Is Feminism Dead Essay, Research Paper
Is Feminism Dead? What is feminism? There are many different interpretations of the word”feminism”. However, most people agree that feminism is the theory that menand women should be equal politically, economically and socially. The feministmovement is a group of men and women who believe in feminism and are tryingto eliminate the inequality between men and women. Feminism, as it was first known, has almost died out completely. Feministgroups today are integrating many more issues into feminism. This seems to bea good thing at first. However, it is driving women away from feminism and manywomen are insulted or embarrassed to be called feminists because of thenegative connotation feminism has adopted. There are many different types of feminism. The theory that there arefundamental personality differences between men and women, and that women’sdifferences are special and should be celebrated is called cultural feminism. Thistheory of feminism supports the notion that there are biological differencesbetween men and women, for example, “women are kinder and more gentle thenmen”, leading to the mentality that if women ruled the world there would be nowars. Cultural feminism is the theory that wants to overcome sexism bycelebrating women’s special qualities, women’s ways, and women’s experiences,often believing that the “woman’s way” is the better way. Another type, individualist feminism, is based upon individualist orlibertarian (minimum government or anarchocapitalist) philosophies. The primaryfocus is individual autonomy, rights, liberty, independence and diversity. Moderate feminism is a branch of feminism that tends to be populated mostly byyounger women or women who have not directly experienced discrimination. They tend to question the need for further effort, and do not think that radicalfeminism is any longer viable and in fact rather embarrassing. Radical feminism is the breeding ground for many of the ideas arisingfrom feminism. This type of feminism was the cutting edge of feminist theoryfrom approximately 1967-1975. It is no longer as universally accepted as it wasthen and no longer serves to solely define the term, “feminism”. This group viewsthe oppression of women as the most fundamental form of oppression, one thatcuts across boundaries of race, culture, and economic class. This is a movementintent on social change, change of rather revolutionary proportions, in fact. Radical feminism questions why women must adopt certain roles based on theirbiology, just as it questions why men adopt certain other roles based on theirs(Colleen’s Feminist Home page). Feminism is not a very old concept. For most of history women have beenviewed as the lesser sex and did not argue this point. However, there have beensome very powerful and influential women in history. Cleopatra the powerful but, ill-fated queen of Egypt (51-30 BC) came torule with her brother at age 17 and alone at age 20. Another female ruler, Elizabeth I was the most successful monarch ever tosit on the English throne. Her reign, known in English history as the Elizabethanperiod, was an era of great accomplishment in England. She transformed thepoverty-stricken England into a great military power. Nancy Witcher Langhorne Astor who in 1910, became involved in herhusband’s work in Parliament. In 1919 her husband was elevated to the House ofLords. Nancy ran for the seat vacated by her husband in the House of Commonsand was elected by a substantial majority. She was the first woman to be amember of Parliament in Britain. Geraldine Ferraro, who gained influence with the Democratic party afterbeing elected to the House of Representatives was chosen by Walter Mondale in1984 to be his vice president. Ferraro was the first female vice-presidentnominee. In 1988, Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as Prime Minister and became thefirst woman to head the government of an Islamic state. As a result of herleadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party she has spent a total of 6 years inprison. Since being sworn in she has emphasized the need to reduce sexualdiscrimination, institute programs for health and the underprivileged, and makeeducation reforms. (Distinguished Women Past and Present) These women have shown feminists and nonfeminists alike that womencan do anything they put their minds to. These women have also shown men thatwomen are capable of doing what was traditionally thought of as “men’s work”. These women and their achievements helped to stimulate the women’smovement and the powerful women of the late twentieth century have helped tokeep a dying feminist movement alive. The beginning of feminism in the United States cannot be traced back toany specific event. Olive Banks, a professor of sociology at the University ofLeicester, finds it best to talk about the history of feminism with “the main unit ofanalysis [as] the cohort or generation, based on year of birth”. She identifies fourcohorts with the first consisting of those born before 1828 representing the firstgeneration of the women’s movement. The first cohort is active although unorganized. It includes women likeCaroline Norton who “successfully stage-managed the first piece of feministlegislation in 1839″. Other prominent members of the first cohort “include someof the earliest pioneers in the education of girls, like Anne Jemima Clough,Frances