My Daughter Thinks I Am A Feminist

An English assignment took my daughter to write the following story. I have never considered myself a feminist but after reading her assignment my mind took another view on how my daughter perceive me.

Feminism is Not Dead

Danny Contreras

My mother is a feminist. You know the type; the successful business woman that built her empire through her estrogen driven go-get-her attitude, and the one that makes it clear that she wears the pants… in really any situation. The difference is, she’s silent about it. My mother wishes she was more like that, but she is a silent feminist. This still, however, doesn’t clearly define the picture. Her silent feminist character is evident because my mother doesn’t go out of her way to let everyone know that she is a feminist, nor does she refuse to have the door opened by some kind gentleman; instead she appreciates the offer and welcomes it. My mother’s feministic character comes into play because of the way that she was raised.

My grandmother grow up as a very conservative women. In a culture that believes a women’s place is in the home; taking care of the children, making dinner, pleasing her husband, and cleaning the home; very stereotypical. My mother resisted this way of living from a very young age. She strives for things higher than children and marriage. My mom wanted to be a doctor, but my grandmother constantly suppressed her, telling her that she was out of line, and such thoughts were ridiculous. Every woman had her place, and that place was at home. She was also suppressed in school and church. After many years of living with this mentality, she reluctantly accepted it, however the little rebel inside of her still existed, and it wasn’t going down without a fight.

Her thoughts were finally confirmed when she married my father and discovered that the idealistic family setting didn’t happen for everyone. Instead, in her situation, it turned out to be the other way around. My mom was the sole provider in the marriage, my father could barely keep his job down, and whatever money he earned would soon be spent with his buddies in restaurants and at the bar. My mom had bought him a car, a phone, helped him find jobs, and on top of taking care of us, she was also expected to have a warm meal on the table when my father came home. The marriage didn’t last long. They were divorced by the time I was two and a half years old.

Ever since then, my mom has told me that men are beasts that need to be conquered and domesticate it, and that a woman always have to have a backup plan. Moreover, a woman should never depend on a man to take care of her, and bring home the bacon. To support her claims, she would often emphasize how the most important thing is one’s education. It is something to treasure, and be aware of its great value, and recognize that in other countries, women are not allowed to have an education. Somehow all ties back to men and how they are lured by power and how they are perceived by society.

Then one day, the message stuck. My mother showed my sister and me, two TED talk videos. One called Tales of Passion by Isabel Allende, and another, My Mother’s Strange Definition of Empowerment by Khadija Gbla. In the first video, Tales of Passion, Allende describes a moment with her daughter, when her daughter said something that stuck out to her. Her daughter said that feminism was outdated, and that she should move on. Her mother reacted savagely, and in Isabel Allende’s words, “We had a memorable fight” (Allende). I feel like I would have reacted the same way as her daughter would, except that Isabel Allende said:

Feminism is dated? Yes, for privileged women like my daughter and all of us here today, but not for most of our sisters in the rest of the world who are still forced into premature marriage, prostitution, forced labor — they have children that they don’t want or they cannot feed. (Allende)

I began to wonder if feminism was in fact, not dead. That it was not outdated, but that it was merely hiding in plain sight. There are many women who believe that feminism is dead, that it is outdated, and no longer relevant. However, feminism is relevant in the work place, specifically in the issue of the wage gap between the sexes, and in the world, in regards to culture in Afghanistan, and parts of Africa. Not only there are these issues, but there are also women that take feminism to the extreme and muddle the true purpose of feminism. Regardless of what these women distort the definition of feminism to be, feminism is still alive and breathing.

Some might argue that feminism has run its course; the fight has been won. Women now have the right to vote, there is no need for feminists. According to Eleanor Harding, a news reporter for the Daily Mail, feminism

“Is the movement that, among its many triumphs, won women the vote. Yet, for the average modern woman, feminism is dead, research claims. . . One in five describe it as ‘old-fashioned’ and simply ‘not relevant’ to their generation” (Harding). For us today, women suffrage is “old-fashioned”, and it is not relevant. With respect to history, feminism is “old-fashioned”. .

