Who needs feminism?

February 19th, 2014

Approximately 60 percent of college students in the United States are women; more women than men turned out for the 2012 presidential election; mainstream pseudo-psychology no longer spreads propaganda about women’s natural domestic tendencies and their destined place in the kitchen. So do we really still need feminism? The answer is yes – overwhelmingly yes.


We need feminism because in 2014, political groups made up mostly of old, white men are trying to (and are succeeding in their efforts to) legislate women’s bodies. Between 2011 and 2013, 205 laws that restricted women’s access to abortion were enacted – this is more than the 189 that were enacted during the entire previous decade. Only two months into the New Year, lawmakers have already proposed several more egregious restrictions, including ones requiring doctors to give women an ultrasound and then describe it to them. It is disheartening that the U.S. seems to be moving backward in the fight for women’s reproductive rights.


We need feminism because I was at a bar recently where the DJ began to play Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” and shouted “Who’s got the best ass in the bar?” urging women to climb up onto the bar so he and the other male patrons could rate the quality of their butts. Something tells me this was not an isolated incident. Society perpetuates this notion that women’s bodies are objects to be appraised and rated. And I know almost every woman can identify with the experience of being groped or caressed by a complete stranger at some point in her life, if not on a regular basis. “Boys will be boys” is not an excuse for any man to feel he has the right to casually touch whatever woman they’d like.


We need feminism because the number of people who would identify themselves as feminist is dismally low. Only 28 percent of Americans consider themselves feminists. To the other 72 percent, I ask, what do you think feminism is? As an activist once said, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” That about sums up the movement. I’m part of a group on campus called Students Empowering Women, which aims to support and encourage women to be strong and successful leaders, as well as raise awareness of women’s issues like domestic violence and the gender wage gap. There are a little over 10 active members of the group, which is a sad but accurate representation of feminist advocates on campus and in the general population. My hope is that the low proportion of self-described feminists is attributed to the misunderstanding of the term; otherwise, we have a lot farther to go in the fight for gender equality than I thought.


We need feminism because “Quit being such a girl” and “Grow a pair of balls” are still widely used insults, along with some other, more vulgar terms. Using the female gender as a pejorative to suggest weakness not only degrades women but also reinforces the machismo masculinity stereotype that tells men that being emotional or sensitive is a womanly thing, and therefore being a woman is a bad thing. And the common use of slang terms for vagina as an insult speaks for itself.


It’s not that every individual man today is responsible for women’s overall disadvantage in the world – patriarchal tendencies are deeply ingrained in society from centuries and centuries past. And women have made earth-shattering progress since the days of Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone’s fights for women’s suffrage. If I had it my way, feminism wouldn’t be a thing. If women were truly equal to men economically, socially and politically, I would be delighted to write a column about puppies or pizza or puppies eating pizza. But we’re not. And “that’s just the way it is” isn’t good enough for me.


At the root of feminism is the belief that women, black and white, rich and poor, scientist and model, overweight and skinny, gay and straight, alike are treated with the same level of respect and dignity afforded to men. If you’re still not convinced that we need feminism, then I urge you to answer this question: If you’re not a feminist, then what are you?