Feminism: A Matter of Responsibility for All

This is my first blog. I am picking an important topic to begin with: feminism. For all my life, since my early twenties, I have considered the term “feminism” to be a very positive term. I had been living in my own bubble. So I was shocked when I began hearing the strong backlash to the term. And even hateful epithets like feminazis. I had heard Betty Friedan, in a speech around 1988, speak of the pendulum effect of almost all movements, and that is what was happening to the feminist movement. Movements swing to the extremes and then back again, finally landing somewhere in the middle usually. She mentioned this because at the time, some women were again promoting frilly, sexy garments (which I have never opposed to unless they are exploitive), subjugating to their husband/boyfriend (a la Marabel Morgan’s The Total Woman), and other typically feminine attributes. (This book, by the way, instigated a main milestone in my path toward activism. I will talk about this in another blog.)

The dictionary definition of feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Worldwide, most countries have programs and policies to address gender inequality. But this still hasn’t leveled the playing field for women.

Gender inequality leads to society tending to scorn femininity, especially in boys and men. I have experienced a similar problem—but with a twist. My very capable as well as very beautiful ten-year-old granddaughter is often being discouraged by a grandfather to avoid anything deemed girly, such as playing with dolls or doing yoga or even dressing in a Halloween costume that might represent a princess or other very feminine character. She is encouraged in sports and excels in all of them. She is one of the best players on her softball team and soccer team. She already has a black belt in karate. But gymnastics (a sport her mother and aunt excelled in) seems to have fallen into the category assigned to yoga. I see this as just as limiting as denying the more masculine sports. Feminism combats the strict gender roles that prevent everyone from fully actualizing themselves.

There is a brief article in a recent issue of the Week magazine that reviews a new book—Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear . . . and Why by Sady Doyle. The book discusses women who rise to fame only to be publicly shamed after a brush with drugs, mental instability, or perceived sexual infractions. The author points out that this phenomenon is nothing new, as Mary Wollstonecraft and Charlotte Bronte could stand shoulder to shoulder with Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, and Whitney Houston as exemplars of the type. Every “trainwreck,” Doyle writes, is “a signpost pointing to what ‘wrong’ is, which boundaries we’re currently placing on femininity, which stories we’ll allow women to have.” She further makes the point that subjecting women’s private lives to public scrutiny has long been an effective way to keep women from being heard. Salamishah Tillet in the New York Times suggests that we “consider, as Doyle does, Mary Wollstonecraft.” The protofeminist British writer initially garnered favorable reviews for her landmark 1792 treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Women. However, she was rendered morally suspect when her widower wrote a biography about her revealing her two premarital affairs and two suicide attempts.

Another reviewer of this book felt that Doyle wasn’t fully recognizing some more recent shifts in our culture. Megan Garber in www.TheAtlantic.com said, furthermore, that this is also the best reason for readers to take hope: “Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Shonda Rhimes, and Rihanna are ascendant as celebrities precisely because each has seized control of how her story will be told.”

Women may have technically won the right to vote nearly a century ago, but half of the population still isn’t represented in our nation’s leadership. Democrats elected their first female presidential nominee ever this year. However, women make up less than a fifth of Congress and a fourth of state legislative offices. Only about 10 percent of mayors in the largest cities in America are female. But innovation in fields like government can expect an exponential growth in female candidates and elected leaders. This age of Aquarius has ushered in the era of the woman. As the gender gap in the US labor market closes, our country’s GDP will probably improve by 5 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. According to journalist Sophie McBain’s calculations, that’s $784.2 billion more for our economy.

As we could be electing Hillary Clinton to the presidency within weeks, Doyle’s deep analysis of American culture may soon prove to be out of date. When women gain, the whole of society benefits.

But the sexism exhibited in interviewing women candidates, especially Hillary Clinton’s ordeal with being interrupted frequently by moderators and male opponents alike, indicates that there is still much gender inequality in treatment despite the gains on paper. Some may perceive Clinton as not warm and fuzzy enough, but she seems to exude strength while at the same time keeping her femininity. Feminism is a tricky and ever-changing road to travel, made all the more difficult by ridiculers like Rush Limbaugh. Yet to me, it is clear that those kinds of insults are delivered by men who fear the power of women. As Socrates said so very long ago, “Once made equal to man, woman becomes his superior.”