Earlier this year seventeen-year-old Fahma Mohamed led a campaign to ensure that teachers and parents were informed of the horrors of female genital mutilation. At sixteen Jinan Younis started a feminist society at her school in response to verbal sexual harassment on the streets and is now active in a campaign for feminist groups to be formed in schools across the country. They are just two girls that represent a wave of protest that is building up into a crescendo which is being titled ‘the fourth wave of feminism’. Feminism is trendy once more and on the rise in our universities: ‘the number of full-time women’s officers in student unions almost doubled in the last year'. This was seen in many universities when they banned ‘Blurred Lines’ on campus amidst fears that it promoted a rape culture. #Everydaysexism now has 142k followers and receives huge response online with threads such as #grabbed as women share their experiences of inappropriate sexual encounters, and personal violations.
Kirsty Wark presented a programme earlier this week examining the debate around misogyny – do men really hate women? Is it ok to make sexist jokes? What about the torrent of abuse high profile women receive on-line? Should women just learn to ironically ‘man up’? Germaine Greer commented that all of this only goes to show that men really do hate women and this is the backlash against the advances women have made in the last few decades. Before we write Germaine Greer off too quickly bear in mind that although her view is extreme it comes from a heart of compassion; as a university professor she has spent many years picking up the pieces of broken-hearted girls who invested in sexual relationships which their male counterparts treated as casual.
This vocal generation of girls are regularly achieving better grades at GCSE’s and A-levels than boys and are more likely to attend university than their male counterparts. They have been told that that the world is their oyster, they grew up with Hermione Granger, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games Trilogy
and Tris Prior in Divergent
. Even Disney has given them action heroines in films such as Brave
- although none of these challenged the stereotypical image of female beauty. When these girls in their teenage years find themselves faced with sexual harassment and worse they are angry and frustrated at inequality which they hadn’t quite expected. But as Kira Cochrane says;
‘One obvious outcome of being brought up to believe you’re equal is that you’re both very angry when you encounter misogyny, but also confident in your ability to tackle it.’
As a young woman living in a flat in London I was nervous to go out to the Park on a hot sunny day. I loved being outside but had no garden and inner city flats can get very hot. I would go to picnic or read a book but had to keep a wary eye open at all times, I was frequently harassed and on several occasions was faced with men masturbating and exposing themselves in bushes nearby. I considered ditching that last sentence because it is ugly but that is the point – it is ugly and a violation. I would pack up and go home. I never reported any incident. I accepted it as ‘normal’ – something I had to learn to protect myself from. #Everydaysexism is encouraging waves of young women to stand up and say ‘enough – not normal!’ And to this I add my voice. I am glad that young women are standing up against this and other such abuse. I think there are many ‘feminist’ causes that Christians can and should get behind. But the traditional feminist worldview promotes causes that I cannot endorse including advocating abortion, the rise of feminist pornography and its ambivalent messages regarding expressions of sexuality.
On the flip side I also see an increase of issues for our young men: they are under pressure to conform to physical stereotypes. I have heard young women talking together about famous figures in ways that they would object to if women were being discussed in the same manner. Men are objectified too just watch Strictly Come Dancing!
When it comes to relating with each other as male and female there is a lot of mess. The rise of single-issue campaigns has brought some good solutions but ‘feminism’ identifies many symptoms and I am not convinced that it has an accurate diagnosis or cure. Neither am I convinced that it is possible to contain all these issues under the umbrella of ‘feminism’ – these issues and solutions contain too many contradictions. I am persuaded that it is the gospel that brings hope in the middle of it all, that in Christ true equality is found which is far deeper and more complex than a superficial sameness. I am going to examine some of these issues in future blogs. These will not be about the argument over women’s roles in Church but the beginnings of thinking through a biblical response to the issues that are troubling our young women. There is much to say.
3. Kira Cochrane All the rebel Women: the rise of the fourth wave of feminism.