Justine van de Beek: “We have to get rid of the myth that men and women are so different”
Interview by Ralph Edelstein
Justine van de Beek is a freelance writer and speaker, specialized in feminism and (gender)equality. She led Harlot, a platform on sexual rights by OneWorld. She is also co-founder of the feminist platform Stellingdames.nl.
You are 22 and have already been involved in feminism for many years. How did that happen?
At some point I started following a few young feminists on Twitter, and that’s how I got into it. It struck me that in school, early feminism was only briefly touched upon, in social studies or history class. I noticed that my fellow students did not feel strongly about the subject. In one of my textbooks I saw a picture of the Dolle Mina’s, a radical feminist action group, with “Baas in eigen buik” written on their bellies and I thought that was so cool. I really missed this passion in the women from my own generation. I thought that was strange, because we still have enough issues to deal with.
Can you give an example?
Slutshaming, for example, humiliating girls because of their sex life. This was a big issue at my high school in Maastricht. We also had a ‘bangalist’ in the women’s bathroom, that listed the sluttiest girls by name. This shows there was a double standard.
And you had to do something with that?
I realized that our generation was brought up with the idea that emancipation was pretty much finished, but that in many areas this is just not true. That is why I started Stellingdames.nl together with Anne Ardon. This was the first online platform in the Netherlands that focuses purely on feminist content.
What taboos are you trying to break?
When I wrote for Harlot, I was mainly focusing on exposing myths about sexual rights, for example about abortion – that women easily make this choice. Also, I wrote my bachelor’s thesis in sociology about slutshaming. I noticed this topic already from an early age.
Why this topic?
This double standard has surprised me for a long time. Women are supposed to keep their distance and play hard to get, because that’s ‘classy’. Having a lot of sex partners as a woman is seen as something negative, while the opposite is true for men. They have to hunt and dominate and if they are ‘successful’ they are applauded.
At Harlot, I also denounced the taboo on abortion. It is beautiful that we have access to that right, thanks to the early feminists. But there are still many barriers to overcome. There is a Christian lobby that opposes abortion, there are still demonstrations in front of abortion clinics, and the abortion pill is still not available at the general practitioner.
Where does your personal drive for these topics come from?
I was already quite assertive as a child, so I think that I challenged the standard that girls should be friendly and submissive from an early age. What also motivated me was the history of violence in my family. My grandmother was abused by her husband for years. At the time, this was acceptable, indicating that it was only two generations ago that this kind of behavior was allowed. My mother finally managed to convince her to leave the house. That spirit also lives on in me.
How important is feminism in 2019?
Very important. Many people think that the work is done, this is something I often hear. But I see that my generation slowly but surely is realizing that this is not quite right. Almost half of the women in the Netherlands, for example, have experienced physical or sexual violence, ranging from sexual assault to rape. Half of women! When I state this fact during lectures, I notice that people do not want to believe it. This is because we are imprinted with the image of The Netherlands as finished, the other countries are the ones that are doing so badly. That is not true. You have to constantly show these kinds of statistics to show that we are doing well in many areas, but that there really is enough to improve.
You fight against all forms of inequality. Do you have examples showing how necessary that is?
Racism is a good example. That is something that is still deeply rooted. So many people still use the N-word without thinking about it. And if you say something about it, they feel terribly attacked, like ‘you are not going to tell me that I cannot use that word’. There is very little ambition to objectively assess that behavior and perhaps adjust it. You will of course see the same thing happening in the Zwarte Piet discussion. If you notice that it is disturbing for people of color, then why is it so hard to adjust this character a bit? But the reactions are so incredibly violent and over-sensitive. There is still a lot of work needed.
Are we heading in the right direction or are we going around in circles?
Well, that’s a tough one. As an activist you always think the latter. But if we look back at what has happened in the past few years, we have of course made big steps. For example, the #MeToo movement has really been a revolution. So, I honestly think that we are heading in the right direction, but at the same time it is never finished. Always when you have reached a certain point, you have achieved a certain goal, you look ahead and set new goals. Take abortion rights. In the past, it was almost impossible to even discuss it. These rights have now been acquired, so we look at the next step: how are we going to improve its accessibility? The focus will always be shifting.
What is your final goal? Could your work be ‘done’ one day?
Haha, gosh … good question! I think it is very important that we change the way we think about gender. I think that men and women, and those who do not identify with these two titles, are much more alike than they differ from each other. But from a young age we are all told that we are completely different, and we base our roles on this. I sincerely believe that violence against women would be over if we stop teaching our children these myths. You can only see people as inferior if you consider them ‘completely different’. We really have to get rid of that concept!
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