So some idiot posted a meme on Facebook that compares life “before feminism” with “life after feminism.” It goes something like this:
• Before feminism, women were long-haired, modest, happy, moral, faithful creatures who had boyfriends, “normal lives” and the willingness to raise a “family.”
• Since feminism, women have become shrill, confrontational shrews who are angry inside, hate men, are always on the lookout for oppression (that’s a bad thing?) and “won’t raise a family.”
As Hanna would say, “let’s unpack that.”
The definition of “feminism” isn’t, as some would have you believe, “man-hating, non-deodorant using, non-leg hair shaving Lesbian.” What “feminism” actually means is, “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” In 2017, most young women take it as a given that they are equal to their male counterparts, and that they will enjoy the same opportunities as men in all aspects of their lives, both personal and professional. Although wage discrepancies, sexism, and sexual harassment continue to present obstacles to women in the workforce (think Roger Ailes or Harvey Weinstein of late), and despite the ongoing dearth of women holding leadership positions in the corporate and governmental sectors of our country, things are better for women than ever before.
You know why?
Because of feminism.
In case you think that the world you live in has always been this way, consider all the things women didn’t used to be able to do:
• Control their own finances, own property in their own name, initiate a lawsuit, or receive an inheritance in their own right (this was not true in all states until 1900);
• Vote (1920)
• Be free from legal beatings by their husband (1920)
• Marry a foreigner but keep their own citizenship (1922)
• Have legal access to birth control (1960)
• Have equal access to job listings (1968)
• Have the right to be paid the same as men for the same work (1970)
• Be free from discrimination in public schools on the basis of gender, including in school athletics, financial aid, career counseling, and admission practices (1972)
• Apply to pretty much any college in the US (1970’s…but Harvard didn’t admit women until 1977)
• Get a credit card in their own name (1974)
• Have the right to work without discrimination due to pregnancy (1978)
• Be appointed to the United States Supreme Court (1981)
• Sue in civil court for sexual harassment in the workplace (1986)
• Prosecute marital rape in all 50 states (1993)
• File a complaint about pay discrimination (2009)
What’s that, you say? It was legal for men to beat their wives all the way up to 1920, and to rape their wives as recently as 1993? Why, that’s crazy!
Yes, it is. Happily for the women of America, there were suffragettes such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Margaret Fuller, and Lucy Stone, who won their sisters the right to vote. Then there were the “second wave feminists,” such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and Simone de Beauvoir, who wondered why women’s roles, even in the 1950’s and 1960’s, continued to be largely confined to homemaking and childrearing, and who suggested that perhaps women were capable of more, if more was what they wanted. In the 1990’s, Naomi Wolf asked whether it was okay to objectify women as sex objects, and women such as Roxanne Gay continue to challenge societal norms about what constitutes feminine beauty.
These days, most young women assume it is their birthright to seek the education, training, or vocational skills they need in order to pursue the career of their choice, even if it’s not in the fields of education or nursing. In 2017, women can determine for themselves whether or not they wish to marry, have children, end unhappy marriages, or wed another woman. They can serve as leaders of community, charitable, youth, civic, or political organizations. In short, they can pretty much have it all, whether they want it or not.
None of that would have happened without feminism, and if you’re a women who has a college degree, a professional career, or a car titled in your own name, it’s because of feminism – trust me, the recognition of those rights wasn’t the result of men waking up one day and saying, “hey, let’s do something for the little ladies out there.” Indeed, most of the progress noted herein was the result of women who fought, were vilified and repudiated, and, in some cases, even died so that women could enjoy the same opportunities as men. To recap, if you have a checking account, graduated from a private college, or have ever purchased any form of birth control, it’s because of a feminist.
So before you start maligning “feminism” as being anti-men, anti-family, or anti-anything other than “equality of treatment between males and females,” stop and ask yourself, “would I want to be a women in 1850’s America?” Unless you can answer that question, “Yes, absolutely! Sign me up for a life largely selected for me exclusively by men, one consisting pretty much of non-stop child-bearing, child-rearing, and domestic servitude, with no hope of self-actualization or an individual identity,” then you owe a debt of gratitude to a feminist. If you’re too mean-spirited or self-satisfied to admit it, then may you be instantly transmogrified into a pioneer woman – and not the kind who has a show on The Food Network.
The truth is, we ALL need feminism, whether we are willing to acknowledge that fact or not. I am, and if you call me a feminist, I’ll say “thank you.”
You should, too.