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Chang Wen Yee

Singapore

Being a feminist is becoming increasingly difficult

March 21, 2016

As a young, liberal, Asian female, it is heartening to see the feminist movement gain traction in recent years. I grew up believing that my sole role in society was confined to the household- to get married early, to have three children and to support my husband's career. It did not help that I belonged to a fairly conservative society. When I subsequently learnt more about the feminist movement, I declared myself a feminist without hesitation. The message behind feminism was fairly simple- that gender equality was important because women are no different from men, and definitely not inferior. 

However, as I grew to discover the fundamental flaws of the feminist movement, I have found it increasingly difficult to identify as a feminist. 

The feminist movement continues to be perceived as an extreme one formed by man-hating, bra-burning women. It was perfectly fine for my classmates to joke about their refusal to be feminists because "it is uncool". This is problematic, because the fight for equal rights is essential, yet it is trivialized in status quo. It does not help that current solutions to appeal to the wider population is inherently bad for the movement. For example, HeForShe, while attempting to make feminism a more palatable movement for the male population, undermines the feminist movement. HeForShe continues to perpetuate the patriarchy by making feminism once again about men, whereby it panders to the views of men in order to garner their support. While it is commendable that the feminist movement is attempting to gain acceptance among men, who undeniably form a significant part of the population, the mechanism used simply regresses the progress the movement has made. Feminism has and should always put women first. 

Moreover, the feminist movement appears to be dominated by a monolithic idea of what is means to be a female. Most vocal feminists are rich, white and privileged women who have the political influence to get their voices heard. This makes it incredibly difficult for other narratives to exist. Influential feminists like Hillary Clinton and Taylor Swift merely advocate for western ideals like the opportunity for mothers to continue excelling in their careers or the ability for females to be independent, while neglecting other equally important ideas. 

This single narrative of the feminist movement is harmful in three aspects. Firstly, it ignores the complexities of being female with the over simplified message of gender equality. Even if women can successfully overcome the gender wage gap, they will still have significantly more obstacles in their way compared to their male counterparts. She may face sexual harrassment in the office, or require numerous days off work to care for her ill children. Secondly, there appears to be only a single way whereby females can achieve gender equality- by being directly on par with males. The feminist movement chooses to ignore how certain groups of females may feel just as empowered by actively choosing to play the important role of caregivers in their households. Lastly, it limits the number of women who feel like they can identify as feminists. The current feminist movement categorically excludes females from developing nations, who have vastly different needs to be met, but have just as important a role to play in the movement. Women from developing nations do not desire the western ideals currently advocated, instead they require governments to meet their basic rights, like the ability for their daughters to access education. The American woman wants to be viewed as equal to her husband,, but the South Sudanese woman simply wants to escape the horrors of rape in her country. By failing to include these narratives in the feminist movement, the movement is further weakened. 

In addition, there appears little the woman on the street can do to play a part in the feminist movement. I continue to face micro aggression on a daily basis, yet I am unsure of what I can do to counter the subtle discrimination. It is not pleasant to be shamed for my choice of clothing, teased for being more assertive than I should be or to be told that "you run like a girl". My peers may not mean to be misogynist pigs but they continue to play into the patriarchy. With the strong presence of the feminist movement, why then am I afraid to stand up to my male counterparts? 

The feminist movement is a social movement after all. In order to continue making an impact on the world, it is imperative that females are proud to identify as feminists and feel empowered to fight for the rights they deserve. While I am glad that there are efforts to achieve gender equality for the female population, I believe the feminist movement is not necessarily moving in the right direction. I cannot wait for the day when being a feminist is respected, where all females, regardless of nationality, are empowered, and we can all make the world a better place.

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