However, for women during that time period, dealing with the Women’s Suffrage movement, feminism was indeed relevant. Feminism in the past won these women the right to vote, but today women’s right to vote is not an issue. It’s a cause and affect situation. Women still reap the rewards from those ladies in the past, and take advantage of the right to voice their opinions in regards to the government and state business.

Indeed, back in the day, the women that were fighting for the right to vote did not have that right. These women weren’t know as feminists. They were known and called women rights activists. These are the ladies that created history and reshaped the way that we interpret the Declaration of Independence. When it says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, one no longer thinks that it is exclusive to men, but that it includes all citizens of the United States, whether man or woman, black or white. This idea that women were included in the above statement from The Declaration of Independence, is thanks to Elizabeth C. Stanton, one of the “principal organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention” (The Women’s Rights Movement, 1848–1920). The right to vote is an unalienable right because if one lives in a country where they are expected to obey the law and abide by the countries standard, then the individual should have the right to voice his/her opinions, on how the government should function.

Currently in the state of Utah, women earn 70 cents for every dollar that a man earns (McKellar), and the gap only widens based upon a woman’s age, education, her race, and her choice on getting married and having children (Hill). Of course, focusing specifically on the State, Utah, a contributing factor to the widening gap, is the influence of the LDS faith. Many people know that one of the stigma’s of the LDS is for all women to be stay at home moms. They say a woman’s place is in the home, getting married at ridiculously young ages, making dinner, cleaning the house, pleasing her husband, and above all having many, many children, therefore restricting the mother’s ability to enjoy herself. Of course this is just a generalization, and there are always exceptions; however this seems to be the general trend.

My mother often says that one way to reverse this general trend, is to get a good education. However, Curtis Miller, and Matthew Weinstein, students in the Department of Economics at the University of Utah state that, “While U.S. women must obtain a bachelor’s degree to earn as much as an average man, Utah women need a master’s degree for the same level of income as Utah men” (McKellar). Yet, Catherine Hill, writer of Sex Discrimination and Social Justice, states that while higher education can lower the pay gap “it is not an effective tool against the gender pay gap” (Hill). She goes on to explain that there are other factors that influence an individual’s wage. For example race is a strong contributing factor, but if one really wants to end the pay gap, higher education may not be the way to go. If things stay the way they are, Miller and Weinstein predict,

“Not only is Utah’s wage gap the fourth largest in the nation, it is closing at the second slowest rate. . . As a result, if the current trend continues, Utah will be the next-to-last state to see its wage gap close in 2087, a full 40 years after the national wage gap (is expected to close in 2047)” (McKellar).

It’s very shocking to realize how many years away we are from overcoming the wage gap. I will be 90 years old at the estimated year, if I even live to be that long. It is also quite shocking to see how much more education women in the state of Utah in contrast to women in nation; Utah women with master’s degrees in comparison to U.S women with Bachelor’s degrees. All to balance out the playing field between men and women. However, Catherine Hill offers 3 helpful suggestions.

Hill offers 3 ways to decreasing the wage gap. Her first helpful hint goes to CEO’s. She encourages CEO’s to perform salary audits to make sure that they are allowing for the proper pay to individuals with the right qualifications, including education and job skills that are favored above other employees, instead of focusing the pay on what the sex of that person is. The second helpful hint goes directly to women. She tells women that they should learn how to communicate effectively in order to negotiate their job pay. “Improved negotiation skills can help close the pay gap” (Hill), and her last advice goes directly to the government. Currently in the United States there is a law called The Equal Pact Act. This act, however, has not been updated since 1963. Things have obviously changed since then. For example, women today know that it is bad to smoke cigarettes, and drink beer while pregnant, so updating this act to envelope issues, like the slowly increasing wage gap, would make the act more relevant to the 21st century. Hill does a very good job at explaining issues that are predominant here in the United States, and especially in the state of Utah. But there are other world issues that these women who believe that feminism is dated, and no longer relevant, don’t notice.

In different countries around the world, women are denied the right to vote, the right to education, the right to choose who they marry, and in some cultures, are subjected to FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). We are very lucky, and perhaps even spoiled, to enjoy the riches that this nation so freely gives. It gives us these rights, that many females and some males, take for granted, or don’t even realize that people in other parts of the world don’t benefit from. The thought is probably not even allowed to run through these individuals’ minds because of how absurd it is. It is ungraspable.

