Feminism still needed to combat sexist attitudes

Twitter has finally sucked me in. Now that I’m preoccupied by distracting headlines 24/7, I can only hope that the increasingly depressing news cycle will inspire me to take action more times than it will discourage me.

One tweet from the Graphic on June 20 particularly irked me, and it had nothing to do with the economy or latest offensive sound bite from the current Republican primary frontrunner.  It read:

“We aren’t feminists … but mad respect to women’s basketball.”

This is not an isolated event. I regularly hear women denounce feminism like it’s the dirtiest word they’ve ever heard. When something as simple as acknowledging women’s athletic achievement requires an apology, it should call attention to the greater problem at hand.

Forget the stereotypes. Forget your least favorite self-identified feminist figure. At its core, feminism advocates for the political and social equality of the sexes, which we should all agree is a good thing.

“What rights don’t women have?” you might ask. Fighting for feminism today is not so much about winning a specific right, but rather about re-evaluating attitudes that often make incorrect and limiting assumptions about women.

These attitudes are expressed when an alumnus I call at the Pepperdine Call Center asks me my major (International Studies and Political Science), then thinks it’s remotely appropriate or funny to ask me if I’m going to marry a rich man. He would never have asked that if I had been male, regardless of the sex of the person I would hypothetically marry.

I see these attitudes when studies show that the more hours of TV a girl watches, the fewer options she believes she has in life. I see them when only 16.6 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives and 17 percent of the U.S. Senate is made up of women. I see them when an equal number of girls and boys at age seven say they want to be president, but by age 15, far more girls than boys have given up that dream. I see them when female politicians are scrutinized for attractiveness far more than male politicians. And I see them painfully clearly when society thinks that a woman’s provocative clothing could ever lessen a man’s responsibility for rape.

Individuals must be free to shape their own identities. It is extremely restrictive to tell women that they cannot accomplish their individual goals because they must fulfill some social construction of femininity. At the same time, feminine traits should not be belittled, either. Characteristics should be identified as good or bad independent of whether they are defined as “masculine” or “feminine.”

Many Pepperdine students, myself included, are passionate about social justice for women worldwide. I’m excited to attend the Gender Talk Brown Bag Series sponsored by the Women’s Studies Department at Pepperdine. The scheduled talks this semester focus on international women’s issues. Women in developing nations should absolutely be empowered to go to school, get a microloan to start a business and live free from fear of being trafficked for sex or dying in childbirth. The challenge for us as students is to avoid viewing the experiences of women in other countries as isolated from our own. Instead, we should expand the philosophies driving change in other countries to our own life experiences.

Feminism is for men, too. Men can be just as hurt by the sometimes restrictive masculine gender roles forced upon them by society as women are hurt by restrictive feminine gender roles. Men need to hold other men accountable for treating women as fully realized human beings, not children or sexual objects, in order for feminism to succeed.

I am a proud feminist, and hope that I’m not alone. Let’s inject some life into what too many people view as a dead movement. When we disagree with a specific school of feminism, let’s change the dialogue to, “I am a feminist, but …”