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Feminism: The Whole Story.
August 22, 2016
Feminism is formally defined as the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men. The feminist movement has a particularly vibrant internet presence; heated debates on feminism can be found on countless forums and blogs. It seems that as a consequence of our heavily media-saturated generation, this decades-old movement has been revived with a newfound fervor.
Despite the popularity of the movement, many still remain uninformed or misinformed on the true definition of feminism — it is important to note that none of these definitions imply the devaluation of men, and the core value of the movement is equality. Similarly, not all men’s rights activists believe in demeaning women. Feminism is not a one-sided internet fad that exists solely for the creation of hashtags; it aims to promote gender equality in people’s everyday lives and public policy, and it has reasonable opposition that should not be immediately dismissed as bigotry.
Being feminist has become almost a fashion statement in itself, but it is important not to trivialize the movement with offhanded affiliations for the sake of seeming trendy or politically correct. These pages aim to clarify the intent of feminism and explore the multifaceted nature and history of the movement.
Feminism in Debate and Policy
In speech and debate, competition topics are primarily concerned with the costs and benefits of government actions. Recently, a new form of argument called the “kritik” was popularized. Instead of focusing on the government, kritiks deconstruct oppressive ideologies like racism or sexism and have been making waves in the discussion of controversial topics such as feminism.
Pearlin Liu, a junior at Notre Dame High School, describes how kritiks are utilized to educate others about oppression and bring hidden issues to light in debate.
“A couple years ago, a college debate team ran a feminism kritik in which they talked about [how] women in debate have been victims of sexual abuse and haven’t been able to be successful in debate because they’re women,” Pearlin said. “[The feminist kritik] challenges the status quo and say that women in debate and society have been oppressed and that we can’t afford to mask the issue any longer.”
For Pearlin, the importance of deconstructing oppression within debate lies in the transition to real-world politics.
“The fact that I can advocate for feminism in a debate environment means that I can talk about it in other environments too,” Pearlin said. “If we can make debate, a space we love, more inclusive and more open towards different types of people, that would translate to society as well.”
Debate has changed the mindset of Zooey Nguyen, a junior at LAHS, who previously identified as non-feminist.
“I believed that there were biological differences between females and males,” Zooey said. “Feminism was not about equality [because feminists thought women were better than men].”
Yet today, Zooey considers herself a feminist because of her experience at a debate camp in which she learned about challenges that others faced in the community.
“Girls would talk about being called a ‘bitch’ in round, being criticized for their voice, either being too high or too low and either too weak or too aggressive,” Zooey said. “It scared me how many [issues] I saw, so I wanted to stand up for the people who weren’t standing up themselves and at least stand up for myself if I was being affected in that way.”
Feminism has clearly prompted discussion in the debate sphere, but strong political action has yet to be taken; discussion about oppression in our general community often remains in the realm of mere dialogue. While recognizing and talking about the issue is an important first step, feminism must integrate itself into more tangible initiatives by lawmakers and politicians in order for real change to occur.
Vandita Pendse, a Mountain View High School debater and a youth advisor to government officials, outlines the hurdles that women face when advocating for feminist ideals in public policy.
“There are so many actions our government takes that put women at a disadvantage, and nothing is being done about them,” Vandita said. “[Take], for example, Planned Parenthood, which is obviously controversial — it’s not only about abortion, it’s about general welfare, lab tests and sonograms; [it’s about] all these things that women need for their health that are being ignored because of this overarching abortion issue.”
Debate initiates the discussion that allows people to identify issues in gender equality. But when this discussion is taken to the next level and lawmakers listen to feminist advocates, issues such as wage gaps and gender-biased employment can be mitigated. Feminism, to many, may seem like no more than a philosophical ideology, but in reality it can have tangible impacts on the lives of millions of women, and men, around the world through law. Through discussions in the debate sphere and subsequent political action, feminism can transcend verbal syllables and have a significant impact on public policy.
From Sappho to Today
Despite the fact that the term “feminism” came into play around the 1970s, ancient precedents date back far before the 20th century; feminist ideals were expressed by Greek philosopher Sappho as early as 570 BCE Feminist history is conventionally divided into three or four “waves.”
The first wave of feminism was centered in America and the United Kingdom. It arose from the previous industrial era, striving to create more opportunities for women and promote women’s suffrage.
