This year marks 100 years since house-holding women over 30 finally gained the right to vote. However, there was room for major improvement. It was still another ten-year wait for the women of Britain, regardless of race or class, to be granted the same voting rights as men. Yet another 76 year wait for all women of South Africa, with women only being granted the vote in Saudi Arabia in 2015.
So we ask ourselves, 100 years later, has enough really changed? Harvey Weinstein has been able to get away with the assault and (allegedly) rape of women for over three decades without consequence until last year. The UK Parliament is still dominated by the pale, stale and male. Our nation has only 208 female MPs out of 650, and only 26 of these women are not white. Just like 100 years ago, there is clearly still room for major improvement.
Whilst this is obviously a centenary to celebrate, I also like to think of it as a turning point in the fight for gender equality.
As a 16-year-old student in London, I have noticed these issues being discussed more and more by girls my age both inside and outside the classroom, signalling an exciting time for the future of feminism. So what are the views of young women today on gender equality? And what do we think needs to be done?
Talking to my friends and fellow students at school, there is always a simple and resonating “no” when asked whether ‘we are there yet’ as a society in terms of gender equality. .
There is still a stereotype that women are still seen as inferior due to their sex. One friend summed it up when she said to me, “in actual fact we have the babies and we’re just as, if not more, emotionally intelligent than men. Attitudes within society need to change to appreciate that this idea of women being of less value or less capable than men is just wrong.”
Whilst there seems to be resounding agreement that we still do not have equality, there is still the question of why some women choose not to identify with feminism. The miscommunication that feminists are active ‘man-haters’ has left some women wary of the label. I loved it when one classmate pointed out: “so what if you are a ‘bra-burning lesbian’? What’s so wrong with that anyway?”
But after a few laughs and dismissing some of the ridiculous stereotypes, the problem that we – as young women today – acknowledge, is that sexism is integrated in all aspects of society. The Brock Turner rape case in the United States, where Turner only ended up spending three months behind bars, is a stark reminder.
The fact that the criminal justice system questioned the victim’s sobriety and clothing during the case goes to show how women are still failing to be taken seriously. And you can see this injustice all over. In government, business, medicine and education, women are still underrepresented and their issues and concerns are often deemed as less important than men’s.
It is clear that despite the major advances in women’s rights, major industries still uphold patriarchal values. But this made me wonder, how much change can we be expected to make if we aren’t working together as women? Are there flaws in modern feminism?
With regard to the supposed complications surrounding intersectional feminism, one friend simply said, “you can’t be a feminist if you are racist, homophobic, transphobic etc. If we aren’t all in it for all women, then we are setting back the movement. We need to stop thinking that all social issues are separate and stop getting angry that feminism is getting ‘complicated’.”
Especially with the availability of social media, it is important for us to use whatever privilege we have to speak up for all women, not just be concerned solely with the issues that affect us. Yes women are underrepresented, but there is a clear lack of diversity amongst the women who are being given the platform to speak up.
Similarly, in order for feminism to move forward we need to accept that women should have a sense of choice. Yes, we are fighting to reject typically feminine stereotypes, but that doesn’t mean to say they are strictly permitted or taboo.
Feminism is about women having no limits, but still having a choice. If you want to be a stay-at-home mum, you should not be viewed as any less of a strong woman than one pursuing a career in business. It is important for us all to celebrate our differences.
Many young women so engaged in today’s debate will soon be heading to the ballot box, as we soon turn 18. The centenary of the first significant step towards gender equality reminds us how important it is to vote – every time. A friend told me, “I respect how hard women in the past have fought for our rights today, and want to use my voice to commemorate that. So many women of the past, and even some today, were silenced.” We are excited to vote and empowered by what it means to us as a women.
So who needs to do more? The tampon tax shows the government’s complete lack of understanding in certain issues surrounding women. With women, and in particular working-class women, under-represented in government, it is vital that there should be more diversity in government to ensure that all of society is represented.
So while some women have had the vote for 100 years, it is important to remember the less privileged who did not for another ten; and in light of this, speak up for the less privileged women of today.