Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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

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.

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  • G

    Genghis KhanMar 11, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    @just another woman: Looking at results is fair game. Enforcing equality of results is another. Surely a college-educated person like yourself should be able to grasp the subtle, nuanced difference?

  • J

    Just another woman with a day jobMar 10, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Equality of opportunity and equality of results cannot be separated. Opportunity is not something that you can see – only results can be seen – so we always look at results to get information about the underlying opportunities. How do you know if equality of opportunity exists between different groups of people? Well, you look at their results, and see if they are reasonably similar. Results are the way we always measure opportunity. For example, we measure the *opportunities* that you get from a college education by looking at the *results* that college-educated people achieve. We say that kids from stable families have better *opportunities* than kids from broken homes because we see the former having better *results* than the latter. We judge the job *opportunities* in different cities based on the *results* we see among the people who live and work in those cities. And so on.

    Therefore, to say that you want equality of opportunity without caring for equality of results is really saying that you don’t care about equality of opportunity either, because there’s no way you can know anything about opportunities without looking at results.

  • K

    Katie McKennaMar 10, 2014 at 12:37 am

    Zac, thank you for writing this.

    Contrary to what Genghis Kahn has said, I do believe – IMHO – that women can have both a successful career and a successful family life. I know, I know, how selfish of me to believe this! I speak from experience as my own mother started her own business and now runs a successful association management company. She works about 70 hours a week and raised three kids while doing so, and I’m closer with her than many of my friends are with their stay-at-home mothers.

    I guess I just believe that having a successful career doesn’t always have to be detrimental to having a successful family life. Just because it doesn’t work in one context, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work in general.

    I’d like to think that being a good parent isn’t about staying at home or having a career – it’s about being there for your kids’ recitals, making their PB&J in the morning, hugging them at the door when you come home! Tell me if I’m crazy, but there are good moms who work, and good moms who don’t work. There are bad moms that work, and bad moms that don’t! The world is big, love is big, and I do hope that feminism prevails regardless of the poor excuses that are made in its way.

  • G

    Genghis KhanMar 9, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    @N: I suspect we’re actually close to agreement on this. You see, “equality” is never defined. Because then it would mean no more demands could be made once “equality’ was achieved.

    For example, I will guess we are absolutely on the same page when it comes to “equality before the law”. No one, white, black, male, female, straight, gay, etc., etc., etc., should be worried that the law takes sides because of race, sex, etc. (Do individuals let their bigotry get in the way of that? Sadly, that does happen.)

    But I see two issues with ‘feminism”.

    First, there are many good things in life. But some things in life can only be achieved by giving up other good things in life. Parenthood is a wonderful thing; I have two beautiful bi-racial children (whom my wife and I jokingly refer to as “Whaisians”). But there is no doubt that having children “crimps our style.” Doubtless both of our career arcs would have been very different had we not had children. But we made that decision.

    “Feminists” want it both ways. They want the rewards of a successful career (and bully to them for wanting it) but want the parenthood too. Sorry, but these days rocketing up the ladder involves lots of long hours, weekends at the office, etc. And IMHO if you take those hours when you have children, you are not a good parent.

    Second, “feminism”, like “affirmative action”, focuses on equality of result rather than equality of opportunity. If there aren’t the “right” numbers of women in upper corporate echelons, it’s assumed to be sexism. It couldn’t possibly be that women made different choices – referring to #1, above.

    But to acknowledge this violates one of the Left’s sacred laws: that there is no difference between men and women. Despite the fact that a billion years of evolution with two sexes, from invertebrates through dinosaurs, mammals, and then people, despite the fact that it’s inconceivable that there wouldn’t be sex-based differentiation, Leftists claim that there is no difference. (So much for their being the party of “science”.)

    Again, and to sum up, people should absolutely be equal before the law. But to think that women can have BOTH the meteoric career AND a successful family bespeaks a hubris and selfishness beyond comprehension. Yet this is precisely what “feminists” demand. That, and immunity from the consequences of decisions.

  • N

    N.Mar 7, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    OK here’s a little more. What’s “equality”? Equivalence? In what sense? Equality before the law – what law? Economic equality? By assuming what equality means into your definition, you’ve already imported a debatable concept into it. It’s a very nice, bland, easily digested brand of “feminism for all”, but so much so that it’s hard to say what it’s supposed to mean…

  • Z

    Zac BearsMar 7, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Feminism is the belief in the equality of all humans regardless of race, gender, class and other forms of stratification. There is no “Feminism should be…” because it already IS what it is. If you believe in equality, you are a feminist (whether you like it or not). The headline says it all “N.”

    Come out of the shadows…

  • N

    N.Mar 7, 2014 at 2:26 am

    Kinda funny you would callback to the left-wing origins of IWD, on behalf of female workers, and then jump forward to talking about female executives and politicians… Sen. Clinton voted for the Iraq War. For that and many other reasons, I’m sure many women in the U.S., Iraq and elsewhere would dispute her career as some kind of feminist victory for women everywhere.

    That’s my main thing here really…you might have had a stronger case here had you said “feminism should be…” rather than “feminism is…” Of course, as a male, you’re not allowed to say what feminism should be, are you, but only to characterize it, as you have done here, in the vaguest and most affirmative terms. The slightest peak into feminist discourse reveals endless argumentation about what is or isn’t feminism. To identify oneself with feminism is to become immediately entangled in this debate. You’ve given your take, ok. Personally I don’t think that it does simply denote any form of opposition to sexism or gender-based discrimination. Even just linguistically, it enshrines a feminine subject, it directly expresses not “anti-sexism” but something more like “woman-ism”.

    And what exactly is a woman? Not as obvious a question as it may sound. Like all identity politics, feminism urges ‘reclamation’ or ‘liberation’ of an essential identity that, it is implied, has become unfairly burdened with oppressions caused by those who don’t have that kind of identity. But just like race and sexual orientation, etc., gender is socially constructed – it is a way people interpret biological differences in a social context. In other words, without the oppression, no identity. What structures these interpretations, I think, ultimately has a lot to do with material and historic forces underlying the development of society. And just as this society, in the moment of its apparently confidently approaching global triumph, seems to be reaching a limit and fraying at the edges (and at the center and everywhere), ever so many voices are ready to tell us that feminism, like democracy, like capitalism, like America, like every other ideal that is falling apart, is something we ‘must’ believe in….I’m not convinced.