Although Sweden is considered a world leader in equality, only one in four Swedes identify themselves as feminists, according to a survey conducted by YouGov in 2016. I often hear friends saying “I don’t need feminism because I don’t ignore the fact that men have issues too” or “I don’t need feminism because I already feel like I have equal rights”. I can’t help but think that this isn’t about our personal needs—though they’re still important—but rather what we, as a society, need.
Feminism is defined as the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities. Historical female oppression in education, employment, politics and marriage spurred a movement of organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. This activism led to monumental changes in Western societies with women earning the right to vote and advancing the cause of reproductive freedom. In spite of these and other important achievements, there has always been a negative stigma attached to the word “feminism”. Perhaps part of this problem lies in how feminism has been distorted by critics who present the most extreme and radical versions as the standard. For example, the phrase “all men are rapists”, excerpted from Marilyn French’s groundbreaking feminist novel, The Women’s Room (1977), became closely associated with the feminist movement and is often cited in the media as a radical anti-male slogan. However, the full text, ”all men are rapists, and that’s all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes” does not sound so shocking when one considers the struggle for female liberation during the time in which the novel takes place.
Feminism wants to empower women, but it doesn’t mean that feminists view women as powerless. Feminists believe in the inherent strength of women; they just want society to see that as well. Empowering women doesn’t mean downplaying men’s issues either. Men also suffer from gender role assumptions that place expectations upon them to act a certain way. Not all men love sports, working on cars, or are lazy/messy. Feminists believe that every individual should be judged by their abilities as a human being, not on the stereotypes society places on them.
There are some people who believe that feminism is in the past and that we don’t need it anymore. Not only can women vote, but they vote in more numbers than men. We also have female heads of state in 22 countries and 24 women as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. The majority of Western women today feel like they have equal opportunities as men, but if it wasn’t for past feminist movements, the world might look very differently today. In fact, in some places in the developing world and in other authoritarian societies, girls are not allowed to go to school and women are not allowed to drive.
The struggle for female liberation continues and we still need feminism to teach the world that when women are given basic human rights and the opportunity to be educated and thrive, society thrives. Feminism is needed to teach people not to view women as objects, but as full-fledged individuals with an intellect. We need feminism to push back against using words like “pussy” to indicate vulnerability and weakness. We need feminism because of the gender gap in wages for the same line of work. Even here in Sweden, women earn 87% of men’s wages according to Statistiska Central Byrån.
Some people don’t feel the need to voice their opinions on the subject, and that’s perfectly fine. Nevertheless, there’s a big difference between being uninterested and being ignorant. Feminism is for everyone who believes their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, daughters and friends should be paid as much as any man; that they deserve to feel safe from harassment and oppression in the work environment; and not be teased based on their appearance. This is not a female issue — this is a human issue.