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The Feminist Movement in America and the Strive for Gender Equality

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By definition, equality is the innate sameness of two things. What happens then, when two things that are inherently and undeniably different strive for equality? In the past 60 years, women across the globe- most notably in America- have fought for and received a number of civil and personal rights in order to be granted the same freedoms that men have been entitled to. Society today is seeing more equality between the sexes than most of the world has seen in its entire history. Feminists have been extremely effective in achieving their various goals, yet it would appear that in recent years their work has become stagnant. Huffington Post Op-Ed writer Daisy Lindlar, in “When Did Feminism Become a Bad Thing?”, identified the issue that more and more people are becoming wary of feminists, then asserted that these people need to realize what feminists are trying to accomplish. While she identified the problem, her solution is flawed. Modern feminists have tremendous intentions and noble goals; unfortunately, the fact that they have neglected to improve the lives of women in poverty and the decay of the feminists’ public image has dissuaded the majority of society to support them.

A minority of the population is under the impression that the current social environment resembles the oppressive nature found by feminists of the 20th century, and solving these discriminatory practices would take similar steps. In her statement, “Western culture is one based around discrimination and exploitation” (Lindlar), Daisy Lindlar misinterprets a sad truth about the culture we currently reside in. While it is evident that there are some minor inconsistencies in how men and women are treated, feminists believe that they are in the same position they were in 40 years ago. They see the current social environment still rampant with examples of gender inequality- albeit in a more discreet manner than it was in the last century- and look towards the past to see how to solve their problems. The achievements of past feminists, which include the Equal Rights Amendment, The Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and various other accomplishments of the early 1970s (Imbornoni), dealt with the majority of the most glaring aspects of the disparity between genders, which placed America as the most “equal” country in the world. Yet Lindlar and other feminists are still fixated on the belief that the modern- and chiefly patriarchal- society is intimidated by feminism (Lindlar), which promotes even more discrimination and exploitation. The best way to combat this they say? More feminism of course! Simply look at all of the past generation’s triumphs, says Op-Ed writer Linda Napikoski, and you will surely support their cause. “Feminism changed many women’s lives and created new worlds of possibility” (Napikoski), and is capable of doing the same she believes, if more men and women are able to assimilate the feminist movement. In doing so, they would be able to influence a wider majority of people to vote for and support new acts, just as the feminists of old did. In theory, these supports are logical and would make sense; however, within their arguments and even within their own movement there is cause for dissent.

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The feminist operation as it stands today has the appearance of the equality movement from the 70s, but the framework is fundamentally flawed. This ‘second-wave’ feminism is enamored with the ideal that they are finishing what the first group of pioneering women started, unaware the progressive motions set going by their mothers have already been maximized to the greatest possible benefit. Former feminist and Philadelphia professor Camille Paglia observed that “No women have ever had more opportunities, more freedom, and more equality than contemporary American women” (Think Tank). This remark displays the stark contrast between the environments feminists have found themselves in. Compared to the blatant, humiliating discrimination that challenged girls in the previous century, women today are experiencing a proverbial ‘cake-walk’. They have almost completely bridged the income gap, have a higher rate of going to college than men, and thanks to Title IX (1972) girls are just as likely to be playing sports as men are. “Women have historically been disadvantaged in society and men historically have had more power than women… but [modern] women no longer feel their only goal in life is marriage and children” (Bryant); we are steadily approaching an equilibrium between the genders, and are closer than ever before. The final steps toward this preeminent goal should not involve the extreme actions of past feminists, because there is absolutely no resemblance to the extreme injustices they faced in our world today. The march towards the right to vote is quite different from “debate over assumptions embedded in our language that reflect the assumption of a male-dominated patriarchal society” (Napikoski). To enucleate, the nature of the issues surrounding today’s inequalities are quite distinctive from those rectified by previous feminists and should be treated as such. Although there are some mild similarities between the two, the modern feminist movement is completely separate from the ‘first-wave’ voyagers. This point has been lost on some people, but evidenced with the standard social norm and differing degrees of discrimination, there is surely no refute.

