On Equality

‘Equality is in the eye of the beholder’

– Linda Grant.

For some women, perhaps those of my grandmother’s generation, it must seem like we – the women of generation Y – have got everything women could hope for. That the women’s movement has finished its’ job. That we can do ANYTHING. My grandmother truly believes that EVERYTHING I attempt is a success – that I could be a diplomat, that I will be the next female Prime Minister – that I’ve got it easy because I’ve had an education beyond what she’d ever imagined for herself or her daughter (my mother). And yet. And yet.

I am pretty sure that’s not how most women of my generation feel. I hate to disregard the privileges I’ve had – a wonderful education that’s been delivered fairly, the personal agency to quit a job I dislike, and the opportunity to undergo further training to boost my career…* But should all this be regarded as a ‘privilege’?

I think not. Education and access to education should not be restricted by sex or age or colour ANYWHERE in the world. It’s not something anyone should feel ‘lucky’ to have received. It should be a fact of life for everyone. In my eyes, it’s a basic human right.

The knowledge of this discrepancy causes a problem for me, and for other women of my generation. The knowing and the guilt. That’s one of my worst habits: I feel guilty for my ‘privileges’ but know of no direct way to change the cause.

In truth, we’ve got a lot more power to bring about change than we realise. And tonnes more than previous generations have had. We have tools at our fingertips that enable us to create freely and publish things that go viral almost instantaneously. No previous generation have had that power. But, are we any better at using what’s available?

Perhaps we’ve got so much choice, freedom and creative power available to us that we’re not sure which truly deserving cause we should dedicate our time and energy to. We are stilted by our over-compassion, confused at our need to nurture (albeit from a distance). So we end up doing very little. I feel I’ll end up seeing none of my dreams come true. My dreams about equality.

Maybe we are so concerned about the lack of equality elsewhere in the world – so many of our ‘Why I need #feminism’ slogans compare a Western ideal to some quasi-fictional nation where girls don’t have it so good – that we ignore our local issues with the aim of effecting change on a much larger scale, but – realistically – is this helping anyone?

Sayantani DasGupta speculates that our attempts at ‘saving’ women in other cultures – of fighting a cause on their behalf – actually negates the effect their own work has. It compromises their agency as feminists in their own right, trying to change things in their own culture. I’d never thought of it this way before, but suddenly all this talk of ‘some girls don’t have it so good’ smacks of yet another case of ‘us’ and ‘them’, posing the question of how united a sisterhood feminism really is.

Dr Nawal El Saadawi argues that Western-based feminists’ battle against female genital cutting renders real resistance to the issue by African and Middle Eastern women ineffective.

DasGupta paraphrases El Saadawi’s point thus:

Local feminists had to fight against the perception that their activism was somehow a part of an imperialist Western project rather than a resistance to a cultural practice from within. The best support Western feminists could give their global sisters, she said, was to listen first and speak later, following the lead of and partnering with local feminists, giving economic and other support from a position of “solidarity” rather than “saving”.

If we truly want to spur our sisters on, shouldn’t we be fighting on all frontiers? Shouldn’t we take a closer look at our own corner of the world?

Yes, perhaps to our grandmothers it looks like we’ll get no more juice out of the equality orange, however hard we squeeze. It looks like we’ve made it, if you take the outside view. But from within… the view is not so rosy. We’ve still got SO MUCH to work on – here in the UK, across the pond in the U S of A, and in all the other nations that have slipped out of view because we overlook the sexist hurdles that still prevent true equality. Laura Bate’s, The Everyday Sexism Project, is just one reminder of this.

Change is best fought for from within. I vote we support our fellow women from afar, and fight our own (local) battles first.

*Money and the matter of paying for an education is a different matter (I’m in £30,000 of debt due to my degree, and my parents have generously assisted me with the fees for my most recent course). My personal belief is that education should be free for everyone, and that the ability to pay extra should get our wealthier (or perhaps simply more traditionally-minded) peers no advantages. But of course, that’s not the case.

All references from:
Appignanesi, Lisa, Rachel Holmes and Susie Orbach (eds.). Fifty Shades of Feminism. London: Virago, 2013. Print.

(Originally published on Aliljoy.com on 8 August 2014)

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