Just Another “Feminist Rant”
In the beautiful words of Jessica Day from New Girl, “I hope you like feminist rants cause that’s kinda my thing.”
Note: I am aware that gender is fluid, and many claims made throughout this essay apply to genders besides that of the traditionally-used binary system of classification. My intention is not to minimize the struggles of people who identify as another gender other than man or woman; my statements are not meant to create strict labels for either gender mentioned. For the sake of my post, I will use men and women as examples of the various ways in which misperception has negatively affected women’s everyday lives.
Now, close your eyes and imagine this scenario:
A homogeneous group of people is declaring how the constitutional rights ought to be interpreted. Not only do they dictate how these rights should be understood, but also how they are applied to every other citizen of the country. There is no diversity within this group. There is no variation in opinions because they are all educated individuals from middle-upper class families. They feed off one another and fall into the illusion that they know what is best for the rest of the country.
This group of people is all White, heterosexual men.
Now, tell me that this scenario does not make you wary. Of course it makes you uneasy! While I understand that it is oversimplified to an extent, there are powerful implications that arise when you realize the lack of female voices in the political and social realms.
For too long, men have established their dominance in every sphere. Women are oppressed and repressed, unable to receive the same rights as men despite their explicit inclusion within the constitutional confines. A narrow segment of the country’s population should not make vital decisions on behalf of everyone else or claim that they should be the ones in control. The heart of this phenomenon is the notion that men believe themselves to be the most qualified individuals to exert their self-declared dominance in each situation. As younger generations are becoming increasingly aware of these injustices, there is hope for the future.
On multiple occasions, older generations or even my conservative peers have deemed feminism to be “unnecessary.” The primary example lies with politics. They say that women have the same rights as men, as they have for almost a century (yes, only a multitude of decades ago was this right actually ratified by Congress). “Female oppression ended in 1920 and women are equal as citizens of the United States of America. It says so in the Constitution. What more could you want?”
What more could I want…
A woman represented a major party in the last election…but she lost to sexism-personified, because he was supported by most of the nation. A female college student has sex with a male classmate…but charges for rape are not filed, because she should have assumed what direction the night was heading when she accepted that free drink. A mother has the freedom to work a full-time job…but the options are limited, because the hours must be flexible enough for her to pick up the kids and work another full-time job as she is expected to be the primary housekeeper.
Is there an issue with these situations? Where is the equality? There is none.
Feminism is the crazy notion that women matter and that all people have a duty to uphold these values as it applies to everyday life. Why is this ideology frowned upon? A consideration of history sheds light on this matter, as well as help clarify the direction that feminism is moving towards and what the future perhaps will hold. The future of feminism can be positive if perceptions change. Perceptions of history, perceptions of modern reality, and perceptions of feminism are radically different considering the viewpoint of the individual. The point of this “feminist rant” is not to bash men or curse society. I hope to express and validate the concerns that this one female has and to show how they are rooted in everyday interactions, whether or not many people stop to consider the implications. The examples used throughout the remainder of this essay will consider the influential perceptions of traditional gender roles and their relation to men and women’s experiences.
It is often said that history is written through the lens of the victors, but that version of events is skewed. This bias disallows a holistic understanding of the situations that underlie what is recorded. If only the winners’ story is told, the losing side of marginalized people will again have their stories remain untold. Their voices are legitimately written out of history in attempt to eliminate their memory and remove their value. Perceptions of history will be altered when both the champions and the conquered people’s perspectives are analyzed, thus enriching the understanding of the various people who encompass the society. Female oppression is not a new concept, but rather it stems from centuries of intentional suppression and lack of general understanding.
The history of modern society can be explained through power relations. Much of Foucault’s work describes the many ways in which females have been marginalized and exploited through virtually every institution, especially in The History of Sexuality. Self-proclaimed places of refuge and acceptance have only supported the downgrading of women. The theme of repression runs deep within the church. The sacred Bible is used as justification for female submissiveness. Granted, there is a variety of denominations and many different viewpoints on these texts. Feminist scholars study religious texts of all kinds in attempt to connect religion with the values of feminism. The issue with religion lies in the lack of explicit understanding of how verses are extrapolated and used negatively without consideration for culture, the time period, or the individual people involved. Interpretation is a vital tool that is often ignored. The church has minimized the value of an open discussion about sexuality and pinpointed blame onto the woman. Any female who mentions embracing her sexuality is openly criticized. Discussion of sex is repressed…unless it is used to support the notion that females are inherently evil creatures constantly seeking ways to ruin the nearly perfect man (who is only ruined by an encounter with a woman). How can females feel autonomous and independent, let alone liberated, when they are consistently compared to a temptress or the single source of mankind’s sin?