It is possible that the greatest misstep of the modern feminist movement is the failure to improve the conditions of women in poverty. It would appear that they have been left behind in the great struggle for civil rights. The primary focus has been an obsessive race to break the glass ceiling and bring equality to the boardroom (Gentleman), neglecting to improve the social and economic situations for women below the poverty line. It should also be noted that this demographic of women are at an increased risk of discrimination; they take increased risks in order to fight back, which often times involves some sort of monetary backlash they simply cannot afford. This has led many women, and a couple of men, to discount the feminist movement and to drop all support they might have previously given. A narrowly focused campaign will only appeal to a narrowly focused faction. The waning support for feminism led to a “Institute for Public Policy Research report saying a fairer feminist campaign would focus more on ‘raising the quality and status of the jobs that women do’” (Gentleman). This may seem similar to what they are currently attempting to accomplish, but that is incorrect. The dominant theme is raising the pay to become equal, which includes neither the quality or status of the jobs. The easiest pay for them to raise? Women already near the top-end of the income spectrum. These women are typically driven and more accessible to the public eye, which results in increased exposure for them, while leaving the lower-level income women by the wayside. Additionally, “The 75 cent figure is terribly misleading. This statistic is a snapshot of all current full-time workers. It does not consider relevant factors like length of time in the workplace, education, occupation, and number of hours worked per week” (Think Tank), states American author and professor Christina Sommers. She is referring to the pay gap many feminists infer to be the direct result of discrimination by men. The number has been contorted to fit their needs, and it has been mildly effective, at least for women not in poverty. Despite the possible use of the statistic to aid poor women, their cries have gone unanswered. Poverty stricken women need a gender equality movement that focuses on all of the social classes, or their support will vanish just as quickly as it did for the feminists.

New steps taken in attempts to revive the feminist movement in the collective population have backfired, leaving the public image of the movement in a greater state of disarray than the modern United States has ever seen. Chronicle Review author Debora Spar saw “feminist ideals trickle and then flow into mainstream culture, though, they became far more fanciful, more exuberant, more trivial,” and ultimately lost their value to the public. She recognized that feminist ideologies they were trying to instill simply weren’t congruent with the social structure we have. It appeared that the new direction of feminism very soon “degenerated into a kind of totalitarian ‘group think’” (Think Tank). Camille Paglia is a former feminist who stopped supporting the movement as it crested the 21st century, due to her reasoning given in a “Think Tank” interview with Ben Wattenburg. These discrepancies have led to a nationwide decline in support for feminism, as seen by a Washington Times study showing only 38 percent of women consider themselves to be feminists, and a meek 18 percent of men do as well (Harper). With less than 40 percent of support from the group that feminism is centered around, there is incriminating evidence that support is lacking, somewhat severely. In the same interview with Wattenburg as Camille Paglia, Christina Sommers summed up the general public attitude towards feminism; “few will raise their hands because young women don’t want to be associated with it anymore because they know it means male-bashing, it means being a victim, and it means being bitter and angry” (Think Tank). New feminist approaches have portrayed women as a group of victims, instead of strong, competent individuals. Their rationale behind this is to inspire a higher number of people to come to the ‘victim’s’ aid, but the opposite effect has been acquired. Interestingly enough, in the only two biologically meaningful measures of welfare – longevity and reproductive success – women are and have always been slightly better off than men (Kanazawa). Instead of turning these positive traits of the female gender into the focal points of their arguments, feminists have spotlighted the hardships and discrimination that has plagued them for generations. Members of society now sees feminism as an attempt to victimize women, which was clearly not the intended strategy for feminists. Regardless, it has led to a deterioration in the foundations of faith that people once held in feminists.

Despite their best efforts, feminist support has found itself at the mercy of a weakened public image and groups of women in poverty who feel betrayed by the movement originally designed for ALL women. That is not to say feminism has come to its end- it is still active (and necessary)- but it needs to reconsider most of the approaches it has originally started. Doing this will not be easy, nor quick, but as feminist ideals converge with the social and economic necessities for women, the movement could, and hopefully will, be revitalized to finally put to rest the persistent issue of gender inequality.

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