In our society, the word “feminism” is, for all intents and purposes, taboo. Most of America views feminists as man-haters only out to forward their own well-being, but what is the real meaning of feminism? Dictionary.com defines it as the “[b]elief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes”. This sounds innocent enough, so what is giving feminism a bad name, and what can we do about it? It’s my opinion that feminism could be saved if the people involved in it find an issue, or group of issues, to unite over and work toward.
In her article “The Future is Ours to Lose”, Naomi Wolf says that one of the main pressures facing feminism (today and over the course of history) is forgetfulness (224). I agree with her. Feminism suffers greatly from its followers forgetting what they are really working for: equality. Many are quick to turn feminism into a form of female supremacy, losing the original ideals of the movement.
If one looks at feminism throughout history, it’s easy to see that it is strong when united over an issue, and weakened when the issue is either solved or forgotten. The first wake of feminists in the 1920’s was strongly united over women’s suffrage. They succeeded in getting the right to vote with the Nineteenth Amendment, which stated: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” (The American Story, A-19). Unfortunately, according to The American Story (a historical textbook), “[a]doption of the amendment robbed women of a unifying cause” (813). Women forgot they were fighting for social, political and economic equality with men. Feminism turned its focus from political equality to sexual equality. Flappers became popular, women “assault[ing] the traditional double standard in sex” (The American Story, 814). Divorce rates shot up, and the original suffragettes were viewed as “man-hating old battle-axes, irrelevant and out of touch with ‘today’s women’” (Wolf, 224). This was the beginning of the downward spiral into today’s anti-feminist views, and the conflict between the two schools of feminist thought.
In what Wolf calls “the magical 15 years, from 1965 to 1980”, feminism came to the forefront again with the second wake, and women’s liberation (224). Women were once again united over a set of common goals. Betty Friedan, the founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), wrote a book called The Feminine Mystique, in which she “attacked the prevailing view that women were completely contented with their housekeeping and child-rearing tasks, claiming that housewives had no self-esteem and no sense of identity” (The American Story, 997). Women became interested in going to work for themselves, and wanted social and economic equality with men. In 1977, the National Women's Conference was held in Huston, Texas. The Conference laid out a list of twenty-six issues they thought feminism should focus on, including the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), abortion on demand, affirmative action, and quality daycare for working women (Is Feminism Dead?).
The National Women’s Conference was a wonderful chance for feminism to be seen for what it really was, women’s desire for equality. The women at this conference were not demanding female superiority. Unfortunately, the public’s view of feminism quickly spiraled into that popular opinion, and the feminists themselves weren’t helping. Harking back to Wolf’s discussion of forgetfulness, the feminists of the day forgot that they were not trying to delete men from the picture. The phrase “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” became popular (Is Feminism Dead?). Women found it difficult to be stay at home moms anymore, with the popularization of the idea that women should get their own jobs and not be dependant on a man. It is obvious how the media grabbed hold once again of the idea that feminists were man-hating shrews. Many of the original goals of the National Women’s Conferece, such as establishing quality daycare and working for advancement at work, went unfulfilled.
This brings us to today. To most people, women as well as men, feminism seems like an outdated issue. Women have already attained the right to vote, and supposedly they can attain the same status as men in the work place. However, this is not altogether true. As we approach the 2004 elections, we are faced with the same issues of equality for women. Carol Mosley Braun, a female candidate for president, dropped out of the presidential race. Why did she feel the need to do this? Were the causes more a result of problems with her campaign, or because of the single fact that she was female? With these happenings, we should be acutely aware that America has never had a female president. And yet, even with Braun in the race, many realized she had no real chance at winning, exclusively because of her sex.
The word “feminism” is still taboo, and the fault still lies with the same people. The media is quick to label feminists as extremists, man-haters. Radio personality Rush Limbaugh, who hosts a popular radio program heard daily by millions of Americans, claims that “[f]eminism was established so that unattractive women could have easier access to the mainstream of society” (238). According to Susan Hekman, a professor in Political Science at UTArlingon, the media does not portray feminist views on family. Rather, they are quick to air something outrageous, such as a feminist extremist, rather than the truth.
However, it’s not just the media’s fault that feminism is looked upon so badly. Often times, it is the feminists themselves. There is a current trend of having the attitude that “girls rule and boys drool”. You can find the phrase, as well as others such as “I hate boys”, “boys are stupid” and “boys are smelly throw rocks at them” written across t-shirts readily available online and in popular clothing shops. The trend is promoting a sense that girls are essentially better than boys, furthering the idea that feminists are “man haters”. It also shows that today’s potential third wake have not realized the flaw in second wake thinking, the idea that not only do you not need a man and a family, but that it’s wrong to want as much.
The vast majority of today’s young women are unaware that there are still issues feminism faces which could be the key to uniting the feminists of this generation. The discrimination women face today is just as real as it has ever been. However, it is much more subtle. There is still a “glass ceiling” in the workplace; it is more difficult for women to achieve the same upward mobility as men. While this may seem a false statement in today’s supposedly progressive society, look at the issues with Braun and the presidency. There is a certain level to which women are allowed to be promoted. After that level is reached, gaining access to better jobs becomes much more difficult. In addition to the issue of equal work, there is the issue of equal pay. Unknown to most of today’s young women, females make only 76 cents for every dollar a male does.
Women could also unite over attempting to change working conditions for women for the better. Hekman feels a problem with today’s culture is it feels feminism is not family friendly. She claims that the reality is working conditions are not family friendly. According to the short film Is Feminism Dead?, women today are not only expected to have a job, but to also continue the stereotypical work of a housewife: raising children, keeping the house clean, preparing food for everyone. Jobs women hold down in America offer very little leeway for women to keep up their family life. Today’s feminists could fight for working conditions such as those in Germany: There, women are guaranteed their positions up to three years after child birth, and they receive payments from the government for every child they have (“Sex, Femininity, Feminism: Then and Now”). If we implemented these same policies here at home, women would not have to feel the burden of having to choose between work and family.
Finally, today’s feminists need to face the issue of changing society’s attitude of feminism. They need to guide everyone’s minds away from the idea that feminists are “unattractive women [looking for] easier access to the mainstream of society” (Limbaugh, 238). Today’s third wake must remind everyone that feminism is a fight for equality, not supremacy. If feminists could band together to change people’s minds, it could make a huge difference in the public opinion. Feminist should emphasize the fact that feminism is equality, and therefore, just as helpful for men as it is for women. If feminism succeeds as it initially intended, men don’t have to be placed in the role of the breadwinner of the family anymore. They do not have to be banished to the workplace, only getting to know their kids when they have the time. With both men and women working equally, as well as being paid equally, the doors are open for both parents to play equal roles in raising children and taking care of family life.
There must be a shift in attitude for feminism to erase its dirty word status. Feminists need to unite together to convince the media (and in turn the American public) that feminism is female equality, not female supremacy. If feminism is to ever recover the damage suffered from earlier years, they need to remember the definition, “[b]elief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes”, and not fall victim to believing women are better than men. Feminists can reacquire the respect they deserve by coming together and fighting for issues such as equal work, equal pay, and equal roles in family life.
It's due tomorrow, so if you could just peruse it and make suggestions, that would be hardcore. THANK U!! (If you have no time and have more important things to do, just call me a dork for not doing it sooner.)