Art by Peau Porotesano
That was my knee-jerk, simplified response to a teammate who claimed he did not support the feminist movement. My all-girls school background was shocked when it was exposed to the vast differences in gender opinions in college, compared to the safety of an egalitarian home.
Feminism, at its core, is humanitarianism. Feminism’s connotations concern political, economic and social equality of the sexes. A humanitarian is someone devoted to promoting human welfare. These nearly synonymous definitions can be paralleled through high school geometry; it’s the transitive property.
That being said, if you are a humanitarian who believes both sexes are human, then it is likely you are a feminist. If so, do not hide for fear of potential ridicule; read on to understand why you should be proud of this fact. I entreat skeptical readers to continue on in order to hear the feminist fuss and understand the fundamental values of this trending topic.
Historically, women are overlooked as the minority to be unfettered from male ownership, granted property rights and permitted suffrage. It wasn’t until 1920 that women were finally granted voting rights. This was the crux of first-wave feminism, when it was believed women had the right to vote in America — and if you can agree with this, you may find yourself a conservative feminist. Later, feminism grew as a component of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Women called for equal pay and opportunities outside the domestic sphere. Second-wave feminists fought for equal pay, shared child-rearing responsibilities and sexual liberation, as well as an end to sexual harassment in the workplace and domestic abuse. From the 1990s to today, we experience the third-wave feminists, focused on closing disparities between men and women of all sexual preferences, racial backgrounds and income brackets.
First, as a Christian university, I think it is relevant for Pepperdine to recognize the spiritual arguments for feminism. In Galatians 3:28, Paul proclaims, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If we are all equally redeemed through the same Savior, and our sexless God is gender-blind, how can we justify not following in his image and goodness? It is then God’s will for us to heal the broken inequalities that stem from sexism in our world. God is not confined by gender (which is fluid), nor are our souls. There is no inferiority in the essence of man or woman. After all, Jesus was depicted as feminist through his teachings in the Bible. Jesus identified with the minorities of society, including women.
Mary Magdalene was one of his most notable disciples and many of Jesus’ stories included women paying God homage in the proper way, such as the poor woman who gave her last coin to the temple or at the well where a Samaritan woman identified Jesus as the Messiah when many diligent disciples could not. Jesus finds refuge with women in his travels and refuses to cast a stone at the adulteress in a society where polygamy was standard among men but punishable by death for women. Jesus is born of a woman who was ridiculed for the immaculate conception, and his resurrection is witnessed first by a woman. Jesus’ teachings never espoused female inferiority, despite the practice being a commonplace in society. It is apparent that the Kingdom of God is a genderless one.
Gender and sex are distinctly different descriptors that are constantly mixed in human interaction. Sociology explains that while men and women are biologically different, masculinity and femininity are not exclusive to a particular sex. Masculinity implies a logical, tough, heroic individual while femininity implies an emotional, vulnerable, dependent individual. Masculinity and femininity are socially constructed and human-made, with the expectation that each gender will fulfill what is “normal.” In reality, women can identify with masculine traits like being courageous, assertive and independent. Conversely, men can identify with feminine characteristics like gentleness, delicateness and obedience. It is the social discrimination imposed through years of traditional expectations that pressure men to suppress sensitivity and women to be weaker. A fundamental part of today’s third-wave feminist movement is to grant men the permission to be emotional and release them from the pressure of being expected to “never cry” or fulfill the role of the “breadwinner.”
Romantically expecting a “manly” man is such a personally-tailored desire. Anti-feminists deny men the opportunity to be emotive and free from social expectations of success in the same way they deny women the right to affiliate with their masculine side of being tough or pragmatic. All men should not be denied the right to show a wide array of emotions due to this personal preference for a “manly” man.
This gender construction affects women in the form of social stigmatization called “slut shaming.” When men are exalted for “slaying” or “pulling” as many women as possible, a girl must keep her sexuality behind closed doors for fear of judgment and harsh stigmas. If social alienation is not enough to persuade you, the statistic that one in every four women are victims of domestic violence should cause a pause. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three female victims of homicide are killed by their former partner. Though men are also subject to domestic violence, the “battered wife” trope outweighs the cultural assumption that there is nothing wrong in our culture. Something needs to be changed: not tolerating anti-feminism and fighting against double standards.
We need feminism. We must hold ourselves to the highest standard of justice and cannot ignore that our society fails to close the gender gap. Meghan Casserly of Forbes wrote in 2013 that a woman in America on average makes 77 cents to a man’s dollar. Beyond the wage gap, America takes pride in being democratic, but where is the democratic spirit and practice in our legislative representation?
While the U.S. civilian count is 50.8 percent female, Congress is only 17 percent female. Of the 435 lawmakers in the House, 76 are women, and there are 17 women in a Senate of 100. Yet somehow in 2013 there were 700 bills to regulate a female’s body and zero for men. Outside legislation, there are only 12 women that cracked the 2013 Forbe’s 100 Richest Americans.
If you believe women should not have political or economic representation, at least consider the sources that led women like Amanda Todd, Felecia Garcia and Cherice Moralez to end their lives because sexist bullying and rape made death more appealing than American society. Todd and Moralez both committed suicide due to bullying while, Moralez shot herself after a traumatic rape by a high school teacher. In these girls’ names and those of many others, we still need feminism in America.
The United States is not first nor last in the fight against sexual discrimination. If you are not a feminist for yourself, do it for women stripped of their rights around the world. In developing nations, poverty has a female face. Of the 774 million people (above age 15) in the world that are illiterate, two-thirds are female. They are the predominant educators of their children, yet these mothers are most unlikely to receive an education. More than 60 percent of adult women in Arab states, south and west Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are illiterate. Women in the world are often subject to “honor killings” in which a father or brother will murder their daughter or sister to prevent familial dishonor if she is raped, refuses a marriage or has sex outside of marriage.
Women around the world also struggle from oppressive society where abuse is standard and sex trafficking is the norm. In Saudi Arabia, it is illegal for a woman to drive or vote. Child brides, female mutilation, social exclusion and restricted mobility are still commonplace in many countries with no representation of women. Society will not improve until women are granted equal access to health information, education, employment and political opportunities in all cultures and governments. Anti-feminism is not something to be proud of.
It is a shame when something as progressive and humanitarian as feminism becomes stigmatized, where people act contrarion in an attempt to feel individualistic or seek attention. It is a shame when feminist appeals are labeled “hypersensitive rants” when women and men suffer and kill themselves or others because of it. If you acknowledge the dehumanizing nature of racism, you understand the validity of the feminist movement today.
“But that is just the way things are,” people will still say. Our role in shaping history is not to accept the status quo. Sixty years from now, future generations, your grandchildren, might ask if you were a feminist before women and men were economically, socially and politically treated as equals. I hope that you can say you were one of the heroes who refused to accept “that this is just the way things are.”
Follow Stasia Demick on Twitter: @sdemick12