Feminism -- are we going forward, backward -- or are we stagnating?
I've been thinking a lot about this lately. We have many issues as women that we have been forced to deal with the past few years, from transvaginal ultra sounds to Planned parenthood funding being taken away...
These are in-your-face immediate issues that women are fighting to protect and keep. There are issues like getting our young women (and young men) vaccinated against the Human Papilloma virus
, something that can prevent cancer in their future. This is being attacked in some circles, saying it promotes promiscuity, and in an age where abstinence-only education is being pushed as curriculum in states like Mississippi, it is hard to advocate for health when we are trying to simply get our kids educated about sex.
There is the morning after pill
, also demonized by social conservatives as the 'abortion pill' (it isn't, but we have to push back against that misinformation as well). These are immediate and direct health issues that women have to confront.
Access to these particular examples (and others) are things that women are fighting to maintain
Women are still fighting for pay equity. In one of his first actions after taking office, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fait Pay Act
. I think it is a fair point to say that pay equality needs to go further.
Women are still seeking health and economic equity in America. Regarding health equity, I think it is clear that conservatives are taking us backwards. A myriad of laws have been passed since the 2010 elections, from Virginia to Oklahoma. Women are being asked to give up the very right to health care that is gender-specific to women. Take this study from April of 2011
To date, legislators have introduced 916 measures related to reproductive health and rights in the 49 legislatures that have convened their regular sessions.
Since 2011, things haven't gotten much better. Basically, The GOP is trying to take away rights from women that we have been living with for many many years, things that we SHOULD be able to take for granted at this point... Things that a generation has been able to take for granted. Feminists are still out there, only now it seems they are fighting to protect rights instead of being able to achieve full equality. In the year 2013, they are protecting our rights to safe access to birth control and abortion in America. Sandra Fluke is but one example of how fragile these rights, fought for and gained by the generation before her, can be taken away. She was essentially slut shamed
by the right-wing media and some elected officials.
The things I mention above are things that many feminists talk about and defend the right to. It's not only feminists, it's also our male allies. I tend to consider them feminists as well. They know and understand that we want the kind of equality that was once reserved for the elite in our nation. There was a time when women were not allowed to own property. There was once a time when people were held as slaves and were prevented from learning to read -- something that could be punishable with death. Women were not supposed to vote. Strict constitutionalists deemed this as such when the suffragettes and abolitionists protested for the right to quality and the right to vote.
This all leads me to a very serious question. As a feminist, where is the women's right movement?
One of my personal Rock goddesses Stevie Nicks had something to say about this at a recent
SXSW panel discussion.
“We fought very hard for feminism, for women’s rights,” she said when addressing a question from the audience. “What I’m seeing today is a very opposite thing. I don’t know why, but I see women being ‘put back in their place.’ And I hate it. We’re losing all we worked so hard for, and it really bums me out.”
The author of the blog wonders, is Ms. Nicks right?
Have women’s rights not only stopped progressing forward, but actually moved backward? We get told we act too prudish or too slutty. We are told that we are too fat. We are told that we are too thin. We are called teases if we are nice to a male friend but have no desire to sleep with them. We are bitches or crazy feminists if we demand to be taken seriously. We are told we have to work hard in our careers for less pay then we deserve but – oh wait – we have to be great moms and homemakers too! We are told if we are assaulted that we probably just drank too much, or that our dress was too skimpy."
After reading that, I took pause. While this is true, are we at a point where it's becoming a red-herring to always be setting ourselves up as victims? If women are this
, then they are that
- Isn't that falling right into the hands of the idea of patriarchy
Do we set ourselves up to fail by creating a no-win situation or is this an actual reality? Are we to be more concerned with skirts and what people think about us when women -- girls, children -- are being sold and trafficked as sex slaves here in the United States
Personally I think Nicks is correct. We (not just as women, or as feminists, but as a society in total) are going backwards. Some of these debates we should be long past having to have. Sadly, we are still having them. As thus, I am seeing a real rift inside the feminist movement, it is struggling with how to move forward.
I believe that we are not moving in a forward direction if we are moving in a scattered pattern. A friend of mine suggested otherwise, stating "Evolution is stochastic, in the sense a scattered approach is not indicative of a lack of process, it's one of creation and re-creation."
How can we go forward when we see images like this?
We are a first-world country... we have a long way to go but we do ourselves no good with images like that, especially when we are still dealing with messages from Princeton Alum, Susan Patton
In the open letter dolling out free relationship advice, the proud Princeton alumna whose younger son, Daniel, is currently attending the New Jersey institution, bluntly stated that one of the main goals for female students attending her school should be finding a husband that will be up to their high standards.
'For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you,' Patton writes.
'Here’s what nobody is telling you: Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there.'
On the other side of this spectrum we have Sheryl Sandberg who advises women to "Lean In"
, and it is generating a bit of controversy as well.
Sandberg's book has generated a spectrum of responses — some positive, some mixed and some outright hostile. Most common is the complaint that Sandberg seems to put the burden on women to change, rather than challenging the institutional, cultural and psychological factors that present extra challenges for women.
But another common refrain is that Sandberg fails to represent all women. As one of the richest and most powerful women in America, and one with a supportive husband, she has a few resources that most women lack — whether it's household help or another parent who can step in when she needs to miss dinner with the kids. Here are just two representative comments:
Sandberg has already gotten some flak from women who think that her attitude is too elitist and that she is too prone to blame women for failing to get ahead. (Not everyone has Larry Page and Sergey Brin volunteering to baby-sit, and Zuckerberg offering a shoulder to cry on.) Noting that her Facebook page for Lean In looks more like an ego wall with "deep thoughts," critics argue that her unique perch as a mogul with the world's best husband to boot makes her tone-deaf to the problems average women face as they struggle to make ends meet in a rough economy, while taking care of kids, aging parents and housework. (Maureen Dowd, The New York Times)
Even her advisers acknowledge the awkwardness of a woman with double Harvard degrees, dual stock riches (from Facebook and Google, where she also worked), a 9,000-square-foot house and a small army of household help urging less fortunate women to look inward and work harder. Will more earthbound women, struggling with cash flow and child care, embrace the advice of a Silicon Valley executive whose book acknowledgments include thanks to her wealth adviser and Oprah Winfrey? (Jodi Kantor, The New York Times)
We are not going forward when wealthy women are defining what feminism is. It then becomes about a certain elitism and that is the very thing that women were fighting to end during the height of the women's liberation movement.
I know I asked a lot of questions today, and I provided few answers, but I think it is worth pondering. Now excuse me, I have to shave my armpits.