Many historians trace the first wave’s origins back to the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton was among the leaders of women’s rights at the time, along with Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony. About three hundred people attended, both male and female; the focus was equality for women in social, civil and religious spheres. The “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” was proposed, modified and approved at the convention. It stated that women were entitled to the right to vote and ought to be permitted to do so. The Declaration was not only a milestone accomplishment for the event but also for the first wave overall, and it would later become known as one of the most important documents advocating women’s rights.
The second wave lasted from the 1960s to the mid 1990s, and advocated for equality beyond politics, particularly in the role of women in the household and society. This second wave of feminism is seen as more radical than the first; a significant effort was devoted to the Equal Rights Amendment of the Constitution which, in essence, stated that all citizens were entitled to equality regardless of their sex and race.
In 1963, Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique,” a novel that verbalized the unspoken discontentment that housewives experienced in their monotonous household positions. “But is this all there is to life for a woman today?” Friedan asked her readers. Friedan’s book struck a chord with many and furthered the second wave for women’s rights.
The third wave, emerging in the midst of the 1990s, expanded upon previously established feminism, while differentiating itself from the other movements by advocating for women from all backgrounds. The most major change between the second and third waves was the third wave’s emphasis on encompassing female demographics other than the upper-middle class white women of the second wave. The third wave alleviated the pressure to wear makeup and high heels that restricted feminists of the past.
Some argue that the third wave of feminism is still underway, while others argue that a fourth wave has begun. The fourth, when recognized, is defined as utilizing technology and digital media to promote feminism. Opponents of the fourth wave argue that using digital media trivializes the issue of gender equality because many casually affiliate themselves with feminism to show their support but do not actually advocate for true change. Regardless of their true dedication to the movement, feminists of the fourth wave aim to make equality between women and men inclusive of other factors, such as race and social class.
Feminism has an illustrious history, brimming with landmarks and prominent leaders. While short-term goals and methods of activism may have differed throughout its various movements, the underlying principle of feminism has not wavered. The movement for equality between women and men undoubtedly remains, and the future will certainly bring more voices and change.
A Personal View
I grew up in the church, where feminism and Christianity have historically disagreed on a variety of social and political issues. I was raised in an Asian, conservative household where feminism didn’t have a place. Despite the circumstances, I identify as a feminist.
Initially, becoming a feminist was not hard. Of course I wanted equality. Of course I wanted to empower women. After attending a Girl Up seminar at Stanford Splash, I proudly declared myself a feminist at the young age of 12. However, once I became more involved in my religion in eigth grade, conflict and doubt emerged. Was it possible — given that some Christian beliefs contradicted feminist ideals — to be both a Christian and a feminist?
I began researching Christian feminists and reading articles on Christian feminism, many of which seemed to disagree with one another. At that point, I felt uncertain of my own beliefs. I was a feminist with liberal views, that much I was sure of. But I was also a Christian, with conservative values.
Many Christians support equality and empowerment of women, but stand against some of the more controversial views that many feminists support, such as a pro-choice stance on abortion. When faced with issues like these, I found myself stuck. Was I pro-choice or pro-life? Was I more of a Christian or more of a feminist? The decision seemed impossible — I was a little bit of both.
Ironically, my conservative, Christian parents encouraged me to apply to a feminist Girls’ Leadership Worldwide program in New York. My mom pushed me to apply because she knew I was interested in female leadership, and my dad wanted me to use my vacation productively. He was not aware then of the camp’s feminist focus. During that summer after my freshman year, I participated in the nine-day program in which I learned about the wage gap, glass ceiling and gender inequality. After sharing what I had learned with my dad, he believed that I had been brainwashed and subsequently regretted allowing me to participate.
After spending a few days with my dad’s colleagues, I realized my dad wasn’t alone in his more traditional values — much of his generation felt the same way. They hadn’t grown up with gender equality, especially in the job field, and they weren’t eager to adapt or change their perspectives. I could do nothing to change their views except inform them of what they did not know.
In order to further educate people like my dad and his coworkers on the true nature of feminism, I became more active as a feminist. I started a club, Girl Up, and began advocating feminist views. In my quest to promote feminism while simultaneously pursuing my Christian religion, I came to realize that the two are not mutually exclusive.
In the modern era, there are many different variants of feminism, but the one that I stand for is feminism’s original definition: women’s rights and the political, social and economic equality of the sexes. The Christian religion I believe in loves wholeheartedly and does not judge. These two ideologies, one philosophical and the other religious, may disagree on some issues, but my personal interpretations of the two can peacefully and harmoniously coexist. Thus, I have come to the consensus that Christian feminists can exist, and I am proud to be one.
