Why Our World Is Not Equal For Women

For women, equal rights is still a joke in some ways. With abortion rights at a crossroads in the US, the UK government threatening to turn the clock back on gender equality, and domestic violence rising worldwide, it’s easy to believe that we’re already living in a feminist dystopia. Is that true and, if so, how do we find utopia?

Are We Already Living In A Feminist Dystopia?

When the drama series, The Handmaid’s Tale launched on Hulu in 2017, shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration, ardent supporters of the new president saw it as a direct attack on their beliefs. Some saw it as “leftist propaganda” while others had a more extreme reaction, saying, “Feminism needs to die NOW.”

Disturbingly, those Trump supporters who perceived it as a critique of their politics or gender must have seen a correlation between the “totalitarian patriarchal theocracy” of Gilead and the state of America under Trump’s leadership.

They weren’t the only ones.  “On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, one popular placard read ‘Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again,’ reminding us just how close we were to that terrifying feminine dystopia Atwood envisaged some 30 years previously.

With Trump now gone and President Biden already making moves in the right direction, perhaps it’s time to relinquish our fears of a feminist dystopia? Probably not.

What do women’s equality mean?

It’s not only the abortion issue in the US that suggests “the world we live in is still no place for women.” In the UK, the coronavirus “pandemic has made existing inequalities worse for pregnant women, new mothers, the self-employed, women claiming benefits and those working in the professional childcare sector.” For women, equal rights haven’t improved that much.

In Poland, women are fighting tooth and nail against a totalitarian government eager to impose “a near-total ban on abortions” while the whole world is experiencing an “alarming rise” in domestic abuse.

This Is Our Reality, And It Doesn’t Sound Like Utopia To Me

When Naomi Alderman’s science fiction novel, The Power, was published in 2016, it was “berated by many for its inconspicuous approval of unjust and violent behavior directed towards men,” but, as Alderman points out, “as nothing happens to a man in it that’s not happening to a woman right now if my novel is a dystopia, we’re living in a dystopia today.

The new challenges the coronavirus pandemic has thrown at our global society have shaken the feminist movement to its core, just as Joanna Russ envisaged in her 1975 novel. In The Female Man, “the most sexist of all the realities she [Russ] explores is also the one that is most economically depressed,” bringing to light the reality that, while “justice feels affordable in times of plenty, in times of hardship, it “starts to feel like a luxury.”

Are women’s equal rights merely a luxury in our current society, just as feminist science fiction writers have been suggesting for the past 40 years or so? Where, in this dystopia, is our right to equal pay, our right to choose what happens to our own bodies, our right to be safe from violence and fear?

What feminist writers have done for us in creating these fictional dystopias is give women space to “share their experiences and affirm the nature of the problem.”

Writers like Atwood, Alderman, and Russ, have helped raise consciousness about women’s experiences and the challenges facing them in today’s society. That’s all well and good, but, as journalist Helen Lewis points out, “contemporary feminism has shown incredible strength in consciousness-raising but much less conviction when it comes to concrete aims.”

What is inclusive society?

“Enumerating our wounds, by itself, will not carry us to a place beyond harm,” and we, as feminists, need to dream of better things.

According to Alderman, however, “Utopias and dystopias can exist side by side, even in the same moment. Which one you’re in depends entirely on your point of view”.

So, is there, somewhere in the depths of our society, a feminist utopia? Not yet, but we could build one. We’d need strong foundations that try “hard not to leave people out.” We need constant vigilance “to make it right as often as we can. To imagine how it could be different”.

On International Women’s Day last year, two journalists delved into the current state of feminism, asking where we are heading and why.

One sees us turning up “en masse to protest everything from police brutality to cuts to food aid,” another a correlation between climate activism and feminism, saying, “We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth, or we are not going to have a human future at all.”

Labour activist and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Union, Ai-Jen Poo calls for a feminist utopia in which “every worker is valued for their contributions to our economy and professional women working out of the home aren’t building power on the backs of the domestic workers.”

Encouragingly, for Carmen Rojas, that utopia “doesn’t feel impossible or far off” and, in it, we would experience “a politics of liberation, of sovereignty, of belonging, and movement-building.”

But Where, Exactly, Do We Begin?

Not all of us want to take to the streets with placards and handmaid outfits. Not all of us want to join the mainstream feminist movement with its “empty gestures about lady empowerment — that have brought fatigue to all this feminism talk.”

We can start by changing our own perspectives about our rights and how we defend them. We can petition for change on a personal as well as political level. We can raise money and awareness about reproductive healthcare and our right to make choices over our own bodies.

We can remember that we are all women with the same biology and the same women’s equal rights regardless of our social status or skin color. Women of all nationalities, and women of all race should be unified.

It may be that, as Alderman believes, “the best we can hope for, probably, is to create a society that tries hard not to leave people out,” but if we manage that, we’ll already be well on the way to creating a tiny utopian seed in the garden of our dystopian society.