Feminism is the Answer

Kayla Lien, Opinion Editor

The concept of femininity is one used to both suppress and liberate women, making it an ugly word in the mouths of those aiming to demean, but a powerful yell from those demanding their rights. To be feminine is to have “a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with girls and women.” However, society uses it as an insult, as if the very act of appearing female is degrading. “Man up,” “you throw like a girl,” “stop being such a girl,” and gender-based expletives are thrown around without thinking about their true meaning.


Being female is certainly difficult in countries like Mali, where, “few women escape the torture of genital mutilation, many are forced into early marriages, and one in 10 dies in pregnancy or childbirth,” or the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, “rapes are so brutal and systematic that UN investigators have called them unprecedented.” While in the U.S., one out of every six women have, or will be, the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, according to the National Sexual Assault Hotline. The average high school classroom has 24 students. If we assume half are male and half are female, two of those girls will be part of the statistic. This abuse results from traditional views on women, on the thinking that females are only there for pleasure and should be treated as objects. With news reports bombarding our senses every hour about something new happening within the government, about mass shootings at schools, famous women coming out about abuse, one easily becomes desensitized to the world around them. Yet, this is the society we live in. The one where at least 22 women have accused the President of sexual misconduct between the 1970s and 2013.


From a young age, girls are groomed to be silent and submissive, justified as modest. Not only is this a problem for those trying to express themselves, it also poses a difficult situation for neurodivergent females. Autism is widely underdiagnosed in girls because the symptoms include being “quiet or shy,” or “unusually passive,” which aren’t uncommon characteristics. Oftentimes, females are underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed for mental illness since deeply-rooted sexism chalks real and alarming symptoms or behaviors up to paranoia or hormones.


We live in a patriarchal society that is encouraged by the media, where seeing a wife dote on her husband is the only option a woman can find and female characters are foils for the male protagonist with no real, discernible personality. Women in comedy sitcoms are constantly degraded based on their weight and size, reinforcing the internalization of harmful standards for viewers. Strong female characters are killed off in TV shows, so much so that TV Tropes Wiki named the plot device “Disposable Woman.” Enforcing stereotypical gender roles from such a young age can cause lasting physical and psychological problems. For girls, the problems can be “child marriage, pregnancy, leaving school early, sexually transmitted infections and exposure to violence,” according to CNN. Boys have an “increased risk of substance abuse, suicide and shorter life expectancy.”


The perception that men are the dominant sex and that women are weak is constantly reinforced by our environment and it triggers the need to conform. This chameleon act is linked to internalized sexism, where “an individual enacts sexist actions and attitudes towards themselves and people of their own sex,” leading to a sense of powerlessness, lowered performance in school and work, as well as a multitude of mental illnesses.


To be a feminist is to defend women and fight for equality, not the idea that women are better than men. That’s not feminism, that’s misandry. Feminism defends the right to choose – choosing what you want to do with your life, instead of following what society enforces upon you. If you want to be a stay-at-home mom, feminism protects your right to do that. If you want to never have kids, feminism stands for that, too. Many people, many women, are anti-feminist because they think that feminism is just another form of gender-based discrimination, but that’s not what it is and not what it is for, and to write off the movement is extremely ignorant.


This misconception of feminism isn’t limited to the United States. Women are belittled and patronized in places like South Korea, where many associate the word “feminist” with an unlovable, unattractive woman, and wearing a “girls do not need a prince” shirt gets them fired, BBC relates. In Tanzania, an aircraft mechanic is viewed by her country as a “weak attractive being,” with no regards as to her job title. We address feminism in the U.S. from a very “white” perspective, the same way we often look at history through a Eurocentric worldview. White feminism is feminism focusing mainly on the struggles of white women and disregarding the challenges of ethnic women and those without such privileges. It is prevalent and problematic how those who fight for civil rights’ tend to forget people outside their class or race. Intersectionality is a theory that suggests that in order to fully understand the experiences of a person, we must look at their race, class, sexuality, disability, as well as gender, because everyone has different situations. Intersectional feminism looks at how every aspect of women’s identities affect the discrimination they endure and should be the lens we look through when trying to solve society’s conflicts.


In 2017, a white woman earned only 81.8 cents per every dollar a white man was paid, relays the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Hispanic workers receive lower weekly earnings than White, Black, and Asian workers. A Hispanic woman’s median weekly paycheck in 2017 was $603 for full-time work, only 62.2 percent of a White man’s median weekly earnings, and 87.4 percent of the earnings of their male counterparts. The median weekly earnings of Black women was $657, only 67.7 percent of White men’s earnings, but 92.5 percent of a Black man’s median weekly earnings. For employers to pay their workers less based on their gender and race is illegal and blatant stealing of money well-earned.


Yet, while paying people differently for the same job is illegal under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), the wage gap is still wide and detrimental. The law hasn’t been enforced and doesn’t work, yet the almost-82 cents is progress, considering that at the time of the act, women were paid 59 cents compared to men, says Infoplease. In half a century, a white woman’s paycheck raised only 23 cents. This slow move towards equality is due to loopholes in the EPA that employers can exploit. While it prohibits paying less on the basis of gender, the EPA allows for men to be paid a higher wage because of “seniority, merit, productivity, and “a differential based on any other factor other than sex.” It is hard for women to prove they were paid less due to this in-explicit terming, and even if they can, employers are only forced to pay two years of what the woman was owed, which is nothing for a large corporation.


Single mothers’ have an even tougher time as the solitary paycheck of the family, making only a median income of $35,400 in the U.S. in 2016, compared to the $85,300 median for married couples, according to Single Mother Guide. As many as 35.6% of single-mother families lived in poverty, nearly five times more that of married-couple families (6.6%). For children living with only their mother, 40% lived in poverty, in contrast to the 12% of children in two-parent families. One third of single-mother families were “food insecure,” while another 13% used food pantries. People often get worked up about abortion and claim that it’s murder, but ignore children who are literally starving to death because they have no access to resources or the money needed to get them.


In order to solve conflicts like global warming or governmental corruption or the current situation of our people, we must first have a thriving and intelligent society that is willing to do something about it, and we must have other voices’ contributing to the conversation. “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world,” according to the United Nations. To keep growing as a society, as humanity, we must continue to grow internally and fix the problems we create within our nation, and accepting and embracing feminism is the answer to many of those. If we amend our mistakes now, we’ll have a clear path to the greatness we always dream of.