Firstly: has feminism failed? This is obviously an incredibly complex, multi-faceted question to unpack. So I’ll try and keep it simple with the intention not to provide a comprehensive answer, but to at least have an accessible conversation about this topic.
I’m not an academic or a scholar. I’m just a ‘regular’ university-educated gay dude who is looking around the world today and seeing so many examples of women being subjected to standards that wouldn’t be acceptable were those same standards be applied to men (Oh hi, Hillary).
This makes me mad, and I’m trying to understand what the f*ck is going on.
It can be something as superficial as advertising, where women pose seductively and almost naked irrespective of what the product they’re promoting is. Men? Nope, there’s no way they’d ever pose or be positioned like that. Huge double standards at play here.
Or, it can be something as serious and life threatening such as domestic violence. On average in Australia, one woman is killed at the hands of her male partner. Each week!!
I am sure that men experience domestic violence as well, but given that there isn’t any available data on male deaths due to domestic violence, it would appear that again there’s one standard for women, and another for men.
So, to answer the initial question – I would argue that feminism’s goal of achieving full equality for women hasn’t been achieved. Therefore, at a base level, feminism has failed.
Now I’m not saying that progress hasn’t been made. It has, and there’s no doubt that the situation is so much better these days than in the 1950s (or 1850s for that matter).
And this is also in way a dig or derision at the millions of women who have worked to advance their cause. I’m looking at this issue at a meta, not micro level.
Changing laws is one aspect of it, changing societal and cultural norms, and really changing people’s ‘hearts and minds’ – that’s another thing entirely. So while it may be illegal to fire or discriminate against a woman in the workplace for being a woman and say, wanting to get pregnant, I’m pretty sure most of us know someone who’s been discriminated against in this way anyway.
So if we look at the experience, impact and outcomes of feminism over the last 50 years, and apply the lessons learned to gay rights, another question emerges: will gay rights follow a similar, and ultimately unfulfilling path?
The one big similarity in strategy that the gay rights movement is following feminism in, is that it’s approaching many matters from a legalistic angle.
Marriage equality is a great example of this. Gay rights activists and supporter’s goal is to to enable gay people to get married in the same way straight people. Changes are then made (or not made in the case of Australia – hurry up already!) – and the marriage rights issue is won, or lost.
So on paper and within the legal system, everything looks fine and equal. And it is – in that very limited, removed-from-reality sphere. But it seems, and we know, that that’s not where real change happens.
On paper, women have equal rights. In practice, they don’t. Will this same trajectory and experience be replicated within the gay rights movement?
Sure, we can fight for and win the right to marry. But if we’re unable to tell our co-workers about marrying a person of the same sex for fear of overt, covert or even subtle retribution and discrimination, how far does that type of progress really take us?
I think it would be wise for the gay rights movement to expand their strategy past the purely legal side of the argument. Perhaps, we can complement that approach with other ways of driving home the message that gay people are just like straight people?
Either way, there are many lessons from feminism that gay rights activists and supported can – and should – be looking ta. After all, those that don’t learn the lessons of history are bound to repeat its mistakes.