Feminism demands social change


Photo by Yousuf El-Jayyousi

Ann Fitzmaurice

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n an effort to take the first official step toward the fight for women’s equality, an estimated 300 men and women attended the Seneca Falls convention on July 19 and 20 of 1848. The Women’s March in 2017 generated more than four million people, as reported by The Washington Post. Although 169 years separate the two monumental gatherings, the topic of the events remain the same: feminism.
Throughout history, women have undoubtedly suffered at the hand of inequality. Domesticated and confined to the household, American women were unable to truly participate in commercial life until 1965, when the Civil Rights Act went through Congress, making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender and race. Even then, women made significantly less money doing the same job as men, and though to a lesser extent, the fact is still true today.
For senior Kris Cho, the wage gap is an important issue, with women making 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Most feminists still know, however, that women deserve equal pay to their male counterparts, so the wage gap is less of a prominent issue because it is so widespread.
“There’s obviously [still] a narrative that says female work is not as valuable as male work because of the way we perceive the professionalism and capabilities of the genders,” Cho said. “It’s dangerous in a world where single mothers that are below or near the poverty line are already incredibly disadvantaged, and it’s unjust in a world where our capabilities and the fruits of our labor are distributed through a salary.”
In addition to the wage gap of which women have been fighting for more than 52 years, they also struggle against a number of other inequalities they have faced in the past and are currently. For example, women could not use a personal credit card before 1960, serve on a jury or get an Ivy League education, according an article by CNN.com. These laws were not issued by women, rather by their male counterparts.
A man’s place in the feminism movement, however, has just as much of a place as a woman’s. After all, feminism isn’t a notion to provide women with superiority, but equality. Junior Jack Speake believes men have a place everywhere in the feminist movement, and it shouldn’t matter if someone is male or female when it comes to the role they play in the fight for women’s equality. Speake believes a lack of gender equality reflects poorly on everyone, and he hates that people he cares about are poorly treated and represented. Speake also feels it would be a bit narcissistic not to care about feminism just because he is a guy.
[quote]“I am a feminist because it’s what I feel is right. Even if I was raised by a far right family, I think I would still be a feminist,” Speake said. “I just can’t understand how people could in any way shrug off the gender inequalities present in society. Fifty-one percent of the population is affected directly.”[/quote] Although approximately 50 percent of 488 of men are feminists, as surveyed by The Washington Post, that percentage still leaves 244 men left over from the survey who do not identify with the cause and even a five percent margin that is anti-feminist.
The collective term for this group of men against women having equal rights is meninism. Meninism, the semi-satirical label for men who feel victimized by an exposure to feminism and the push for women’s equal rights, branched off of the Men’s Rights Movement in 1970. It progressed mainly into a mockery of feminism.
“In my opinion meninism is to feminism as All Lives Matter is to Black Lives Matter,” Speake said. “It’s just an empty argument with no real meaning. Obviously all lives do matter, but the whole movement just misses the point. Meninism, however, is more on the joke or meme side of things, the primary point of the movement being ‘triggering people’ which in other words is just flaunting their own ignorance knowingly with the purpose of angering people.”
In fact, some of the prejudice against women that Meninists preach is embodied in internet memes, such as “Get back in the kitchen.” This saying is often in response to a woman doing something either considered masculine or independent, something that women “should not be doing” according to an article by Knowyourmeme.com. Although the meme is meant to poke fun at people ignorant enough to believe in the sayings, many still take it seriously and genuinely use the comments to take a stab at feminism.
Included in this blatant bias against women’s role in life comes the sexism implemented when a woman steps outside her “boundaries.” Martha Stevens, a Missouri state representative for the 46th district, experienced a “great deal” of this sexism when she ran for state representative, as she ran for a job that once was not suited for a woman.
“On the campaign trail, strangers would often ask me personal questions about my plans to have children,” Stevens said. “This was not a question males were being asked when they ran for office. This question also has nothing to do with the role of state representative.”
In addition to the sexism Stevens faced during the campaign itself, she also had attack mail go out from an opponent that highlighted how she did not have children, Stevens said. Because Stevens is not a mother, she did not fulfill her role as a woman and thus was unfit to run for State Representative.
“Asking about my legislative priorities, what committees I sit on, why I ran for office, etc. are the questions in those professional settings I would prefer to be asked,” Stevens said. “It is a very personal question to ask someone if they plan on having children; those are personal decisions, and asking them in a professional setting is not appropriate or relevant to my job.”
Those who prodded Stevens for justification on why she did not have children still have the domestic ideal many people did 50 or more years ago. This includes the Meninist viewpoint of women only belonging in the kitchen. The kitchen, however, was once a true cage for women before the Civil Rights Act in 1964. From the 1820’s to the 1860’s, women’s belonged in the kitchen and the house during the Culture of Domesticity period. During this time, women wore to wear corsets that damaged their organs in order to fit the body image of an ideal woman. Additionally, they were to remain in the private sphere, or the household, which is where they “truly belonged.” A woman’s job during this time period was to cook, clean, sometimes teach and do everything her husband wanted her to.
“The idea that women ought to be restricted to domestic tasks is pretty clearly a patriarchal and oppressive narrative,” Cho said. “The thing that’s wrong about that is that it’s restrictive. It dehumanizes women to nothing more than workers for their male providers, but that’s when women are told they cannot do anything else.”
The fight for women’s equal rights is no longer about women wanting to vote or exit the household; rather it’s more about the sexism many women feel on a day-to-day basis. Today, women are still not guaranteed a paid maternity leave, and former President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which spread health care coverage to millions of women and prevented discrimination for health based on gender. The act, however, is facing repeal by President Trump and many Republicans in the Senate.
Additionally, women are not assured protection in court, especially when it comes to sexual violence. Two out of three women never report rape to the police for fear of not being believed, justified by the 994 perpetrators who walk free out of 1,000 rape cases, a study by liveyourdream.org concluded. Although the sixth amendment secures the right to a fair and speedy trial, Cyntoia Brown, a woman whose 2004 court case is gaining support after it recently went viral, did not get the justice the act was supposed to secure her. Brown, who suffered a childhood plagued by drugs and abuse, was raped and forced into prostitution by a pimp when she was 16 years old. Brown killed one of her “clients” in self defense, yet was tried in court as an adult and sentenced to a life in prison.
“I think when we compare [Brown’s] case to the outcomes of male sexual predators with money and social capital, we see a blatant injustice within our court system. I think an example of this would be the outcome surrounding the Brock Turner case,” Stevens said. “This comparison also illuminates the issue of class, race and status in our society in addition to sexism. I am glad this case is getting national attention and am hopeful Cyntoia Brown will see justice.”
While Brown faced consequences for self defense, 19-year-old Brock Turner, who raped a woman behind a dumpster, was sentenced to six months in prison and only served three. Likewise, 18-year-old David Becker, who penetrated two unconscious girls at a party, received just a two year probation. In Iowa, recent high school graduate Nicholas Fifield forced a mentally disabled woman who suffered from autism and dissociative identity disorder to perform oral sex on him. Fifield got no representation, as the judge decided, “prison would not do this kid any good.” All of these men were older than Brown yet received little to no consequences for their actions though they were purely out of sexual desire and not self defense.
“The narrative that needs to change isn’t about what gendered role women take on, but that they cannot make their own choices. It’s not simply about houses or the color pink; it’s about recognizing our own will,” Cho said. “Part of empowerment is giving people freedom. To empower women means to liberate us all from the binds of what we ought to do based on what gender we’re assigned.”
What does feminism mean to you? Let us know in the comments below.