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  • Margareta Dovgal, Margareta is a young politico

Why Feminism isn’t up for debate

I've become a more vocal feminist as of late. Primarily, this has translated to what I say and write on my social media channels. For some time, I've abided by a very laissez-faire comment/discussion moderation policy on my posts, in hopes that good arguments would win over folks and keep productive conversations going among my large, politically-diverse friend group. But recently I've become fed up with certain aspects, especially bad faith arguments. This has led to me adopting a new policy: the foundations of feminism, the idea that women face material oppression (including physical, structural, and symbolic violence), are not up for debate with me. This is what I wrote to my friends:

If you don't think there's a problem, however you frame that problem, or if you think that feminism is bad (even given the most charitable definition), and you're determined to loudly proclaim it to me, I don't want your friendship.

With respect to feminism, I'm happy disagree on 99% of points, including how to describe the issue, who is affected, why it happens, where it comes from, and how we can (or whether we even should try to) solve it, but I'm not willing to entertain claims that the inequality of women is not really a problem. Just because you don't experience it, just because you don't see it, or just because you get to benefit from it doesn't mean that billions of women get to live in an idealized world where gender (which I personally see as oppression embodied) somehow works for them.

In fact, billions of us, literally, are assaulted and harassed, because we're women.

Hundreds of millions are enslaved (in a myriad of ways, including indentured labour, sexual slavery and trafficking, and the denial of basic legal rights) for the very crime of being born female. 71% of all victims of trafficking are women and girls – over half are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

130 million girls are refused basic education and access to civil liberties. 15 million girls, each year, are forced to marry men whom they almost certainly didn't choose, who sometimes beat, rape, and murder them.

Many girls have their genitals mutilated from an early age, amounting to 200 million alive today.

Many women suffer in agonizing pain from pregnancies they didn't ask for, they couldn't prevent, they couldn't stop if they wanted to, they couldn't have access to prenatal care for, for babies they couldn't deliver in safe and sanitary conditions, with frequent complications that lead to early death or chronic conditions that impact quality of life for decades to come.

Many women and girls don't have access to sanitary products, impacting their freedom to leave the home, go to school, or work.

The issues that women face are not always reproductive and having a uterus or having reproductive capacity is not a prerequisite for womanhood in my book, but I do focus a lot of my mental energies on questions of reproductive justice. If you have a problem with that being the focus of my feminism, let's talk about it, as long as you don't deny that it is a problem for the billions I've identified, including myself in some categories.

To be clear, our world is getting better. We are slowly cutting down maternal mortality (it has halved since the 1990s, but remains at lifetime risk of 1 in 41 for women in low-income countries), reducing rates of child marriage, getting more and more girls educated, and giving women the right to vote, own property, and have financial freedom (and not just as a matter of law, but as a matter of actual practice).

In the developed world, our problems with gendered violence are far from over; in 2014, the lifetime prevalence rate for gendered violence in the United States was 36%. But we're making progress. We still have a long way to go in ensuring that even as women choose to enter the workplace that they aren't forced to work a second shift in terms of unpaid domestic labour (unsurprisingly, we are! The majority of unpaid domestic labour is performed by women, many of whom work full-time and have kids too).

But the progress we have made is not over. So long as any woman is unfree, the fight continues.

Many of us live intersections of identity, facing forces like poverty and classism, racism as women and people of colour, homophobia as queer, lesbian, and bi women, settler-colonialism and discrimination as indigenous women, transphobia as trans* women and people, and ableism as women with disabilities, all of which further marginalize us.

These are my opinions, and I understand that many allies in feminism won't approach it exactly the same way. That's okay, because as people with diverse experiences we're bound to disagree. But I am drawing the line at defending feminism itself.

Refusing to see violence and suffering of this type, the world over, means that we can't be friends. Simple.

If you have a problem with this, please unfriend/unfollow me. If you want to be friends and not talk about gender, whatever, I get that: we all have 1,000 other battles to fight every day. At the end of the day, fighting for women's rights is very important for me, and I understand that this isn’t always true for others; I'm just no longer interested in validating anyone's anti-feminism or flat-out sexism by engaging with it or giving it free space.

I don't want to give the impression that disagreeing personally, not knowing enough, or being in a state of learning are conditions for unfriending. I've just had it with attacks against the very basic idea that feminism is needed. It is. It was throughout history. It is today. And it will continue to be needed.

The views in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of SheTalks.

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