Interview: Why Is It Important To Be A Feminist?

Vivyane Garbelini: “Gender based stereotypes are bad for both women and men

Vivyane Garbelini, 30 years-old, always liked literature, arts and politics. When she was a child, she realized that there was something wrong in the world, that boys and girls used to receive different treatments. At the age 12, she started calling herself a feminist. During College, she was known as the “feminist of the Journalism course”. Her project of course conclusion and her master’s degree were about TPM and Elle magazines, analyzing how women were represented in these communication vehicles.

Today, she is studying at ECA-USP (Escola de Comunicação e Artes da Universidade de São Paulo), in order to achieve a doctorate degree.

Image Source: Personal Archive   

1. What is the origin of feminism? How the movement has changed over time?

As a social and historical movement, feminism arose in the end of 18 century, but it does not mean that there weren’t feminist ideas before. The first marks of the movement were Olympe de Gouges, with the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, in 1791, and the opening piece of the feminist movement, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects, from Mary Wollstonecraft, published in 1792.

In order to achieve the clearest explanation, we divide feminism in three phases (or "waves") that differs according to the country. Talking about Brazil, the first phase happened in the beginnings of the 20 century and was marked by claims for women’s right to health and education. The next phase took place in the 1950s and in the 1960s, asking for sexual freedom, abortion and contraceptive methods. The third phase occurred in the beginnings of the 2000s, contesting women’s representation on the media. Today, some researchers say we are living an outspread of the third phase, while others say we are already in a fourth phase.

2. The expansion of feminism is usually associated with the generation that was born during and after the globalization process. Is this a valid statement? How older women, which were born in the middle of the 20 century, have reacted to the feminist fight?

The rise of the internet has changed the feminist movement. Today, we live in a world where distances have become small and time has become faster. We can post something on the internet and this content can be seen at the same time in Brazil, India and USA. This has caused an outburst of the word feminism, not necessarily of the ideas connected to this term.

Each woman has an individual perception of the feminist movement. There are older women that fought in the first and second phases and are still fighting today and there are older ladies that are becoming aware of these claims only in our days.

3. Feminism can be considered a fragmented movement, which does not include all ethnic, economic, geographical and social possibilities that gender equality should involve? 

Yes, and this is the reason why the right word is feminisms. The problem here is not the diversity, but the multiple, and sometimes, irreconcilable, strands of the movement, that doesn't achieve to involve all women's experiences around the world. For example, some groups believe that the fight for women’s rights should be grounded in the biological differences between men and women, but this approach does not include transsexual women, that also suffer with prejudice.

As the feminist movement increasingly put together women fighting for equality, its fragmentation shows that inside of gender basis discrimination there are a lot of other kinds of oppression, like racial, social and sexual injustices.

4. The word feminism is linked to negative stereotypes? Why? Does this association reduce the power of the fight?

Feminists suffered attempts of regression since the beginning of the movement. In this context, there are two strands of ideas: one, more traditional, claims that women and men have always been different, so, this is the right way to live, and other, explicitly against feminist women, asserts that they are hysterical, alone, sad, without husband and men haters ladies. So, when a woman doesn’t identify herself as a feminist, she is afraid of being associated with all these stereotypes.

“As the feminist movement increasingly put together women fighting for equality, its fragmentation shows that inside of gender basis discrimination there are a lot of other kinds of oppression, like racial, social and sexual injustices.” 

5. Is there a difference between call herself a feminist and believe in gender equality?

When someone says “I believe in gender equality, but I am not feminist” it sounds to me like “I am feminist, but I am not feminist”. Someone that says that probably think feminism is a bad thing. Exactly for this, women should call themselves “feminists”, to show that it is a fair movement.

Also, women that do not identify themselves with the movement believe in conservative and in progressive ideas. For example, when girls and women say “I am a woman and vote for whoever I want”, (as was done in the last Brazil’s presidential election for pro-Bolsonaro women), they are using a right achieved by feminists to vote for a sexist candidate. In the opposite, if these women accepted the word feminism as something good, they would be fighting for more rights.

