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It is easy to think of feminism solely in a negative way. A cause championed by angry old women, lesbians in plaid shirts and men haters. Yet this lazy stereotyping could not be further from the truth. Feminism is a cause that all right minded people, regardless of age, gender or sexual preference should be fighting tooth and nail for.

This years International Women’s Day comes on the back of an eventful 12 months for women’s issues around the world. From the shooting of 14-year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, to the brutal rape and murder of the student in India that caused huge protests around the world. Such cases merely serve to illustrate what is still a global struggle for female equality.

Last months One Billion Rising campaign was a crucial step to raising awareness. It was a global event, held in countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, focused on raising awareness of the continued discrimination faced by women around the world. One Billion Rising is so named for one simple, shocking statistic: that worldwide one-in-three women will be raped, beaten or abused in their lifetime. Founded by Eve Ensler, it was a call for people everywhere to come together as a show of solidarity to end such violence.

Whilst gender equality has come a long way in the West and is certainly better than many countries elsewhere, it is still impossible to say that women are treated as equals to their male counterparts. The pay gap between men and women, despite falling last year in the UK, is still nowhere near reaching parity and women are underrepresented in many senior roles in society.

And yet perhaps it is Western attitudes towards rape and sexual abuse that is most shocking. The vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported, in no small part due to the lack of faith victims have in ensuring a conviction. We may take pride in the strides made towards gender equality, but it’s simply unacceptable that people are unable to come forward and report they’ve been raped. This isn’t helped by utterly ridiculous safety campaigns that tend to suggest women should take some blame for their rape, such as the repellent campaign by West Mercia Police. I was also shocked to learn that the exemption for marital rape in the UK was on removed in 1991. It’s not just confined to the UK either. In the USA for instance you have politicians such as Todd Akin citing: “legitimate rape” and Richard Mourdock saying pregnancy from rape was something that “God intended.”

A disturbing trend that I’ve noticed recently is of women decrying feminism, some of whom are in positions of authority and power they wouldn’t have been able to get if not for feminism. Take for instance this piece of sexist bilge by Suzanne Venker, titled ‘To be happy, we need to admit that women and men aren’t ‘equal”. Whilst there is no issue whatsoever with women who wish to settle down as a housewife and raise kids, peddling nonsense about women simply not wanting to be CEOs is utterly ridiculous.

Worryingly, it isn’t just old fashioned women stuck in the past that spread this attitude. A quick search on Twitter of the hashtag #tellafeministthankyou produces the expected amount of absurd men, spouting the usual nonsense about ‘Feminazis’. But hidden amongst those are a worrying number of women who simply don’t get it, that think they are equal in society when all the evidence points to the contrary.

It’s unsettling that these myths about feminists being man haters and Feminazi’s are able to gain so much traction. Because they are myths. I don’t doubt women like that exist, but it’s not representative of feminism as a whole. In fact, any feminist worth their salt is going to be well-reasoned and rational. Whilst the likes of Pussy Riot in Russia generate headlines, it’s hardly conducive to creating public discourse.

All of this serves to widen the gender divide. Crucially, the empowerment of women may go some way to solving many of the problems we face as a planet – overpopulation for instance. Allowing women the right to have control of their body and to choose when they have children and how many they have, can help to solve that issue. By extension, this could also have an effect on reducing poverty and economic turmoil.

Simply put, we need the feminism movement and to empower women worldwide to fulfill their potential. Hiding behind the status quo or basing arguments on outdated, inaccurate stereotypes helps no-one. To those that don’t classify themselves as feminist, perhaps you are happy to allow 50% of the population to be treated as second class citizens. Maybe you even actively enjoy it. In which case you should take a good, long hard look at yourself and settle those Mummy issues simmering inside you because your actions are detrimental to everyone.

Of course not all women will end up as successful businesswomen or lawyers or politicians, but for crying out loud they deserve the opportunity that is currently being denied them. So if a women decides she doesn’t want to be a working stiff and would rather be a housewife then so be it. She isn’t betraying feminism if it’s her decision, she’s actually employing it to do what she wants for herself.

If One Billion Rising and various other women’s rights organisations worldwide can help to rectify this inequality, then the world will be a better place. And it’s important to remember that men must also do their part. We have a responsibility as people to ensure all are treated as equals. Simply put, it is trivial to isolate this as being just  a women’s issue. It affects us all. Mothers and daughters, wives and girlfriends, we all have them, and all deserve to be treated as equals.

Photo: via Elvert Barnes

It takes a special kind of incompetence for a political party to assemble a field of candidates so devoid of redeemable aspects as to make them all look  like assholes. Yet somehow, the Republican party has managed it. The race for the White House has seen the GOP’s list of candidates whittled down to four, following the long overdue departure of Texas Governor Rick Perry. Whilst it’s a victory for sanity than this buffoon has dropped out, he has in doing so endorsed moral black hole Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, has a well documented history of morally reprehensible behaviour. The most recent allegations leveled at him come from his second wife, Marianne. She accuses him of proposing the idea of an open marriage whereby he could continue his marriage to her whilst also continuing his affair with his mistress, Callista Bisek. This is what some people call “having your cake and fucking it.”
He then went on to marry his mistress who is now his current wife. She may have cause for concern as he pulled a similar trick with his first wife, Jackie. Not only did he cheat on her with his soon to be second wife, but she claims that he came to her to discuss the terms of their divorce whilst she was recovering from surgery (something that Newt strongly denies). Ironically, Gingrich was one of the politicians that went after Bill Clinton the hardest following his affair with Monica Lewinski. But then I suppose when you’re not a man of your word, being a hypocrite as well isn’t too much of a leap.

