An intro to feminism for girls

From the F-Word chapter of Girl Stuff: Your Full-on Guide to the Teen Years.

Feminism, or women’s rights, or girlpower: there are lots of different ways to describe the idea that girls should have as many opportunities as guys, and than being born a woman should not disadvantage you.

A lot of girls don’t like the word feminism, and think that all the battles of equality have been won. But before you say “I’m not a feminist”, think about what it means.

Feminists, also known as women’s liberationists, or suffragettes (who demanded the right of women to vote)  have fought very hard to get us women some rights and benefits. Most of those rights have only been “awarded” only in the last 200 years, or in most cases the last hundred years, and in some cases the last 50 years.

Women are still discriminated against here. And in some countries, women are still brutally oppressed. If the number of years humans have been around was expressed as a kilometre, we’ve had women’s rights for about a milimetre. Unless we keep fighting, even the rights we have won recently can be taken away.


It’s because feminists fought hard for it, against strong opposition each time, that that women in Australia and New Zealand can:
•    Go to school, TAFE and university.
•    Vote.
•    Choose their own career.
•    Earn their own money.
•    Be paid at least a minimum wage.
•    Get as much money as a man for doing exactly the same job (until 1972 Australian law said women could only earn 75 per cent of a man’s wage for the same job).
•    Keep their own money, and decide how to use it.
•    Own and sell property.
•    Have her work in the home recognised during a divorce, so that she was given an equal share of assets.
•    As adults, not have to do what their father or husband tells them.
•    Become lawyers or judges, or be allowed to be in a jury.
•    Become a doctor or an engineer.
•    Legally stop a husband from raping her.
•    Keep working while they’re pregnant, and/or get their job back later, instead of being sacked immediately.
•    Have legal access to safe contraception and termination of pregnancy.
•    Decide to have medical treatment without the permission of her husband.
•    Be able to keep their children after a divorce.
•    Not be accused of past allegedly “sluttish” behaviour during a rape trial.
•    Be able to do paid work after having children.  
•    Keep their children if they were not married or helped by a man, and get some financial assistance from the government.
•    Have legal right not to be sexually harassed at work, or in another public place.
•    Go to a women’s refuge (a safe house), if she and/or her children are being physically or mentally abused by a boyfriend or husband.
•    Have a legal right to oppose discrimination on the grounds of being a woman.
•    Be a politician.
•    Participate in the Olympics.

What’s a feminist?

Being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t wear girly clothes, or you hate guys. It means you’re a person who supports equal rights for women.

Why we still need feminism

  • If somebody has told you that all the fights are over and nobody needs to bother about being a feminist any more, think about these questions:
  • How come on average girls do much better than boys at school, and most uni graduates are young women, but women are more likely to be in lower paid part-time or casual jobs with less benefits and conditions?
  • Why are most managers,  bosses and people in charge, men?
  • How come the average woman still receives less than the average man’s full time weekly earnings for the same job? (In most cases, less than or around 80 per cent of the man’s wage.)

Why are most candidates chose by political parties men?

Did you know that your grandmother probably was automatically sacked from work when she got married?
•    How come all those girls in guys’ music videos all have to act sexy and be dressed like sex workers and pretend to be having sex, or wanting to? How come girls who sing can’t just sing their own songs dressed the way they want, that so many of them have to wear hardly anything and degrade themselves by being in what’s basically almost a porn video?
•    Why is it that radio stations and music channels will play songs in which guys can call girls hos, bitches and other disrespectful and brutal things, as if it was nothing, as if it’s okay to do that?
•    Why is a teenage girl who gets pregnant sometimes asked or told to leave school, but the father of the baby isn’t?
•    Did you know that traditionally, taking on your husband’s name when you get married is because you’re being passed as a possession under your father’s control to a possession under your husband’s control?
•    Did you know your great-great grandmother wasn’t allowed to vote, and that having paid work was considered unrespectable?
•    Did you know that now, in many countries, women who have been raped are arrested and punished because they are no longer “virgins”?
•    Why are most of the sports reports about men's sports?
•    Did you know that now in some cultures girls’ genitals are mutilated, and they are forced to cover themselves entirely with fabric, or risk physical punishment, even beatings?
•    How come so many guys don't respect girls or women or their achievements?
•    Did you know that now in many cultures young girls are “promised” to older men, or others, and forced to marry against their wishes?
•    How come male newsreaders and actors get old but the women all seem to have to stay looking younger using cosmetic surgery?
•    How come a woman who has sex with a lot of people is considered by some people to be  a “slut” but it’s okay, even impressive, for a guy to do the same thing?
•    How come so many radio and TV shows have lots of men and one woman, never the other way round?
•    How come so many children’s stories have male heroes, compared to female ones?
•    Why haven’t the (mostly) male politicians fixed the child care problem?
•    What is the “glass ceiling?”
•    How come the (mostly) male politicians, many of them with a religious bias, made the rules about abortion when most of them leave the raising of the family to their wives and disappear for weeks at a time, and years in general, and who will never be pregnant?
•    How come even the women who work full time and have children, tend to do a lot more of the housework?
•    Why do large corporations, whose shareholders are at least half women, sponsor only (or mainly) men’s sports, not women’s?
•    Why do some girls feel they need to know “what guys want” and “will guys like it if I…?” Wouldn’t it be nice if girls thought more “What would a guy have to do to impress me?
•    Why do some people persist in behaving as if girls are just toys for guys?
•    Why do some church leaders say that women who have their period can't enter a church?
•    How come women writers will often write dramas and comedies with equal roles for guys and women, but male writers will often write interesting roles for guys but not so many roles, or good lines, for women?

Some quotes from real young women:

I'd like girls to become more aware about gender issues. I'm doing sexual politics at university, but I am often dismissed or called strange for insiting girls stick up for themselves, or that they do not take labels such as slut/bitch/whore or rape ridicule as jokes.
- Melissa, 18, Carlton, Vic, Australia.

Girls (especially younger girls) need to know how important it is to believe in yourself and be your own really does make life alot easier.
- Portia, 18, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Put girls in power!!! Man we need to kick these old men out of parliament! Who says they have the right to decide on such things as abortion!?! Girls need to realise their potential! And not be afraid of things such as law or maths simply because 'boys are naturally better'- that’s crap and we know it!
- Amy, 17, Boorowa, NSW, Australia.

I would like to read why it is ok for guys to sleep with as many girls as they want and get congratulated for it while girls get called sluts. (No can do. It’s not okay.)
- Janne, 17, Happy Valley, SA, Australia.

Boys aren't superior to you! The world doesn’t revolve around them like I used to think! Girls are more then 1/2 the population of Australia hell we even live longer! We can make things happen!
- Grazia, 18, Punchbowl, NSW, Australia.

There are lots of suggestions in Girl Stuff: Your Full on Guide to the Teen Years of more websites and books to read about feminism, and lists of heroines and great songs and movies. You can see more in the book, available at your local book shop or online. 

Copyright Kaz Cooke, from Girl Stuff.



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