As second-wave feminists begin to retire, it is increasingly becoming our generation’s job to carry on the torch in the fight for equality. However, more and more young women are currently choosing not to identify with the movement that has previously garnered them so many rights.
Your “Girls just want to have Fun-damental Rights” T-shirt may not get you a date for your first college party, but it is going to assert your solidarity with all the incredibly strong and brave women who fought for the rights and freedoms we enjoy today. Not all women today realize the great strides of improvement feminists before us made to better women’s futures and how, by disassociating themselves and bashing the movement (as some women are), they are undoing the progress they made.
It’s fine to have qualms with modern feminism — many people do, evidenced by the newly popularized tag “Why I don’t need feminism.” The problem is that many of the issues people take with feminism just aren’t correct. The “whyidontneedfeminism” hashtag on Twitter is filled with women disassociating with the movement because they feel it does not represent an issue it should or is exclusive to one group when in actuality, they do not really understand the issue.
There are real issues with feminism that self-identified feminists are aware of, but they are working within the movement to fix these issues. Instead of participating in constructive dialogue, a lot of women prefer to criticize the movement as a whole. That is why I am going to attempt to dispel some of the most common misconceptions about feminism.
Misconception #1: The fight for equality is over.
Women today still face inequality. According to the United Nation’s 2015 annual report on the Progress of the World’s Women, “Globally, on average, women’s earnings are 24 percent less than men’s, and even in countries such as Germany — where policies are increasingly supportive of female employment — women on average earn just half as much income as men over their lifetimes. Yet in all regions women work more than men: on average, they do almost two and a half times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men.”
In America, a woman makes an average of 78 cents for every dollar a man does and, despite being more likely to attend college, women make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers, according to US News and thinkprogress.org. I need feminism because there have been hundreds of bills introduced to Congress to regulate a woman’s body, but none that tried to regulate a man’s.
According to the CDC, nearly one in five American women will be raped in their lifetime. One in four American girls will be sexually abused before they turn 18, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s clear there is a problem with sexual assault, but what may be worse is the recent trend in victim blaming, which occurs when the media and people around a victim blame them for their assault. Some victims are criticized for what they are wearing, for being “under the influence” or even for having spoken to their attacker before.
Perhaps these issues persist because less than 20 percent of Congress is female, according to the Center for American Women and Politics and perhaps because, despite all of this, people still try to claim that women have full equality and feminists are whining over nothing.
Misconception #2: Feminists are man-haters.
I am not sure where this misconception came from, but I, like Emma Watson, believe this must end. Feminists never asked for more-than-equal rights and we do not hate men.
In an interview with Redbook Magazine, Actress Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting explained why she doesn’t identify as a feminist by saying, “It's not really something I think about. Things are different now and I know a lot of the work that paved the way for women happened before I was around.”
She went on to explain in the interview that she loves the feeling of being a housewife for her husband, cooking dinner five nights a week.
“I’m so in control of my work that I like coming home and serving him,” she said in the interview.
As one of the highest paid actresses in television, it is not a surprise that she does not think about the fight for equality. She makes the same amount as her “Big Bang Theory” co-stars and explained to Redbook in the interview that she “never really faced inequality,” but Cuoco-Sweeting’s remarks highlight the misconceptions that are hurting the feminist movement. Some women feel they can not be feminine and a feminist at the same time and that simply isn’t true.
Feminism does not want to shame women who enjoy aspects of the stereotypical female identity. They want to celebrate and secure a woman's ability to choose her own lifestyle. Without the feminists before her, Cuoco-Sweeting would not be able to be both a career-woman and homemaker and her not identifying with those who struggled so she could enjoy both those worlds seems flippant.
As a feminist, I am only asking for equality. I want to be able to walk down the street without being rudely catcalled or hollered at because a man feels he is entitled to my body. I also want to be paid equally for equal work and have the freedom to choose when I start a family and I am unapologetic about this.
In truth, some men actually identify as feminists (16 percent, according to a recent survey by HuffPost and YouGov.) So in no way are we trying to take away your son’s rights. I do, however, want my daughter to have the opportunity to be whatever she wants.
Misconception #3: Feminism is only for women.
Feminism seeks to create a much-needed dialogue regarding issues that affect us all. Our society often shames feminine qualities so that a women is made to be either a prude or a slut and a man is shamed for expressing his feelings. The movement for gender equality is called feminism and not humanism or genderism because it has historically been feminine qualities that are looked down on by society.
Obviously 16 percent of men know that feminism is good for them too because gender stereotypes perpetuated by our society and media hurt us all. Society shames men for showing emotion and women for for being too prudish or slutty. Both genders can face victim blaming and harsh criticism following the report of a sexual assault. Real feminists know this and recognize how feminism can serve to benefit everyone. And by real feminists, I mean the ones who recognize that there are real issues for men that stem from gender roles, those that understand a victim is a victim regardless of gender and that an abuser can be female.
One of the problems is that the media often does not present the more inclusive, intelligent branch of feminism. This is often due to the fact that much more attention is given to feminists like Miley Cyrus, who emphasize the celebration of free sexualty, without speaking to the more serious issues feminism deals with like having the right to choose, access to healthcare or equal wages. The media plays up these more extreme feminists because their bizarre antics usually make for good headlines and better ratings (e.g. Miley’s “I am one of the biggest feminists” statement.)
Misconception #4: Feminists think the movement is perfect.
Minority and disadvantaged groups are often the ones that need feminism the most, despite the the movement having been historically fronted by almost exclusively caucasian women.
Intersectionality is the idea that oppressive institutions like racism, sexism or classism cannot be examined separately. Intersectional feminism recognizes that there is a White Feminism that excludes people of different cultures and those who are often not middle or upper class citizens. It seeks to include inequalities that come from race, class and sexuality in the feminist fight.
Everyday Feminism explained that while some believe this wide view of feminist issues spreads the movement too thin, would it not be more effective to focus exclusively on women’s issues? Maybe, but if we continue to push this “one-size-fits-all” feminism we silence the voices of the majority of women. In her article, “Intersectionality Is A Practice, Not An Identity,” Shawn C. Harris does an excellent job explaining how a feminist can bring intersectionality into their practice.
Lead Image Credit: UN Women