What Ferguson teaches us about Feminism
Observing the passion in Ferguson, Missouri following Monday’s grand jury decision not to charge officer Darren Wilson with any crimes relating to the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown has been humbling, to say the least. The protestors demonstrate a powerful dedication to their message, refusing to back down, unwilling to allow one more young black person be killed needlessly at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them. After months of protests, their voices continue to ring out across the country as they remain unified in the streets of Ferguson.
Watching history unfold in Missouri has made me think about the marginalized group I am part of—women—and the stark contrast between the way the Ferguson protestors and women react to brutal, violent crimes being committed against their peers. Women are raped and assaulted every day, especially on college campuses. One in four college women will be a rape victim by the end of her academic career. We’re learning more and more that these rapes are not unfortunate misunderstandings caused by having one too many drinks—they are life-shattering crimes oftentimes perpetrated by serial attackers.
So where’s the outrage? Where’s the unified group of women protesting in the streets saying, we will not accept rape as an unfortunate consequence of America’s cherished party culture?
It’s important to point out that the shooting of Michael Brown and the rape of college women are separate issues. It would be wrong to say that people should have the exact same feelings and reaction to these two injustices, because they each carry their own complex set of moral and social questions. But at the same time, these two issues have one important thing in common—a marginalized group is being brutalized in a horrific way, and America is sweeping it under the rug. One major difference between these two social problems is the reaction of the affected communities.
As a woman, I don’t feel supported by women as a collective group. In our midst, there are plenty of women blaming victims, women who defend the virtues and holiness of traditional gender roles, or, worse yet—women who know rape and other crimes against women are happening everywhere and don’t seem to care.
Why is it so hard for women to stand up for each other? Part of the problem is that for thousands of years, society has pitted us against each other, making us compete to be the prettiest, the most graceful, to get the best husband, to have the most children. These ideas are deeply embedded in a woman’s worldview from childhood, and it takes awareness and courage to defy them. Another problem is the negative culture we have created surrounding the feminist movement. Society likes to look at women far more than it likes to listen to them, and one silencing tactic is to paint those who publicly challenge sexist ideas as “crazy feminists.” Sure, you’re allowed to speak your mind, but if you do, get ready for six ignorant people to dismiss you a “feminazi” in the comments of a Facebook post.
It doesn’t help that many of the institutions where rape and violence against women are taking place do little to acknowledge or remedy the problem. Not only do colleges downplay the frequency and brutality of these crimes, but oftentimes, victims are subtly discouraged from pursuing charges by being told “if you’re uncomfortable reporting the crime, you don’t need to report it.” Of course it’s not a comfortable experience to report your own rape, but if we continue to treat rape like a shameful accident the victim should simply heal from and move on, we are making rape culture stronger. Rolling Stone recently asked the question, why in God’s name are Universities allowed to hold sexual assault trials through disciplinary boards, when the crimes being considered are violent felonies? The fact that only a small number of rapes result in a conviction demonstrates that when assaults are handled by University officials behind closed doors, justice rarely prevails.
Despite all these factors that hinder women from uniting to defeat violence against women, I’m still baffled and enraged by the complacency of my gender when it comes to equality. There’s nothing more infuriating than being part of a marginalized group that can’t be bothered to work together to solve the injustices being inflicted upon them. Yes, there are wonderful organizations whose mission is to end violence against women, but a handful of soldiers is not enough to win this war.
When I look at the protests in Ferguson, I see a powerful, unrelenting force willing to do whatever it takes to change the way we treat black people. Their actions have sparked an international conversation about race, a conversation that has the potential to actually change the way our country deals with atrocities like the shooting of Michael Brown. Until women can unite in a similar way, we will continue to be treated like second-class citizens. Until we learn how to join together, we will continue to be pulled apart.