Another week, another white male Conservative telling us what he thinks women should and should not do with our own bodies. Meanwhile, a recent report by Amnesty International investigating the extent of sexist and racist online abuse against women MPs highlighted a sad and troubling reality for women online.
These stories are just a few examples of a persistent problem about how our society views gender and the roles that people are expected to play within that. I frequently get told that ‘women are equal now’, and asked: do we still need feminism? Surely one look online shows that yes, yes we do – now more than ever.
We can dismiss the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg as silly for his antiquated views, but then look what happened when we dismissed that ‘pussy-grabbing’ president. As we make real progress on gender equality and rights, those same rights are increasingly at risk from those that see these changes as a threat to their world view.
That is why I got together with five campaigner friends to launch Level Up – a new organisation for feminists across the UK, focused on online campaigning. Level Up will build a community of people who want to tackle sexism in all its forms.
The internet has powered a new wave of feminist activism across the UK, and more and more women and girls in Britain consider themselves feminists and want to live in a fairer country.
Level Up will harness this energy: we’ll use digital tools to build a community of hundreds of thousands of women, equip them with the tools to tackle sexism wherever they find it, and build a nurturing and supportive community of feminists that people can learn and grow in. By harnessing all of this feminist energy and channelling it into campaigning we can tackle all women’s issues, and not just those that capture media headlines.
Feminists in the UK have won unprecedented legal and political rights for women over the past 100 years. The challenge for today’s feminists is to take on the cultural and social structures that keep sexism alive and well in Britain today. These structures mean that nearly a hundred years after the first British women won the right to vote, we still make up just 32 per cent of MPs. They mean that a quarter of British women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
When I was growing up, I knew about sexism and even feminism, but I didn’t really get how it applied to me. I just thought that things were ‘like that’. Whether it’s enduring street harassment and cat-calling (‘just ignore them, I think it’s meant to be a compliment’) or being forced to look at a man who exposed himself to me in the street because the police apparently had more pressing things to be dealing with, and ‘come on, he’s harmless, really’. I thought these were things that women just had to put up with, and if it bothered us it was our problem.
Years later, the rage finally set in. I was angry – furious – that these things were still happening. That men were raping women with impunity, that women were being passed over for promotions and getting paid less than men, that two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner. And most of all, I was annoyed with myself that I had let some men get away with some of these things because I didn’t say anything. Because I didn’t know that I could.
The support and solidarity I find among like-minded feminists online or in my circle of friends and activists is truly priceless. Social media has given us this amazing tool that not only lets us share outrage about something we’ve read or experienced, but also finds another person who totally gets why you’re so outraged about it. In these communities, I don’t get dismissed as another angry ‘feminazi’, or a ‘killjoy’ who can’t take a ‘joke’.
That solidarity and sharing is what allows us to channel that anger into something more constructive, because we know we’re not alone. And we can learn from one another’s experiences and points of view and grow stronger as feminists.
That’s why I’m so excited about Level Up: because we’re not just planning campaigns that challenge sexism, we’ll be bringing feminists together and providing them with the support and sense of community they need to continue to fight sexism in our society.
We’ve already crowdfunded over £50,000 to help get Level Up off the ground. Now, we’re about to hire our first campaigner and get properly stuck in – so watch this space!
Franziska Grobke is a co-founder of Level Up. You can sign up to hear more and get involved with Level Up here.