feminism (ˈfe-mə-ˌni-zəm) noun 1. the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.
-Merriam Webster Dictionary
For as long as I could remember, I have always been a feminist. It may be because I was raised in a predominately female household that always taught me that I could do and be anything I ever dreamed. It carried over into my high school career when I joined “Women Of The World,” which showed me the struggles of women throughout the world and made me extremely passionate about the rights of women.
Because of this passion, it deeply hurts my heart when I hear women in the college atmosphere tell me that they “aren’t a feminist”. If you want to have the right to make the decision to be a stay at home mom instead of being out in the work force, you are a feminist. If you want the right to openly say that you would prefer to conform to the current social norms for women, that makes you a feminist because you have the option. If you are female and you want the right to speak your mind about anything, make your own decisions about your own moral compass or decide what you think is the proper path for you in this world, that makes you a feminist. By definition, to be a feminist, male or female, all you have to do is believe that the other sex is your equal.
True equality would mean that women and men would make the same wage for the same work. In 2013, white women made 77.4 percent of the average white man while black women made 64.1 percent and Hispanic women made 56.5 percent. It means that women who commit brutal crimes, like rape, assault and murder, serve just as much time and are sentenced the same way that their male counterparts are because they are seen as serious offenders. It means that women are allowed to serve in all aspects of the armed forces because they are not seen as weak; they are seen strong, capable and serious contributors to protecting our freedom.
With the current issues that have been brought in the last election, I think it is crucial that all people see the importance of valuing feminism. That we all see why it should matter to everyone, not just women and not just Americans but all people around the world. So out of the countless reasons we still need feminism, here are just five.
1. Rape culture is still a very serious problem.
In America, 1 in 6 women have either been the victim of rape or of an attempted rape. Out of 1,000 rapes, 994 rapists will walk free, serving no time for the rape. Perpetrators that commit sexual assault are more likely to get off free than suspects of any other crime committed in America, and that is because no one really takes it seriously. In the majority of cases, the victim of rape faces victim blaming from not only the police, but from family and friends as well. They are repeatedly asked what they were doing, what they were wearing, were they intoxicated, had they had sex with this person before, had they led the person on to make them think it would be okay. No one really asks why the men raped them. Rape isn’t about sex, it is about violence. You would never ask someone who was robbed, “Well, did you have your money out? Did you give them any indication that you wanted them to take it from you?” because when it is said like that, it sounds ridiculous. But because of the fact that we treat rape victims the way we do, it is no surprise that most cases go unreported and in the vast majority of reported cases, the rapist doesn’t serve time. By acting like the situation doesn’t exist, people create a culture in which it is seen as almost acceptable because of the fact that most people won’t openly stand up and speak out. The thing is, this isn’t just a problem in America, and it isn’t just a problem for women. Men also get raped and so do people in other countries, but the fact that it is predominately an issue for women is partially why it’s a feminist issue.
2. Women are more sexualized than men.
We have all heard the phrase "sex sells," but when you look at those advertisements in which sex is used to sell, it's usually a woman doing a semi-sexual act to sell a product. I won't say that men aren’t sexualized, but when men are sexualized, it is usually to catch the attention of men and make them idolize the given model. In the case of women, it is less of idolizing them and more of portraying them as an object for sexual pleasure. Having women seen this way harms men's perception of women by perpetuating rape culture since they are only objects for sexual pleasure. It also harms the way that women see themselves by thinking they aren't beautiful if they don't look the same way as the women they see in media. Having this negative perspective of women harms the view of women in society.
This view causes many women to be forced to deal with being catcalled. Many may not see catcalling as all that important, but it is because it causes many women to feel unsafe in their day to day life. In many cases, if the woman being catcalled speaks out, the cat-caller becomes aggressive and threatens the life of the woman. If they don't respond, the cat-caller once again becomes aggressive and feels like they deserve to be recognized. No one should ever feel like they have the right to comment on another person's appearance, smile or clothes in a sexual way, but because of the view they have of women, they feel like they can. This sexualized view of women sometimes spreads to the workplace, leading to sexual harassment, and in some cases, having their abilities judged strictly on how attractive they are rather than on their abilities.