The church’s influence affects more than Sunday mornings. Throughout history, people have abided by the moral compass that is the church. It is a religious entity, an ethical institution, and a social gathering place. The participants of this worldwide movement have collectively chosen to live a life according to doctrine (which was created and deemed appropriate by a council of exclusively men). Even those who have no personal choice in that matter have felt the social pressure to follow the rules and act accordingly, or they would face exclusion and oppression for not living alongside their community. The culture of a society is inevitably affected by its primary religion. Since the majority of the world has tended towards a Judaic-Christian belief system, social norms are often shaped by the Torah and the Bible. Women have remained submissive and quietly accepting of servant-type positions, because they are offered no alternative. Their only role models are the (very) few females included in these religious texts (again, written by men to support the male perspective). I do not believe that religion is the problem, but the perception of religion, and further the perspectives intentionally neglected, need to be called into question. The influence of the church is powerful, and there is much room for improvement.
Though women are apparently active in the downfall of men, women are also imagined as dainty and delicate beings. The most pale and fragile women in the Victorian time period were the most coveted. Eligible women remained indoors and refused to engage in physical activity to ensure a more refined appearance. This characterization given to women creates a false ideology that women must remain the weaker sex. Men desire the smaller and more weaker females, because they want to be the protective, stronger counterpart. The constrictive nature of female existence no longer lingers to the extent that women are unable to run or play outside, but it remains present nonetheless. Women tend to list tall and strong as some of the most desirable physical traits in a possible man; on the contrary, men usually desire for their girlfriends to be smaller than them. Of course, these statements are general stereotypes and are subject to change depending on the individual’s decisions. The key lies in the generic assumption that has steadily infiltrated modernity’s thoughts, thus influencing the people’s mindsets and creating standards that are difficult to abide by.
There are numerous ways in which reality does not match with the claims of equality promised. Double-standards are common, if not expected. Females are not held to the same standard as men. Instead, women are consistently restricted and continuously limited from fully reaching their potential. Equality between the sexes cannot exist if there is a continuous desire to judge them separately. The different expectations are not beneficial for the growth of any individual gender; traditional gender roles exist to suppress any independent females desiring to pursue their interests. Stereotypes and expectations hold these women from fully working towards their dreams. Women internalize these roles, for they will limit their options solely based on the expectations of other people. Double-standards result when females are discouraged from participating in certain behaviors or situations, but men are praised or encouraged to do the very thing of which their female peers were discouraged. These separate levels of acceptance are not justified, nor is there a way to articulate the reasoning behind such an inequality.
Double-standards exist regarding both explicit actions and the judgment for that said action. For instance, there are different perceptions of sexual harassment and where to place the fault. Sexual harassment is extremely pervasive, despite Human Resources speeches and guidelines that are supposedly meant to end all sexual misconduct. When a female claims to have been affected by such an event, the situation is often used against her as she is criticized for her appearance or her behavior. It is not fair and it is not just. The reality is that no one cares about the traumatic experience…only how the accusations against the male will affect his future. I recognize that sexual harassment is not exclusively a male perpetrator and a female victim; there is a wide variety of situations and combinations of genders involved. I find that the root of sexual exploitation of the female and the lack of concern demonstrated lies in the belief that women are still perceived as a possession. The woman is blamed for her behavior or her clothing choices, because men are searching for a person to control. If there is a lack of consent, it is perceived as meaningless. Men are under the impression that women must secretly want to have sex with them, despite no inclination of such an act. Men are misunderstanding the situations due to the multitude of situations in their lives in which they have been favored over a woman. If he lives a life surrounded by encouraging statements such as “that’s just what boys do,” he will internalize these claims and use them as justification for his future actions. We cannot expect men to change their thoughts on gender equality if there is no indication from their upbringing that they are in the wrong. Perceptions must begin to change from childhood rather than hope for an overnight change in attitude decades later.
Another example of misperception of a man and a woman lies in the uneven distribution of household responsibilities. Women are constantly told that they need to marry and have children. I look at my personal experience and see the inequality between my parents. Though both of my parents have full-time jobs with assumed unpaid overtime, my mother is always expected to care for the needs of my younger sister and cook dinner for the family. I knew that there was something wrong with that situation, and it always made me uncomfortable how my father seemed to expect my over-exhausted mother to cook dinner in addition to the other household chores. When reading Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, I noticed the term “second shift” and the very struggle that my family experiences. Women can have a full-time job and earn an income, but its validity and importance are called into question when it is implied that their work is of less substance than their husbands’ jobs. They are expected to care for a sick child, drive children around for sports and other extracurricular activities, and even bring a lunch to school if forgotten. It should not be an expectation to be the primary caregiver, especially when they insinuate that the husband should care less for the family or household than the wife. It is absurd, because it creates the notion that a woman’s roles as a provider is of less worth than a man, even if they have a higher-paying job or more education in comparison. Men should not be raised on a pedestal for doing less work, nor should anyone expect a woman to compromise when her husband is unwilling. This is the reality for many families, but few people are willing to discuss the ridiculousness of the situation.
