Before I started university, I was excited at the prospect of getting to know people who were just as interested in women’s rights as I was. University, and especially the Women Studies courses that I took, allowed me to meet feminists. I was able to engage in conversations with other students on things I had experienced; I learned about experiences that others had but I had never gone through. It was finally a space for me to explore more on a subject that was so near and dear to my heart.
But I quickly realized that there was also a number of people on campus who had a lot of misconceptions about what feminism is. Some thought it was a movement that wanted to strip away the rights of men completely and give women complete power. Others believed that feminism was too much of a western concept to be applied everywhere and that there just wasn’t room for what they had seen on mainstream media for the Middle East.
A few people I met in university even believed that we didn’t need feminism at all anymore. They can be classified as post-feminists. In other words, they believe that we must move beyond fighting for women’s rights because, in their point of view, we’d already achieved enough equality. They went to school and had female peers. Their teachers and professors were often women. And wherever they go, they see female employees across different fields.
While my first instinct is to yell, “you have no idea what you’re talking about,” I think it’s important to try to understand where they’re coming from. An open and healthy discussion can fuel a better understanding of why they feel this way.
I try to remind them that we are more privileged than most. It is not the women who currently have equal opportunities that need feminism the most, it is the ones who don’t. And as people who have those opportunities, we must use our privilege to ensure that we are doing everything we possibly can so that everyone can have them too. A professor of mine once told me, “I am a feminist because I am privileged” and that stuck with me ever since.
I think it can be very easy to dismiss all the things we need to fight for when we look at how much we’ve achieved already. But there isn’t a single place on earth, in my opinion, that’s completely egalitarian. If feminism was a thing of the past, then gender-based violence wouldn’t exist. Movements like the #MeToo campaign and the Lebanese equivalent #MeshBasita would only be a lie. The gender wage gap that continues everywhere would be non-existent. We wouldn’t have discussions worldwide about women’s reproductive rights. Minorities around the world would not be fighting for the right to live in a world where they are not beaten, raped, and/or killed for belonging to a particular group. But we know that that is simply not the case.
Equal rights and opportunities go beyond the ability to go to school and get a job. It is the ability for people to see you as a human being and as more than just your sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and so on. We still have a long way to go, and we can start by recognizing our own privilege.
We need to educate ourselves on what we’re lacking in our own societies. Start discussions with your friends and family members on important issues. Read more about what feminists from your own countries are doing to challenge the status of women there. Learn about movements taking place all over the world to combat different problems. Maybe there’s an initiative on your campus you can be a part of, or if there isn’t one, start your own.
Read. Write. Learn. If that’s the only way you can contribute to making a change, it is enough! Once we recognize that the world is not as black and white as we think it is, we can begin to aid change.