3. Women in developing countries are still at an extreme disadvantage.
Even though women in America aren't always seen as equal to men, I will admit that we do have it better off than some women in other countries. Just because we are a little better off than them, doesn't mean that it isn't important to work towards a better future for ourselves, but it also means that we need to help other countries recognize the importance of their women and girls. Many countries refuse to allow their girls to get a proper education. The girls have to stay at home and help cook, clean and raise younger siblings with their mother because that is the "place of women". In many cases. these same girls, many younger than 15, are married off to men much older than them. Each minute, 28 girls around the world under the age of 18 are married off to men of their parents' choosing. That is one girl every two seconds. This happens because of poverty and cultural views. The girls are seen as more valuable when they are sold to be married than they are by themselves. In many cases, these women are forced to be married to men who have raped them strictly to preserve a reputation because the rape must have been their fault. These child marriages cause girls to get pregnant far before their bodies are ready to have children and can cause many women to die during child birth.
As well as child marriage, another brutal tradition women face is female genital mutilation. At first thought, you could assume that this is similar to circumcision that males go through, but it is much worse. It is normally practiced in Africa, Asia and the Middle East and consists of removing the majority, if not all, of the female genitalia, and then sewing the opening, leaving a small hole for draining of the wound. This is done with no anesthetic, and the women are left to heal without water or food for several days. This is done to keep the virginity of the woman in tact and to remove all pleasure the woman could receive from sex. For sex to occur, the opening must be ripped open, making this a ridiculously painful experience for the woman, and if impregnated, it can lead to fistulas from the wound, which causes death in many cases.
In other cultures where women do not experience genital mutilation, they may experience honor killings, during which a woman is murdered or is the victim of an attempted murder as a result of "dishonoring her family" by any act from having premarital sex or acting outside of her predetermined role. All this horrendous violence against women is based on the fact that women are not valued as much as men. Because of these gender inequalities, women suffer greatly and are not allowed to reach their full potential only due to their sex.
4. Women's health care.
I'm not just talking about reproductive rights. I'm talking about the access women have to pap smears, pelvic examinations, family planning and many other tests needed to detect cancers as well as other diseases. Many women are single moms living below the poverty line. This is why organizations like Planned Parenthood are so important to women. Problems arise because women are severely underrepresented in the U.S government. Because we lack representation, mainly white men, who have never worried about these health problems, make decisions on a body in which they have never had to live. They have placed a luxury tax on menstrual products because somehow having a period is the luxury of women. They do this because they have no idea how expensive it can get to try to buy these products, especially when you are barely scraping by. They don't understand how it feels to have to have an unwanted baby, the fear of having cervical cancer, the fear of not having the health care they need in order to get better. They shouldn't be able to determine what women can and cannot do with their bodies, but they do. Some of you reading this may not agree abortion should be accessible but because of the way that our government is set up, there is a separation of church and state. By siding against the right, you are making moral decisions for other women without knowing what they face, what they are going through, or what other options they have. Because those people against abortions have the right to chose to not have one, they should support the right of other women to choose as well, without making their decisions for them.
5. Male feminists have more pull than female feminist.
Lately, male feminists have begun to speak out about what women are going through. I love that they have begun to see how important equality is for all genders and how unequal it actually is, but it does irk me when a man can say the same thing as a woman on the problems of women and it seems more important. Female feminists have been saying the same things as male feminists for years, but it manages to come across as nagging and whining. No one takes it seriously. I think that alone is a representation of what feminism is working towards. It is working towards a society in which women are seen as equal to men and when we speak up for ourselves and our struggles, we are heard and taken seriously.
If you’re male or female and you don’t experience these things every day, there are millions of men and women who do. When people say, “These women are your mothers, your sisters, your daughters, your wives,” it seems to motivate people to care, but that by itself is sexist. You never hear that you should care about male struggles because they are “brothers, fathers, sons, and husbands”. The reason you should care is because this is not a female problem, it is a human problem. By saying that women matter because they are something to someone else, you are ignoring the fact that women are whole and complete people regardless of their external relationships and roles.