Why First-World Feminists Should Take A Step Back

Why First-World Feminists Should Take A Step Back

It's about time we get our priorities straight.


By now a lot of you are probably getting a little tired of reading articles about feminism.

Considering how shallow and ridiculous a lot of these pieces can be, I understand that. Obnoxious, first-world-oriented nitpicking constitutes a lot of the conversation surrounding feminists in the United States. There’s even a subreddit entitled TumblrInAction that’s largely dedicated to mocking some of the most ridiculous posts about “feminism” on the popular blogging site. Most of you probably also understand that the overly aggressive, easily offensive man-hating found in these posts is actually not what feminism is or should be about. If you're confused, listen to Beyoncé's "Flawless:"

Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes (I had to -- what's a feminist post without Bey?)

Usually I’m pretty good at laughing at and then ignoring the really dumb posts, but a recent surge of insanely privileged women complaining about men breathing near them -- or something equally ridiculous -- on my social media has me a bit up in arms recently. We all need a reality check sometimes, so here we go: five issues facing women that feminists should actually be angry about.

1. Female genital mutilation is still happening, and it’s happened to more than 125 million women and girls alive today.

Female circumcision is a completely medically unnecessary procedure that is prominent in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. Many communities that force this on their daughters are under the impression that it has some kind of religious value when in reality there are no documented religious requirements for the circumcision of girls. Instead the primary purpose of female genital mutilation (FGM) is to curb and control the sexual activities women participate in. Besides the pain of the procedure itself and risk of infection, FGM can also cause infertility or increase the risks of childbirth.

2. Child marriage is not yet a thing of the past.

Despite legal victories that have condemned the practice of child marriage, there are 15 million underage girls forced into marriage annually. That's 28 girls a minute, for those of you who are keeping track. Many of these girls -- who are usually younger than 15 years old -- are married off to men more than twice their age. This is not only a violation of basic human rights, but it also exposes girls to high-risk pregnancies far before they are physically or emotionally ready for childbirth, abuse, and marital rape, as well as ending their education. According to the U.S. Department of State, the continued practice of child marriage is "inextricably linked to the cycle of poverty. Child marriage is the manifestation of the low status of women and girls in many societies, where the parents see no reason to educate or invest in their daughters, and where females are treated like commodities or chattel."

3. The education of women worldwide is still sorely lacking.

A mere 30 percent of girls worldwide are enrolled in a secondary school. By the end of the year, 64 percent of the illiterate adult population will be composed of women. This further limits the already sparse opportunity for women, especially those in developing countries, to become successful and to escape cycles of poverty. The denial of education to women is also key to perpetuating the idea that women are lesser than men. This develops cultures of abuse where women are treated as mere objects.

4. One in five high school girls have been abused by a dating partner.

This includes physical violence, stalking, and sexual abuse. While the effects of this abuse are incredibly harmful in the moment, they can also create lifelong patterns that lead to many more issues. The CDC reports, "Among adult victims of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, 22 percent of women and 15 percent of men first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age." Victims of violent relationships in their teen years are likely to be abused later in life, and are also often inclined to participate in many kinds of destructive behaviors. These can include drug or alcohol abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts or attempts, or severely antisocial behaviors.

5. An estimated 1.2 million children are being trafficked every year, and girls as young as 11 years old are being forced to work as prostitutes.

In the U.S. the average age at which children enter the sex trade is between 12 and 14 years old. Annually more than 100,000 children are sold for sex just in the U.S., and NPR reports that 61 percent of teen prostitutes in the Oakland, California, area were raped as children. Girls are forcibly kidnapped or lured into prostitution by boyfriends, and they're often too scared or too trapped to get help. Pimps can make $200,000 off of one girl in a year, and many have an average of four to six girls at their disposal. Current legislation makes prosecuting pimps and johns -- the customers -- incredibly difficult, while arresting prostitutes, especially those who are underage, is much easier. Many girls are too frightened to turn in their abusers, however, and all too often they return to the streets.

In our world today, there are a lot of things to get angry about. The problems you're facing in your day-to-day life are legitimate, but there's a really big world out there and you're not the only one living in it. (I think I'm gonna start saying that to myself in the mirror every day, because I need that reminder more than I'd care to admit.) Take a moment to look beyond yourself, and see how you can improve the lives of women all over the globe.

Here are some organizations to check out if you're interested in learning more or helping with one or more of these issues:

The A21 Campaign (human trafficking)

Women Thrive Worldwide (education)

Orchid Project (female mutilation)

Live Your Dream (dating violence)

Girls Not Brides (child marriage)

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