Chivers: We Still Need Feminism

When I was seven, a boy on the playground said he wanted to kiss me. I was painfully shy, and there were many days I wasn’t particularly interested in speaking to my friends, let alone a boy I didn’t know. I shook my head and walked away.

Feeling the sting of rejection, he chased me, pulled me back by my arm, and bit me.

As I ran to a teacher, I could hear his voice calling out behind me.

‘Don’t be upset, baby. All I wanted was a kiss!’

The words of a man came out of the mouth of a second grader, sending a chill down my spine. The teacher gave me equally inappropriate advice.

‘I’m sure he didn’t mean it. Go play with him and give him a chance.’

That was the first moment I consciously realized that I was dealt unfair circumstances because I was a girl. While I didn’t know what feminism was at the time, I joined the movement that day. It’s a movement I’ve needed every day of my life.

It’s been twenty years since that encounter and I still remember it vividly. The hundreds of incidents since then are starting to blend together. These are no longer outlying moments in my life. This is just part of the non-straight-white-cisgender-male experience.

I’ll never forget my grandmother teaching me to use my keys as a weapon. I’ll never forget walking through Paris and needing a male friend to physically pull me to safety when a stranger grabbed and isolated me from my group. I’ll never forget being in a bar and having a man I did not know lick my face. I’ll never forget all the times I faked a phone call while walking home because I was being followed.

But people say we don’t need feminism anymore.

When I was fifteen, I started working at a pizza place. It was my very first job, and I was thrilled to make my own money. As a teenage girl, I was assigned the task of answering phones, forced to take customer orders all night, while the all the boys and adults made the pizzas.

One day a week, we received a delivery. Anyone who was available would run outside and unload the truck of ingredients.

I was carrying in a box of tomato sauce while the store’s owner was inside. He was a tall German man who was rarely actually seen at the store, so his presence was a bit of a surprise. I was called into his office as soon as I set the box down.

‘Get back to the phones. I don’t want to see you carrying any more of those boxes. There are plenty of boys here to do that.’

Confused, I asked why I couldn’t help. It was part of my job.

The answer stung.

‘Girls get hurt too easily. When you sue me, you’ll put me out of business. Now get back to the phones and don’t unload that truck again. I’ll know if you do.’

I’ll never forget the moment that I first realized I don’t have the same opportunities at work because of my gender. I’ll never forget my next job, when I was told I wasn’t allowed to work with the movies, music, and video games because “girls don’t know that stuff”. I’ll never forget being spoken to by my manager about my “inappropriate dress” because my straps were only three inches wide, despite adhering to the dress code.

But people say we don’t need feminism anymore.

When I was in my early twenties, I finally gained the confidence to be vocal about these injustices. Despite my often crippling anxiety, I had to let my voice be heard.

So I would gather my courage and tell someone that their sexist joke was inappropriate.

‘Oh, you’re some sort of feminazi now?’

As if politely standing up for myself put me on the same level as Hitler.

I would share an article on Facebook with no commentary.

‘This happens to men too. Why don’t you focus on them? Why do you hate men so much?’

As if I can’t care about women’s experience without needing to make men part of the dialogue.

I would share an experience I had that made me feel scared and unsafe.

‘It probably wasn’t even that bad. Are you sure you’re not blowing it out of proportion? Maybe you should just be grateful for the attention.’

As if sexual harassment is a welcomed interaction.

I would publicly declare myself a feminist.

‘I fucking despise feminists, and if you’re one of them, then I hate you too.’

As if wanting equality was a valid reason to be hated by someone you’ve known since childhood.

But people say we don’t need feminism anymore.

Last year, my doctor was accused of sexually assaulting multiple women. He was a man that I trusted and have spent significant time with due to health problems. I was - and still am - very angry with him. When I tried to vent about these negative emotions, nearly every person I confided in had the same response.

‘This poor man. Why are all these women trying to ruin his life. You always liked your doctor, right? You should defend him. Why should his career be ruined based on the accusations of a few women.’

Not one person showed concern for me.

Not one person said, "You’ve spent a lot of time alone with him. You were often naked, with only a paper robe between you two. Did you feel safe? Do you need to talk? I’m here for you.’

All I heard was ‘This poor man.’

I’ll never forget the moment I realized my friends and family are more concerned about a stranger’s career than they are about my safety. I’ll never be able to count the staggering number of friends I’ve comforted after a sexual assault. I’ll never forget being woken up at 4 a.m. by my neighbour banging on my door and screaming that her boyfriend was trying to kill her.

But people say we don’t need feminism anymore.

Today is International Women’s Day, and while we should celebrate the advances women have made, we also must acknowledge the struggles we still face. Feminism is the political, economical, personal, and social equality of all sexes and genders, and that is something that has yet to be achieved. We need feminism because this shouldn’t be the price we pay to exist in the world as women.

But it is.