creates a way for legitimizing the LGBTI community and destroying conventional family values, the role of women and men in society. It is a serious question of how these can be used as excuses from the conservative governments such as Poland, when they have the constitutional duty of providing everyone the same right to live, regardless of their sex or gender.
Today we need feminist ideas for a world that is free of the pressures of gender norms. I seriously hope that people will someday understand that feminism is not about oppressing men, or about destroying the family culture. I hope that they will understand just because we have the same legal rights on paper, it does not mean they are applied equally. We still have a long way to go for total equality, and we need to transform people’s perception of gender roles. When the idea that women are inferior, are set for specific kinds of works by nature or needs to be protected prevails, it is impossible for the half of the society to be totally free of any boundaries. To prevent lives from being smashed under the expectations of the society, the gender roles for both men and women must be rethought.