FUTURE OF FEMINISM
What do we make of these events? Do we remain stagnant, satisfied with these restrictive boundaries placed on us? NO. I can clearly see change happening within the minds of my peers. The open conversation and the willingness to acknowledge other perspectives gives me hope. While I understand that I am a college student studying social problems, and I am surrounded by other students with rather similar beliefs, it is important to recognize how beneficial it is to simply open that dialogue. Yes, there is a lingering bias of gender roles, as Cordelia Fine describes in Delusions of Gender. Centuries of gender discrimination and sexism cannot suddenly be forgotten and overcome. What is different about the current state of society is the sheer willingness to discuss this topic, as well as ponder ways in which these sexist remains can be eliminated or decreased for future generations. Perceptions are changing because people are willing to hear other perspectives, understand the marginalized group’s situation, and realize the need for feminism.
What immediate steps should be taken to ensure progression? Rosmarie Tong includes different approaches to feminism in her work, Feminist Thought: a More Comprehensive Introduction. The individual must understand the different stances and how to act accordingly. A multitude of questions arise. Should we eliminate men from feminism and our daily lives? Should we become lesbian separatists and live in female-only communities with a mutual understanding of supporting one another? Should we classify ourselves as radical-cultural feminists and remove men from romantic relationships? Should we follow radical-liberal feminists who embrace artificial reproduction, therefore allowing women to cultivate their talents and require both parents to be equally involved in the child’s life? There are many factions of feminism, each with their own proposed solution regarding the method of promoting equality.
Feminism is defined as the equality of the sexes, NOT the desire for women to rule over men. Women want to have the ability to rule over themselves. According to Catherine MacKinnon’s “Difference and Dominance: On Sex Discrimination,” equality is a question of equivalence rather than of distinction. The sameness/difference theory of sex equality indicates that the commonality underlying all beings is the essence of being human. The classification of sex created division. When men are perceived as the norm, any variation, even one of anatomical difference, creates a contradiction that must be solved. How do we account for these perceptions that serve as foundational to both historical and modern thought? The leading solution in accordance with this theory is beginning to view women as of the same substance as men. They are equal and ought to be treated accordingly. It is a normative rule that women should have access to what men have access. This mindset creates change that challenges the oppressive roles and norms that have been traditionally accepted by society. There are some people who believe that women complete men, which emphasizes the differences rather than advocating for equality. Though the latter approach values women in their existing conditions, it inevitably reiterates double standards and stops progression.
Perceptions of equality are rooted in perceptions of each gender individually. Why then should men be afraid of feminism? It benefits them as well. Men are victim of traditional gender roles, for they are troubled with the perception of what manliness entails. This stereotype is particularly prevalent in the South, as men must balance being a gentleman with being perceived as strong and aggressive. It is impossible to discuss equality of the sexes without mentioning the inconveniences of half of the population. Every person will benefit from feminism and the removal of traditional gender roles. The future of feminism absolutely must incorporate men through the understanding of their perception and how it arose.
Being a college student from a conservative community, I was hesitant to learn about feminism. I saw Facebook posts from my peers, both from those who supported and opposed the movement’s efforts. I always imagined myself to stay removed from direct involvement in any social issues. I knew that I was treated differently than my male peers, but I never knew the extent to which I was affected. As a young adult in the South, I am repeatedly reminded of the many ways in which males are granted with more favor and independence than my female friends. When I posed the question as to why it is so necessary for me to have a serious boyfriend by age 20, I am given no solid answer other than that it is traditionally expected. Men are encouraged to remain single until they find the “right” woman, but my personal experience shows a very different side of the situation. I do not want to get married so young, because I want to focus on myself and solidify my passions before bringing another source of distraction into my life. This mindset proves contrary to my traditional upbringing, but I know that I am worthy of pursuing my dreams. Why should I ignore my potential and give up on my aspirations for the sake of tradition that cannot be adequately justified?
Feminism allows independence and celebrates autonomy of all individuals. No longer should the past dictate the future events. I am a firm believer that everything happens to fulfil a distinct purpose, but there is no justification behind the empty facts that oppose feminism. Men and women alike possess character traits that are unique to their being, not their gender. The realization that everyone is important proves to be beneficial for the individuals, as well as society as a whole. The only way to ensure that this mindset is adopted is to begin with changing the perception of feminism, which must incorporate the change of perception of history and the present reality. Once perceptions are altered and the individuals become more willing to engage in an open discussion, more individuals will accept and appreciate the feminist mindset. It is not about burning bras. It is not about hating men. Feminism is about promoting gender equality through highlighting females’ worth, dignity, and potential. The future of feminism is full of hope, and I am excited to notice how the change in perceptions influences the change in society.