Men’s Rights Activism
“‘#Meninist’ Trend Misses the Point of Feminism,” ran a headline in The State News in late 2014. The explosion of “#Meninism” on social media around that time primarily criticized extremist feminists who advocated that women “#KillAllMen” and reportedly condoned the statutory rape of boys. The news media frequently used meninism, a young and less permanent trend, as a general term for men’s rights around that time, but in doing so, they stereotyped the Men’s Rights Movement in much the same way as the meninists did feminism.
The men’s rights movement appeals to a large variety of people, to varying extremes. Some are former feminists who believe that society is ignoring men’s issues, while others believe that feminism oppresses men. The meninist and Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) movements have different connotations; while the former generally focuses on critiquing feminism, the latter is primarily concerned with promoting men’s causes. However, the line between the two is blurry and recent conceptions of men’s rights have been subsumed into the widespread criticism of meninists.
The most common criticism of MRAs addresses the misconception that women use feminism to gain power. The MRAs’ stereotype of the “diehard” feminist is epitomized by countless bloggers and celebrities whose versions of feminism border on misandry. Misandry, the counterpart of misogyny, is the hatred of men, and genuine feminists are quick to distinguish it from feminism. In targeting misogynists to ridicule the men’s rights movement, feminists forget that they may be making the same mistakes as meninists.
“While it may be entertaining for some… to bash on feminists, I am concerned that the message of the men’s movement, which is supposed to be about compassion and choice for men, is becoming lost in this frenzy of attacking feminists… out of sheer spite,” founder of popular and controversial men’s rights website “A Voice For Men” Paul Elam said.
Criticisms of feminism, while sometimes reasonable, can frequently breach the boundary of promoting men’s rights and devolve into unsubstantiated drivel.
“Modern feminism is evil because it ultimately makes women (and men) unhappy [because] American women have steadily become less and less happy as they have made more and more money relative to men,” wrote Satoshi Kanazawa for “Psychology Today.”
To prove his point, Kanazawa cited a paper by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. However, the paper actually concluded that happiness is correlated with greater income, and the declining happiness of American women is an anomaly that should be attributed to other factors.
MRA arguments that advocate for specific men’s issues often rely on evidence and statistics taken out of context. For example, multiple meninist resources state that 84 percent of “contested abuses” and “contested custody” cases in courts are awarded to women. The actual statistic, from a 2003 census report by Timothy Grall, only states that 84.4 percent of women have custody of their child — not that they received custody of their child after a legal battle. In fact, the vast majority of custody battles are decided out of court, in which both parents agree to the living arrangements.
However, the men’s rights movement is not alone. Despite the infallible image they have cultivated among liberals, feminists are also guilty of misinterpreting data to prove a point. For example, they often argue that women are many times more likely to be the victims of violence from an intimate partner; news sources such as the Huffington Post have measured domestic violence explicitly by its impact on women, entirely omitting its impact on male victims because victimization of males is seen as so uncommon as to be negligible. Though MRAs are wrong to argue that men are abused more than women, feminist arguments are not entirely accurate either. CDC analyses of the census used by the Post show that while 35.6 percent of women have been victims of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, 28.5 percent of men have been subjected to the same, which demonstrates that male abuse is a legitimate issue and should not be so easily dismissed as trivial.
It is important to realize that feminism and meninism are not mutually exclusive; feminists should, by definition, advocate for gender equality. Thus, meninists and MRAs alike have no reason to worry about true feminists infringing upon their rights as males. Both men’s and women’s advocacy groups are fighting for what they believe is equality. When individuals from either movement harp on faulty reasoning from their counterparts, they tend to ignore valid arguments that deserve attention, shrugging off opposing viewpoints as bigoted or selfish. Though feminists and MRAs may often have trouble seeing eye to eye, both sides should remember that they share one goal: equality.
Feminism is grounded in historical precedents, but it is simultaneously variegated and dynamic, with both personal and political effects. Despite the inevitability of change, the feminist movement’s fundamental values are concrete: no matter the current state, the basis of feminism is equality between the sexes: equal rights, equal status and equal expectations.
Feminism has received ample internet attention, but the fashionable nature of offhandedly identifying as a feminist has unfortunately disregarded many important aspects of the movement, namely its implications in public policy and long history. Feminism is not one-sided; reasonable meninist arguments ought to be acknowledged just as much as their opposing feminist arguments. But the bottom line is that feminism must not be condemned to a man-hating reputation, and it does not merely embody a Twitter hashtag. It may be considered “trendy” to identify as feminist, but it is imperative that we do not overlook the complexities and multifaceted entirety of the feminist movement.