6. Does the current political scenario demand a strengthening of the feminist movement? Why?

Join the fight is important at any time. However, as an answer to progressive ideas, we are seen the rise of conservative claims. Today, we have a lot of lifestyles, gender and sexual options, what can be frightening for some people. They don't realize these changes help to build a fairer world, so, they fortify ancient women and men roles, ignoring that reality is far more complicated than that. For this, struggle for women's rights can have a special meaning now.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

7. Recently, the Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights, Damares Alves, stated that the struggle for gender equality incites violence, since it encourages men to physically attack women. Could you comment that? 

When Damares Alves* says something like this, she is using a very simple speech that covers the complexity of the reality. Men are taught, since childhood, to be violent, as women are taught to be polite and delicate, but this is the result of a process. And going against these ideas is what feminism does. The Maria da Penha Law, for example, that criminalizes domestic violence, proposes that men should talk about their thoughts and creation, in order to understand why they have violent behaviors against women. *Check it out this Her Campus Article about Damares Alves 

8. How do the intersections between feminism and capitalism occur? For example, many clothing stores produce pieces with quotes like Fight Like a Girl and Be All Feminists, but at the same time, they use slavery-like manpower to fabricate these items.

Since 2014, we have seen an outspread of feminist ideas. In Brazil, we had the Law of Femicide, done by President Dilma Rousseff, and a lot of manifestations on the streets asking for women's rights. But there is a gap between these actions and the implementation of real changes.

For a piece of clothing to be a symbol of the feminist fight, it doesn't must have the word feminism written, but its process of production must be legal and fair.  I studied these topics in my master's degree, analyzing women’s representation in Elle magazine. So, it is good when a product uses the word feminist, but it is important to know the difference between the adoption of feminism as a temporary fashion and the real fight for women's rights.

“Today, we have a lot of lifestyles, gender and sexual options, what can be frightening for some people. So, struggle for women's rights can have a special meaning now”.  

9. Why is sexism still present in our society? How these ideas are propagated?  

The origins of sexism go back to the renunciation of the nomadic life and the beginning of the State. Over time, these strict and imposed gender roles made people perform something they are not. Men, for example, are taught to not show feelings and have always a big sexual desire. On the other hand, women always hear they must be polite and delicate.

Since childhood, different values are taught to boys and girls. To men, all is allowed, except the feminine, the sensibility; to women, all is denied, except the feminine, the fragility. And stereotypes are bad for both women and men.

10. Do men realize that they are being sexist? How attitudes such as chivalry and kindness can hurt the fight for equality?

We can divide men in two groups. In one, men are already aware of the feminist fight and realize that they need to change their attitudes; still, there will always be limitations. For example, a man can believe that hit a woman is wrong, but, at the same time, think that women must not have the right to make an abortion. The other group that includes the majority of Brazilian men, thinks that men and women had always have different roles, so, this is the right way to live.

Now, talking about chivalry and kindness, it is a non-aggressive face of sexism,  based in the stereotype that women are weak, fragile and shouldn’t do physical efforts. Exactly for being non-aggressive, it is harder to explain that a man is being sexist when he opens a car door for a woman, for example.

“Over time, these strict and imposed gender roles made people perform something they are not.”

11. Can a man be a feminist? How could he join the movement?

It is not forbidden to say, in some contexts, that a man is feminist. However, I particularly prefer the expression “pro-feminist man”. We all should work for real changes, a man can believe and fight for gender equality, but the protagonists of this movement must be women.

12. Speaking a little about your personal trajectory, why did you become interested in gender equality?

During my childhood, I knew a large amount of strong women and I used to like literature, drama, dance, arts in general and politics. As I used to read a lot, soon I realized that something was wrong: I realized that there were differences between boys and girls. So, when Roseana Sarney  decided to run for the presidential elections in 2002, I was very upset, because I wanted to be the first woman to occupy the presidency of my country. For me, there was no reason for a girl be forbidden to want things like that.

Therefore, when I was 12 years old, I started to call myself a feminist. In College, I was known as the “feminist of the Journalism course”. I did my project of course conclusion about the TPM magazine and my master degree, about the Elle magazine, studying how women were represented in these communication vehicles.

In spite of my academic participation in the feminist fight, I am not engaged with political parties and similar organizations. I think my way is an indirect manner to struggle for women’s rights.