What’s worrying if you’re a Republican (and hilarious if you’re anyone else) is that this man is seen as the most likely person to give Mitt Romney a run for his vast sums of money. Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, is relatively moderate amongst this field. I say that, though it’s hard to gauge Romney’s true political stance as he’s well known for changing his viewpoints constantly. If he were to flip-flop anymore you could actually sell him at a beach resort. His sole, consistent trait is his inconsistency. What’s most surprising about his campaign for the White House is that despite being favourite for the nomination, he’s deeply unpopular amongst conservative voters. Why, you might ask? Is it because he hasn’t the courage of his convictions? That he can’t connect with blue-collar Americans on account of being obscenely rich? No. It’s because he’s a Mormon. I guess at least this shows there’s something we know he’ll believe in: absolutely anything.

The other two remaining candidates don’t really fare much better. In Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania Senator and Libertarian Ron Paul you have craziness as varying ends of the spectrum. Santorum is well know for his socially conservative values. He’s pro-life (a term which I personally detest), staunchly religious (something else I detest), a climate change denier (advocating a “drill everywhere” policy, which is beyond stupid) and perhaps most notably as a staunch critic of homosexuality. Infamously, his last name entered parlance as a term for an incident that sometimes is a result of anal sex following a campaign by writer Dan Savage after Santorum equated homosexuality to bestiality. Fortunately, Santorum isn’t predicted to do very well in South Carolina, despite it being a socially conservative state, it emerging he did in fact win the Iowa caucus and Romney’s floundering and Gingrich’s personal issues.

As for Ron Paul, his Libertarian views should engender him to Republican voters who are really into small government and big business. Yet for some reason he’s still seen as a small time runner, particularly by the news networks and even by many social conservatives who dislike his stance on minimal government interference at home and abroad. In fact the audience during a South Carolina debate actually booed him for saying that maybe, just maybe, the US should adopt a policy of “don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you.”
While by far the most tolerable of the nominees, Paul does have some rather considerable flaws. His Libertarian values shows a support for big business and a deregulated free market, which is arguably what caused this economic mess in the first place. Then, there’s the Ron Paul Investment Newsletter, which contained certain statements that do little to portray him in a positive light. Sentences such as: “I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal,” or: “Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities.”
To me, these don’t exactly indicate a tolerant mind. Perhaps Mr Ron Paul would enjoy a conversation with Mr Gingrich and Mr Santorum on the joys of intolerance and bigotry. They’ll certainly need some companionship when Mitt Romney gets picked as the least-liked Republican Presidential nominee of all time.

There are not many things that I think should be seen as an absolute. However, one thing I do make an exception for is freedom of speech. It is a key aspect of our society, one that should not be diluted. No matter how repugnant we may find what is being said, we have a responsibility as a free society to protect the right of an individual to say what they think. To borrow a well known quote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I’ll defend to the death you’re right to say it.”

This is why the University College of London’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society should be applauded for refusing to bow down to pressure to remove an advertisement for a social event depicting Jesus and Muhammad.

The ad, from the ‘Jesus and Mo’ series of cartoons, was the victim of several complaints by members of the student body. It’s for the benefit of the UCL Student Union that the society took a stand. In these instances, it’s important to remember that people do not have a right to remain unoffended. People like to think that they do. That if people are subjected to something they are offended by then the person who provides the offence should be silenced. I disagree.

In the instance of this cartoon, I see absolutely no reason why a secular University society should get into trouble for using a cartoon of the Islamic prophet. I understand that for Muslims, it is against their religious beliefs to create depictions of Muhammad. But then why should people who don’t subscribe to their beliefs be subject to the same rules? It is obvious to my mind that people should be able to draw and say what they want. People that are going to be offended by such a small thing will likely actively seek out things to be offended by.

In many situations such as this, those in opposition and who feel that religion in particular deserves some sort of respect or protection will attempt to find some sort of hypocrisy or flaws in the argument. Commonly, they’ll say: “What about racism?” Well, what about it? Racism is one of those repugnant things I mentioned earlier. I don’t understand it, I don’t condone it, nor do I like anyone who is a racist. However, would I dare say that a racist couldn’t spread their bile, solely because it offends me? Of course not. I’d like to take the moral high ground and attempt to educate this person out of their ignorance and blind hatred. The same applies to homophobes, sexists, anti-Semites etc.

Certainly I don’t object to the title of being a free speech absolutist and I don’t think anyone should. I maintain that it’s the best way of eliminating ignorance through challenging people’s pre-conceptions. Yes it means that occasionally you will come across things that you don’t like and that may well offend you. But if that makes you examine your opinions and beliefs critically? All the better.