If you believe in equality, you’re a feminist (whether you like it or not)

By Zac Bears

Flickr/Hannah Nicklin
Flickr/Hannah Nicklin

In the United States, women compose half of the workforce and run important corporations such as PepsiCo Inc. and Archer Daniels Midland. Women earn nearly 60 percent of college degrees in the United States and in Europe and make up 51 percent of the U.S. professional workforce.

But women hold only 3 percent of “clout positions” in media, and 65 percent of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.

The collective message of the media, the most persuasive culture-shaping force, is that, “a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader,” according to a synopsis for the film “Miss Representation.”

Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, is the most powerful leader in Europe. Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister of the United Kingdom more than 30 years ago. More women graduate college in Europe than men.

But 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for supporting women’s education.

According to the World Health Organization, 38 percent of female murder victims are killed by their significant others and more than 30 percent of women worldwide have experienced violence at the hands of their intimate partners.

Sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking, and 98 percent of its victims are women and girls. Some organizations estimate that more than a million women are held in sex slavery at any given time.

Now more than ever, humanity needs International Women’s Day.

One hundred years ago this Saturday, German working women came together and rallied for the right to vote. A poster created for the event stated simply: “Until now, prejudice and reactionary attitudes have denied full civic rights to women … Fighting for this natural human right must be the firm, unwavering intention of every woman, every female worker. In this, no pause for rest, no respite is allowed.”

Still, women face unimaginable gender-based prejudice, and reactionary attitudes continue to deny women social equality around the world.

Sex slavery and violence against women are fundamental affronts to gender equity. They marginalize women in the basest ways and are accepted as human rights abuses by most in the West. While these crimes against humanity often go unpunished, even in the “civilized” world, Congress had to overcome immense political opposition just to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which only first passed in 1994.

In Italy and Japan, employment rates are 20 percent higher for men than women. Women earn much less than men on average and are barely represented in businesses’ upper management.

Never mind representation in government, where candidates like Hillary Clinton face strenuous criticism that would never be forced on a man running for office. Just a few weeks ago, Clinton quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, saying that “aspiring female change-makers” have to “grow skin like a rhinoceros” to protect themselves from sexist attacks.

Over the past 40 years, the feminist movement in the United States has effected massive political change, pushing women to achieve greater power in the realms of government, business, media and non-profit. But political change does not equate to a reshaping of social norms. Although women are more active in politics than they once were, they still face discrimination based on attractiveness and age that deflects reporting away from ideas and toward appearances.

To effect true social change and gender equity, men must accept feminism. Feminism is not the advocacy of women over men; it is the rectification of thousands of years of cultural sexism, which remains widespread today. According to Merriam-Webster, feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”

“Masculinism” is often presented as the opposite of feminism. This is a false equivalence. The Merriam-Webster definition of a masculinist is: “An advocate of male superiority or dominance.”

Feminism is the belief in human equality regardless of gender, but also regardless of race, class and any other division used to amplify inequality. This intersectionality is essential because no single experience of discrimination reflects the experience of every person who has endured it. Feminists must also take into account the perspectives of people who do not identify with their assigned gender and understand that each individual, regardless of gender, has a unique and culturally-shaped view of feminism and sexism.

This is not license to advocate sexism under the guise of feminism. It is simply the understanding that men can be feminists too, that their opinion matters and that they can help. For feminism to achieve its goal of equality, people of all genders must accept the mantra: “I am a feminist.”

Society and its individuals must accept women as equals and avoid stereotyping women into traditional social roles. The fight against discrimination has moved from the law books to the human subconscious, where transparency and accountability are impossible. Awareness of privilege and vigilant individual enforcement of gender equity are the first steps that every person can take to re-shape our culture.

Political equality of women is becoming a reality in the West, but only through social change and the acceptance of feminism as the ideology of equality can the United States achieve cultural and economic equality, regardless of gender.

Zac Bears is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @zac_bears.