Mary Buss and the two Shirreff sisters, as well as most of the Owenitesocialist feminists like Anna Wheeler and Frances Wright”. The second cohort were born between 1828 and 1848. It includes ElizabethGarrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake, “who between them pioneered theopening of the medical profession to women, Emily Davies who opened highereducation to women, several nineteenth-century suffrage leaders such as HelenBlackburn, Ursula Bright, and Millicent Garrent Fawcett, and Josephine Butler, afeminist who is best known for fight against the Contagious Diseases Acts. The third cohort were born within the years 1849 and 1871. At this time,”the suffrage issue had begun to take precedence over all else and it is thiscohort…that provided the leadership of the suffrage movement as it moved intothe twentieth century”. Prominent women in this group included EmmelinePankhurst and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, both militant leaders, ConstanceLytton “who became one of the movement’s martyrs, and on the “constitutionalside” were Helena Swanwick, Isabella Ford, and Frances Balfour. Banks’s fourth and final cohort were born between 1872 and 1891. They”represent the last generation of first-wave’ feminism”. Most were swept up intothe suffrage campaign as young women like Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst.This generation “saw the partial success of the suffrage campaign in 1918, andits final success in 1928″ (Banks 4-5). These women and many countless others are responsible for thenineteenth amendment which was introduced to Congress in 1878 and eventuallyratified in 1920 without being changed (Barber). Since the ratification of the nineteenth amendment, our society haschanged completely especially for women. Since the 1920s our society has seenmany changes for women such as the importance of higher education, namelycollege, a huge increase in working-class women, a media that caters to women,knowledge about sexuality, birth control, and changes within the family unit(Burke 21). World War II was a turning point for women. Now, instead of beingkept out of the work force, women were “welcomed into factories, shops, andjust about anywhere they were willing to work”. They became “skilled workers inairplane and converted auto parts”, taxi drivers, and government workers (Burke27). The sixties brought about the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, thebirth control pill, a shifting economy, and a new women’s movement (Burke 33-34).
During the past twenty or so years, feminism has taken on an entirelydifferent meaning. Paula Kamen interviewed 103 nonactivists and found that thestereotypical feminist is perceived as a “bra-burning, hairy-legged, amazon,castrating, militant-almost-antifeminine, communist, Marxist, separatist, femaleskinhead, female supremacist, he-woman, [lesbian], [dyke], man-hater, man-basher, wanting-men’s-jobs, wanting- to-dominate- men, want-to-be-men, war-short-hair-to-look-unattractive, bizarre-chicks-running-around-doing-kooky-things, I-am-a-woman-hear-me-roar, uptight, angry, white-middle-class radicals”. Of the women interviewed, “most didn’t identify with feminism or want to beassociated with it on a personal or political level. The great irony is that althoughfeminism has generally made a tremendous difference in the perceptions andopportunities in many of these people’s lives, it is something that they almostuniversally shun” (Kamen 23). When asked if women had achieved equalitynearly everyone responded “no”. The issues which provoked the strongestfeelings were “violence against women, secure abortion rights, and…equal payfor equal work”. Other issues included “child care and health needs, especiallyfor single mothers, and racism’s effects on women. The family was a major issuethroughout conversations that called for more tolerance of women’s choices anda higher valuation and more support for motherhood”. Many women are afraid to call themselves feminists because of thefeminist stereotype. In View, a magazine for college women, conducted a poll inSeptember of 1989. Out of 514 female undergraduates, “90% agreed that menand women should earn equal pay for equal work; 93% said that women wantequality with men; 84% agreed that women should have access to birth control,regardless of age or marital status; 90% believed that sexism still exists”.However, only 16% of them women polled said they were definitely feminists.33% definitely did not consider themselves feminists (Kamen 33-34). Why don’t women like those polled feel that they are feminists even thoughthey are, according to what they say, agreeing with the feminist theory? Thereare many reasons. First, “many [women] explained that they are not feminists because theyprefer the female way of life, not the male one”. Many women want and enjoy theprivileges that go with being a woman such as having the door opened for them. Second, because of feminism’s focus on careers, women withoutprofessional ambitions do not see the feminist movement as relating to them andeven view it as antimotherhood. Third, others feel that “feminists deny what is feminine”, and fourth, “theyassociate feminism with lesbians”. Many women “thought feminism did togender what communism theoretically does to class: wipe out any distinctions”. Fifth, women think feminists “hate men or think that women should besuperior