There are many things on which feminists are divided. For example, some feminists are seriously opposed to pornography, while others believe the sex industry is anti-feminist and exploitative. (For the record, I’m both pro-pornography and pro-sex work, and believe both can fit very well within a framework of women’s equality, but it’s by no means a universal opinion.) So what can all feminists really bond together about?
Beyond the basic tenets of women’s equality come a lot of complicated questions. Should equal representation for women mean that businesses and governments have “quotas” for hiring ladies, or is that just sexism by another name? What role does voluntary subservience to husbands or sexual partners have within feminism? What about respecting religious choices, like wearing the Islamic headscarf? But there are aspects of life experience that should matter to all feminists, regardless of their background. We’ve got universal concerns. And we're not going to shut up about them.
So if you've been interested in broadening your activism lately, here are 10 core causes that every feminist should feel passionately about, regardless of their divided opinions on other issues — because they get right to the heart of equality for the sexes. Yell 'em from the rooftops, ladies.
1. Equal Pay
Equal pay for equal work. "It's not that complicated," as President Obama said — and it's not, really, but lower salaries for women doing the same jobs as men are still widespread, and it's sexist nonsense that is, rightly, against the law. The American Association for University Women uncovered the nasty fact that the pay gap — women earn on average 78 percent of their male colleagues' pay — hasn't budged since 2013. And it happens to everybody: women without children, women who have college educations, women across every field and occupation. If that doesn't make you start firing at the nose, I don't know what will.
2. Women’s Educational Opportunities — Worldwide
Education isn't a universal panacea for better women's rights worldwide, but it's a damn good place to start. More educated women means more women in the workforce, more women taking up college positions, more women entering government or politics, more women opening businesses — it's a basic recipe for empowerment across the board. It's why girls' education is one of the big priorities for charities like UNICEF (and women like Oprah): educated girls in every culture are the future of feminism — and the world.
3. Political Representation By Women
Seeing women in positions of power matters. Even if they voice opinions that you don't agree with, representation and visibility are crucial elements in breaking glass ceilings: if girls see that their predecessors can do it, they'll see no problem in trying to do it too. Inspiration is a big part of feminism. It's not a sufficient reason for electing Hillary Clinton, but it's hardly a bad side affect.
4. The Right To Make Your Own Reproductive Choices
It is incredibly tricky, to say the least, to be a feminist and also claim a pro-life position on abortion — because one of the basic tenets of feminism, and its empowerment of women, is to give them control over all aspects of their own lives, from education to work to marriage. And that includes their body. Whether you disagree with abortion or not, the right of other women to make reproductive choices, determine when and how they have children, what birth control they prefer and what they do with their eggs is a pretty core tenet of feminist belief.
5. The Fight Against Child Marriage
This is an unusual thing, but one of the elements of feminism is that it validates all areas of the female experience — including our right to just be girls. Which is why the fight against traditional forced marriage to child brides should be something we all care about. The consequences of child marriage for women's health, access to education, reproductive control, and general empowerment are pretty catastrophic, and the activist organization Girls Not Brides estimates that 15 million girls a year become child brides.
Make this something you're angry about.
6. Women’s Participation In STEM Fields
"Girls can't do math" is an old idea, but it's still a strong enough belief — and reflected in so many levels of society — that women still don't get enough jobs or take enough courses in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The female brain isn't soft and sappy and geared innately towards "less serious" things — Marie Curie on her own has taken that opinion and snapped it in half.
But having more women in STEM matters, and not only for symbolism. By not hiring brilliant minds because they happen to be attached to ovaries, we may be missing out on some of the most important innovations in history.
7. Attitudes Towards Sexual Assault & Rape
A woman's right to personal safety, in public and as a sexual being, is a key part of her rights as a human. Attitudes to rape and sexual assault that blame and shame the victim — her clothes, her behavior, her sexuality — are utterly unacceptable, particularly because they don't just happen in the newspapers: they're also a problem in institutions like police forces and health care.
Every woman has the right to be protected from sexual violation, and to get justice and help if it does happen.
8. Recognition For Female Pioneers, Past & Present
History matters. It's why we have so many fights about who we put on bank notes: the people we establish as big, important names in history's canon are the ones whose contributions get recognized. And there are far too many woman who led world-changing lives and don't get the recognition they deserve. For every Ida B. Wells, there are ten more who should be household names but aren't — because men always hog the attention and the history pages. Enough of that. History's ours too.
Intersectional feminism is common sense, and yet, all too often, white feminists like myself fail to think of it as an essential part of the movement.
Intersectionality is simply the acknowledgement that there are different oppressive factors in our society — racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism —which are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. Feminism and sexism doesn't exist in a vacuum, because people don't either.
All of the issues that affect gender equality — the state of our economy, access to education, discrimination in hiring, reproductive healthcare, the list goes on and on — are inseparable from race and class. All feminists have an obligation to acknowledge that fact, and must not assume that the experience of cis white feminists could speak on behalf of the needs of, say, a trans person of color. Caring about intersectionality is key to this movement's effectiveness and survival. You should definitely care about it.
10. Casual, Everyday Misogyny
Yes, feminists should still get upset about everyday sexism. Even if it feels tired, or like a losing fight. Being catcalled, harassed, passed over, asked to make the coffee, or discriminated against because of the possession of breasts — they're all small pieces of a larger puzzle that makes the world a worse place for women. Every piece of casual misogyny erodes our lives, and incrementally chips away at our right to equality.
It's boring, and people might get tired of hearing about it — but they wouldn't hear about it if people stopped doing it. And wouldn't that be a better world.
Image: Helmuts R/Flickr; Giphy