Western culture views the cultures in Afghanistan and Iraq, as very oppressive in regards to how women are treated, and what is expected of them. As the melting pot, the United States welcomes and accept different cultures and beliefs. However, when the rigid ideas of culture begin to deny individuals unalienable rights that is when the problem arise.

While individuals are free to practice their religion or keep their culture, there should always remain the option to go out of the norm/culture, and learn to read, write, have the right to want to teach, and choose who they want to marry, and how many kids they want. Culture should never become the reason to deny any person, his/her unalienable rights. Unfortunately, such has become the case in Afghan culture.

During the early, early years of Afghanistan government, King Amanullah tried to promote the empowerment of women, during 1919–1929 (Afghanistan). With King Amanullah’s example, “Women received the right to vote in the 1920s; and as early as the 1960s, the Afghan constitution provided for equality for women” (Bureau of Democracy). However, with the rise of the Taliban, the movement was soon cut off and reversed. Women were now forced to cover themselves completely with veils, and were expected to become full time homemakers.

As in Afghanistan/Muslim culture, marriage is obligatory, while, “Divorce is rare and stigmatized” (Afghanistan). In other words, divorce is bad, and disgraceful. Many times, under the new reign of the Taliban government, women are forced into unwanted or arranged marriages, and are wed off as early as the age of 12 (Life as an Afghan Woman). Women once had all of these rights including the right to their education, and were freely admitted into universities, where many became teachers, doctors, and nurses, until the Taliban came and forced the women’s university to close, and denied women the right to vote. Many people don’t realize that women did, once upon a time, have a voice.

Their grandmothers’ probably taught, or told them about how drastic life has changed since the time that they were allowed to have a voice, and attend school. Or perhaps that have all died, along with their memorable stories of those times. Perhaps these women have grown up only knowing what the Taliban have imposed on them. Or perhaps deep within their bones, these women know that they are of more worth. I don’t believe that these Afghan women think, “I don’t mind, not being able to go out without the permission of my husband. I don’t mind being forced to marry, and have children that I am not capable of taking care of, I don’t mind giving my husband my inheritance, and not being able to inherit my own house when my husband dies.” Or maybe these women do believe that, but if they do, I doubt we would see so many breaking news, and magazine articles pertaining to the severe oppression that these women face in these developing countries. I doubt that there would be women killed or beaten to death for the desire of a descent education, if they believed that the oppression they are forced to live with is perfectly fine with them. It wouldn’t be such a big headline.

Another case, in which feminism should be relevant is in the case of Khadija Gbla. She was born in Sierra Leone, Africa, and was transported to Australia with her family into a refugee’s camp. Before she even made it to the refugee camp, her mother took her to a small village in Gambia, Africa, where her mother assisted in removing her daughter’s clitoris. At this time, Khadija had no idea why her mother did that, or what the significance of the “procedure” was until she became an activist in Anti-Female Genital Mutilation, and discovered that what she thought was immoral and wrong, had ironically been done to her.

In her talk, her mother explained her reasoning by saying, “I did it for your own good. It was in your best interest. Your grandmother did it to me, and I did it to you. It’s made you a woman. . . You’re empowered, Khadija” (Gbla). It can be easily accepted as the norm for individuals living in that kind of culture. As her mother said, her grandmother did it to her and she did it to Khadija. As in many cultures and practices, people do things that others don’t understand, and are often seen as barbaric. As to where these practices come from, I am not entirely sure.

My mother’s theory, is that it was a man that came up with the idea; another way for men to subjugate women and make them of less worth. However, there are many ways in which women can be forced into submission and suppressed. Men probably came up with the silly idea of female circumcision, to mislead them into thinking that it was a form of empowerment. Or perhaps, it was feminist who took the idea of women empowerment the extreme.