to them”. Sixth, others didn’t feel that the fight for women’s rights was personallyrelevant to them (Kamen 35-36). In general, women seem to have many thoughts on the feminist stereotypeand it is turning many women away from fighting for equality. “The media’scaricature of feminism, combined with some bad habits in the movement itself,has lead many women to view the weapon of pro-woman politics with distaste.The weapon’s own rigidity keeps it from adapting itself to the average woman’shand” and this is causing many people to view feminism as dead (Wolf 59). Today, there are just too many issues being tied in with feminism. Modernfeminism has drawn a very unappealing picture of itself. It has become toopolitical involving such controversial issues such as abortion, lesbianism, andpornography. It has become too restricted in ways that lead people to think thatits only for middle-class white women, for fighting against men, about notwearing makeup and chopping one’s hair off. Who is at fault? The media hasplayed a large role in the death of feminism as it was known it the beginning. However, the radical feminists themselves gave the media just what they werelooking for. Radical feminists who believe that women should not give birth, getmarried even if in love, engage in anything “frivolous”, or be even the slightest bitvulnerable have no one to blame but themselves. The media loves to report oneccentric ways and the radical feminists gave them just what they wanted (Wolf60-62). Christine, a twenty-eight-year-old secretary describes the city in which shelives. She says that it has “a very strong “left” group of feminists. They are astrong group that dominates many organizations…In my opinion, this group isalso responsible for sabotaging these organizations… . It has been difficult…toget women to mobilize… Many of the [radical feminists] attend many meetings.They almost never offer solutions or constructive criticism and because of thenegative feeling they bring with them, they leave many women feeling alienatedor confused” (Wolf 63). Christine is not the only woman who feels this way.From polls, letters, and interviews it can be seen that the majority of women feelexactly as Christine (Wolf 60). XXXXXX, an assistant to the Dean of Business at XXXXX University, feelsthat “feminism is dead” and has “taken on many issues”. When asked if she wasa feminist, she quickly retorted “No, I’m not a feminist” as if it was an insultinglabel. She feels that “women have not won total equality” and will not do so “in[her] lifetime”. She feels equality for women “is important”. And although shehas never experienced an inequality due to her sex, she has “been sexuallyharassed”. If allowed to reconstruct the feminist movement to her own views, shewould concentrate on the issues of “violence against women, pro-choice, andequal pay” with “violence against women being the most important”. Feminismhas run out of control. It “has become a checklist of attitudes” (Wolf 60). Womendo not want this. They want to support feminism and call themselves feministsbut, they need to be able to relate to the movement. Not all women findtoday’s feminist movement too restrictive. Women like, Lynne Spender, who in adiary, describes finding happiness and a new sense of being in feminism. Aftermoving to Canada and contacting a “feminist friend of [her] sister”, she startedgoing to meetings for “Women Against Violence Against Women” and “feminism[became her] way of life” (Rowland 122-125). This seems to be a rare casebecause from what the studies and polls show, feminism is dying. Can feminism be salvaged? There are still important women’s issues to beresolved such as unequal salaries, domestic violence, and rape. Thoughwomen’s rights has come a long way, women are still not equal. Women need totake action and with feminism in its present state, women will not see equality fora long time. Feminism can be salvaged but, some major changes must first takeplace. First, feminism must reorganize and refocus itself. The focus of feminismshould be equality for women, not lesbian issues, not minority issues. Feminismis different and must separate itself if it wants to see a revival. That’s not to saythat minorities and lesbians cannot be feminists. It is just imperative thatdifferent movements must not intermingle. Today’s feminists must realize thatthey are scaring women away. Second, feminism must change the stereotype of the average feminist.Women, and people in general, do not want to be seen as something they are not.Included in the stereotype are political factors. Political ideology should not turnpeople away from joining a group. If feminism can make these changes, surely more women would joingroups and volunteer their time to fight for women’s equality. Hopefully, today’sfeminists will realize this so feminism, in theoretical and undistorted form, cansurvive. Women need this because even though the feminist movement hascome a very long way and our society has made tremendous advances, womenare still being beaten in their homes with “more than 2 + million womenexperienc[ing] violence annually” (National Crime Victimization Survey1987-1991:Statistics on Women) . This should be a signal that something needsto be done. If the feminist movement can reform itself, it may be able to makemany more great accomplishments for women.
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