The Relevance of Feminism

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"The Relevance of Feminism"
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I am a feminist. It's become a dirty word, associated with extreamists (femi-nazis) and the strange idea that if you support women's rights then you automatically devalue men's. It's become a shameful label, and people who otherwise support equality between the genders feel they need to side-step it with a, "I'm not a feminist, but..." preceeding their comments. And then there's the idea that feminism is an outdated concept because North America has become a bastion for equal rights.

But we haven't.

There's still a gender gap when it comes to pay. While women are making inroads and beginning to crack the glass ceiling, we also earn approximatly 10-25% less than our male counterparts [1]. Some of this is due to the fact that women are more likely than men to work part-time, to take time off from their career to raise a family, because of occupational choices, and because of the exorbatantly high salaries of some white males, but it cannot entirely account for the difference in pay. According to a 2007 article on, for example, female nurses earn approximatly 22% less than male nurses, and nursing is, by far, a predominatly female profession [2].

Not only that, but North Americans are still drawn to gendered professions, period. There are more women training to be engineers than ever before, but classes are still a sea of male faces. There are more women going into nursing and social work than men, and elementary school teachers are overwhelmingly female.

Socially, too, we're still faced with the fact that eating disorders primarily affect young women, that men lose the majority of child custody cases, and that women are most likely to give up their careers to stay home with the kids. Kids, too, are still indoctrinated into their gender roles, from the pink or blue walls of their baby blankets to go get 'em GI Joes to pretty Island Princess Barbie. That kids still make their GI Joes kiss and hack off Barbie's blond hair before sending her on an adventure in the Sahara - er, the sandbox - is a testimony to the curiosity and adaptability of children with a blank (albeit pink or blue) canvas before them.

So why, after all those burnt bras and rallies in the 1960s, and the general awareness of feminism and feminist issues, are we still faced with those same issues?

In part, it's because of our media. We're bombarded with images of sexed up, half-naked women draped over fully clothed men - look at advertisements for alcohol or lingerie. Women are portrayed as sexual objects on television and in print ads - sex sells, after all, even to women - perfume ads often depict impossibly airbrushed naked women with come-hither eyes and seductively moist lips. Of course, there's a double-message in that; if women are told they are objects, then men are told that their brains are overruled by their raging libidos, and that isn't fair to either gender.

There's even been a return to the coquettishness and dumbing down of the 1950's, and a renewed interest in "The Rules" by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider that include such gems as, "Don't Meet Him Halfway or Go Dutch on a Date" and "Dont Stare at Men or Talk Too Much" [3]. Women are told to "let him lead" and submit the power in the relationship to the man to make him feel good - good enough, hopefully, for him to put a sparkly ring on your finger [3]. However the media only holds up a mirror (albeit a skewed one) to show us ourselves; the problem lies in the fact that our culture seems to be accepting those values without any critical thought or discourse. The finger keeps pointing at the media and nobody is standing up and saying, "Take responsibility for your own actions!"

Which is where feminism comes in. Feminists are allowed to start that discourse and critique of modern North American culture simply because by declaring yourself a feminist, you're declaring yourself to be a minority and admitting that you lack power within the currently existing social framework. If you're a man, you're acknowledging that there is a division of power between genders. It's only by admitting that there is a problem first that we can solve it.

Feminism isn't dead, or irrelevant. It's just that this generation has seen our mothers and grandmothers fight already, and things have become much, much better. Women are taking back control of their sexuality and bodies through birth control, maternity leave and tampons, and we can vote, work in whatever profession we please, and speak out whenever we have something to say.

Let's not forget that we DO have something to say, and I only hope that there will continue to be feminists brave enough to say it.

[1] Women's Earnings Fall; US Census Bureau Finds Rising Gender Wage Gap. 2004.; Gender Pay Gap, Once Narrowing, Is Stuck In Place. 2006.
[2] Pay, the Gender Gap. Last Updated: 24/09/2007 - 3:50PM
[3] The Rules.

More about this author: Eva Pronovost

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