But what is a feminist? I have used the word quite a bit now, and have lightly touched on what it means to be a “feminist”. But what does it mean? What is feminism at the core? If you look it up on dictionary.com, one can find that feminism is the active role of advocating, defending, and promoting women’s rights, and equality between the sexes. But it’s more complicated than that. The women who called themselves, women rights activists, are the perfect example of the dictionary.com definition. But there are woman who take this definition of feminism, twist it and try to apply to every situation possible, we’ll call them feminist extremist.

David French, a Canadian playwright, wrote a national review concerning feminism, and the extremist that have tainted it. In his review he said, “It’s less a true ‘women’s movement’ than the public face of hysterical leftist intolerance — combined, of course, with utterly bizarre (and bizarrely stupid) ideas” (French). For example, when French was in law school, he encountered a few of these feminist extremists. One of these women was his college in law school, who believed that all heterosexual sex was rape. That to me, and I assume anyone that reads that will agree with me in saying that, that is mind boggling stupid. I do not believe that my parents “raped” each other, or that my father raped my mother, and that is the reason that I was born. What an awful thing to say. I agree with David French in the very beginning of his statement (It is less a true women’s movement…), the rest of it seems like he is too strongly rooted in his political animosities. Nonetheless, he does a good job explaining personal situations in which he has encountered women/men, mostly women, who have gone too far with the idea of feminism.

So, for those individuals out there who believe that feminism is dead, that it is outdated, and no longer relevant, look again, and this time look with open eyes. Not just looking at the problems that women face in the United States, such as the increasing wage gap between the sexes, but look at countries in the east. This is where the need for feminism is great. Yes, those of you who believe that feminism is no longer relevant are right, but only to a point. If you look at only this magnificent country that we live in, one might think that the wage gap is a small issue to deal with and through time it will close. But if you look at the rest of world, you will realize that the opportunities and rights, that we so easily take for granted here, such as the right to choose our spouse, to vote and have a voice in the way that our government should be run, the education and career choices that we want to achieve, and many others, our sisters in the eastern parts of the country, specifically Afghanistan and areas where the presence of the Taliban is strong, do not have these simple, taken-for-granted rights.

They cannot pick who they want to marry, they cannot choose to obtain an education, nor can they choose what they want to do with that education. They are stagnant, and closed off from the world. We may be dealing with small issues such as a wage gap, but for a single mother, trying to raise her children, this may be a huge issue. Feminism is not about males versus females, it is about equality among the sexes. Although physically, men may be made stronger than women by nature, gender equality should not be that way. As we see feminism is not dead, it is not dated, and it is relevant, however it may vary in degree from country to country, and state to state. Feminism is still alive, and breathing; waiting for the right moment to pounce.

Works Cited

“Afghanistan.” n.d. Countries and their Culture. Web. 25 April 2015.

Allende, Isabel. “Tales of Passion.” Speach. 2007.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. “The Taliban’s War Against Women.” 17 November 2001. U.S Department of State Diplomacy in Action. Web. 25 April 2015.

French, David. “Modern Feminism: Appalling Stupidity Backed by Hysterical Rage.” 17 November 2014. National Review. 21 April 2015. <http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/392831/modern-feminism-appalling-stupidity-backed-hysterical-rage-david-french>.

Gbla, Khadija. “My Mother’s Strange Definition of Empowerment.” Speach. 2014.

Harding, Eleanor. “The death of feminism? One in three women say it’s ‘too aggressive’ towards men and they don’t need it any more.” 17 October 2012. Dail Mail.com. Web. . 22 April 2015.

Hill, Catherine. “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap.” 2015. AAUW. Web. . 22 April 2015.

“Life as an Afghan Woman.” 2015. Trust in Education Providing educational, economic and health care assistance to Afghan families. Web. 25 April 2015.

McKellar, Katie. “Study: Utah has 4th largest gender wage gap in US.” 22 January 2015. ksl.com. Web. 22 April 2015.

Shannon, Kim. “Parents Raising ‘Genderless’ Children.” 22 August 2012. Every Day Family. 21 April 2014. <http://www.everydayfamily.com/blog/parents-raising-genderless-children/>.

“The Women’s Rights Movement, 1848–1920.” 2007. History, Art and Archives United States House of Representatives. Web. 22 April 2015.