BOETTNER: Feminism means more than women’s equality

By Ruth Boettner on February 22nd, 2013

The XKCD webcomic “How it Works” shows two identical scenes side by side of a person writing down a math problem. On the left side is a boy and on the right, a girl. They’re both doing the same problem, and both of them are wrong. The classmate to the left of the boy says “Wow, you suck at math.” The one next to the girl says, “Wow, girls suck at math.”

History, media and society have shown, in my opinion, that this is indeed how it works.

As women, we’ve walked strides since the “sister suffragettes” (Mary Poppins, anyone?) and their protests for the right to vote. Women are no longer “stuck in the kitchen.” However, we have yet to achieve true equality in 2013. Feminism is still something that we, regardless of gender, should be striving for. Any notion that it isn’t, quite frankly, profoundly disturbs me.

Feminism sometimes gets a bad rap, mostly because people often don’t understand that there are many different types of feminism. Sadly, sometimes the loudest feminist voices are those that scream about hating all men and shaming any women who disagree with them.

This isn’t the feminism I’m defending, but simply “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men,” according to Merriam-Webster.

Political equality has been somewhat reached in that women can actually vote and be elected to office. The 2012 election yielded a record number of female senators and representatives.

However, female politicians are often met with questioning and criticism aimed at their gender. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a notable example. More than once she has been subject to media mockery, including sexist depictions on magazines and tabloid covers.

Most recently, an inquiry into the conservative group FreedomWorks found a video of a fake Hillary Clinton and a fake giant panda (two staff members in masks) simulating sex.

Not only is this disrespectful in that this was made at a time when Hillary Clinton was one of this nation’s top officials, but I venture that this would’ve never happened to John McCain or John Kerry without a huge uproar.

Economic equality also has yet to be reached. In October 2012, Chris Kirk posted an interactive map of the United States to the Slate website showing each state’s average pay gap between men and women. The worst state is Utah, with women making 55 cents to a man’s dollar. Nebraskan women make 68 cents to the dollar.

The American Association of University Women has also thoroughly researched the gender pay gap, instead using yearly salaries.

Social equality is a little bit harder to define. For my purposes, it means treating women with respect and making sure they feel as safe and as comfortable in a situation as a man would. Here’s where I think the biggest gap between men and women lies.

Female celebrities are criticized on everything from their weight to their dress. FOX news wasted more than four minutes on a post-Grammy chat about whether Adele and Kelly Clarkson need to lose weight. They even called in a specialist to discuss it.

Now, if your first thought is something similar to “They’re celebrities; they should expect a little flack,” that’s understandable. However, please know this isn’t a far cry from a more serious obstacle that women face: rape apology.

What is rape apology? A Feminism 101 blog defines it as “any argument that boils down to the myth that rapists can be provoked into raping by what the victim does or does not do.”

This is equivalent to blaming the attack on drunkenness, the victim’s outfit or the fact that she was out by herself, among other factors. Being reckless with your safety isn’t smart nor is it something I’m encouraging. Still, it’s not a reason to be a target.

A very large portion of women don’t report their attacks because of either fear of not being believed or the general attitude that society has towards rape.

We’ve seen this in the news several times. In 2009, a seventh grader was raped by classmates. School officials subsequently punished her more than once, even forcing her to write an apology letter to her attackers. When an 11-year-old girl from Cleveland, Texas, was attacked, her rapist’s defense attorney painted her as a seductress – in other words, the pre-teen was asking for it.

I’m not solely blaming men for this lack of equality, either. Many women have a sick need to criticize other women for their clothes, their mannerisms – anything that can make them seem better. This happens everywhere from middle school cliques to politics, like when Illinois representative candidate Kimberly Small called Michelle Obama a “hoochie mama” for the skirt she chose to wear to the Kid’s Choice Awards last year.

To paraphrase Ms. Norbury from “Mean Girls,” we’ve got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it OK for men to call us sluts and whores.

Now some readers may be thinking – men have problems, too! Certainly. Men can be raped, men can be judged for their appearance and they have their own set of obstacles to face. But as a woman, I can’t speak to those issues – so I will speak to some that I deal with regularly.

When I prepare for a job interview or think about future interviews with graduate programs, I wonder if wearing a skirt will lead to the interviewer deeming me unprofessional. I worry if my future male colleagues will take me seriously. When I walk anywhere at night alone, I put my keys between my fingers, because I don’t want someone to tell me I wasn’t being safe if something happens to me. I’ll walk my female friend the short six blocks home from a party because I fear the same thing for her.

The Tumblr blog, “Who Needs Feminism?”, accepts submissions from users holding cards that say some variation of “I need feminism because _________.” Here are a few highlights:

“I need feminism because I want to be a director, not an actress.”

“ … because a guy on Facebook said that some women need to accept that they are going to be perved at.”

“ … because I didn’t know I was being sexually harassed until one of my … friends pointed it out to me. I assumed his behavior was normal because that’s what my teachers, my parents, and the media taught me.”

Feminism is necessary because a female Ph.D deserves as much money and as much chance as her male colleagues. It’s necessary because a woman shouldn’t fear being discredited solely because of her fashion sense, her weight or gender. It’s necessary because a woman shouldn’t have to be afraid to walk home at night.

Feminism isn’t just about having the same chances or making the same amount of money. It’s about safety, comfort and freedom. Until women are safe, comfortable and free in the same spaces that men are, feminism’s work isn’t done.

Ruth Boettner is a senior French and global studies major. Reach her at opinion@dailynebraskan.com.

This is a part of the Daily Nebraskan's point/counterpoint, featured once a week. To see the other side, read Zach Nold's article on how feminism hurts modern-day relationships.

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