The idea of feminism has been around for a while now, and while a lot has been accomplished, there are still many more advances and strides to be made in the name of equality. The third wave of feminism is strongly present in 2016 and making great change, but is in part hindered by a general unwillingness to identify as a feminist due to fear of being falsely stereotyped.
Look up “feminism” in a Sociology textbook and you’ll see it defined as this:
“The view that biology is not destiny and that stratification by gender is wrong and should be resisted.”
By that standard, it enjoys widespread support; a 2015 Vox poll showed that 78 percent of those surveyed believed in the equality of the sexes.
However, in that the same poll, only 18 percent of respondents actually identified as feminist. That’s a 60 percent difference, based solely on word choice.
“There is still this anathema to claiming the label itself,” said OSU Professor of Gender Studies Katherine Marino. “People don’t want to be told they hate men, or are being too outspoken.”
Indeed, the very word— “feminism”—still carries a great deal of cultural baggage. For many people, the image it conjures up isn’t a pretty one.
“I hear many things from my students when I ask them to describe their idea of a feminist,” said Marino. “Hairy armpits, ugly woman, lesbians, which of course carries some homophobic connotation. It’s a very negative idea.”
For as long as it has existed, feminism has been on the receiving end of various stereotypes. A 2006 Psychology of Women Quarterly study found that many people characterized feminists as “uptight, angry, aggressive, harsh, strident”—and that’s just to name a few. The specific nature of the stereotypes may have changed over the decades—no one nowadays is mocking feminists for wearing pants, say—but the underlying anxieties provoking the backlash remain constant.
“Whenever you see any movement, there is a reactionary force; people feel like their rights or privileges are being infringed on,” said Marino. “Men feel alienated because there is this perception that feminism equates to taking power from men.”
Most stereotypes of feminism have their origins in traditional gender roles. Feminists are cast as ugly because conventional attractiveness is viewed as the feminine “ideal”. Seeing women defy one set of assumptions— that they should be passive and apolitical—opponents suggest that they’re rejecting societal notions of “womanhood” wholesale.
“There is this perception that feminists have to reject anything that makes you a woman,” said Sociology teacher Leslie Hosgood, “but the truth is, you can be a feminist and have kids, or enjoy wearing skirts—it’s not a fixed definition.”
That said, there are signs that feminism may be gaining greater acceptance in the mainstream. Pop-cultural figures from Amy Poehler to Beyonce have recently begun purposefully affixing the label to themselves. Not only that, but figures like Barack Obama are pushing back on the notion that men cannot be feminists; in an essay for Glamour magazine earlier this year, the President argued that “21st Century feminism is about... the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free.”
Feminism, as we know it today, began with the suffrage movement at the beginning of the 20th Century. Alice Paul was a student at the University of Pennsylvania when she was first introduced to the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA).
Paul, who was at the forefront of the national movement for women’s suffrage, was inspired by her time in England and the harsher tactics of the suffrage movement there, Marino said. She and her followers took to picketing the White House. Initially ignored by most who passed them, Paul’s group faced harsh criticism when World War I started. She and her group were arrested and sent to Occoquan Workhouse, according to alicepaul.org. There, the group faced brutality and horrible conditions.
When the news of how the women were treated became known, the suffragettes were finally released. The news of the suffragettes’ struggle was a leading factor in the passing of the 19th amendment. Paul and her group were victorious in their efforts in awarding women the right to vote but the struggle for equality was far from over.
The second wave of feminism began in the 1960s. While the world was changing, Pauli Murray was encountering racism, coupled with sexism, for the first time. Attempting to pursue a law degree, Murray was denied admittance to the University of North Carolina because she was African American and to Harvard University because she was a woman, according to biography. com. These two events would catapult Murray into the heart of both the Civil Rights Movement and the second wave of the feminist movement.
“There was a system, called coverture, that was in place throughout the 19th century in which a woman’s legal identity was subsumed in her husband’s,” Marino said. With this system, a woman was dependent on her husband as a slave was to his or her master. “Even as late as the 60s, women had to ask their husbands for a credit card,” Marino said. Because of this dependency, women were constantly denied higher education, better paying jobs and common respect.
The 14th Amendment served as the basis of Murray’s argument against coverture. The 14th amendment states: “No state shall... abridge the privileges...of citizens of the United States; nor ...deprive any person of life, liberty, or property ...; nor deny to any person... equal protection of the laws.” This amendment should, in theory, apply to women and grant them all of the privileges men have. Murray saw the discrepancy from law to reality and began publishing articles to raise awareness.
Murray’s efforts paid off and she was eventually appointed to President Kennedy’s Commission of the Status of Women. Coverture was abandoned about 10 years after Murray took office, being used for the last time in a legal court in 1972, according to Time Magazine’s article “The Law: Up from Coverture.”
“As society changes, the concept of feminism changes (with it) to challenge practices” of the times, Sociology teacher Leslie Hosgood said. Today, feminists are fighting for women to be more represented in what were previously considered ‘male roles.’
The third wave of feminism has seen the occurrence of many firsts for women. Manon Rheaume was the first woman to play in a National Hockey League game in 1992, Nancy Palosi was the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives in Cover Story 2007,and Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to receive an Oscar for Best Director in 2010. Women are making strides in many different aspects, but there is still room for improvement.
“I think the more role models people have, the more people who take on the feminist lab
el proudly, all the better,” said Marino. “Anything that helps us to think even more concretely about how to make feminist change in the world and promote ideals of real equality.”
Many have stepped up to speak on behalf of feminists everywhere. Some notable modern feminist figures include Beyonce , Kerry Washington, Ellen and Michelle Obama. Change is waiting to happen, but who will be the leading force of this time? Maybe, it could be you.
The path to equality can be a slow road, but it requires the chutzpah and passion of everyone involved to set things off.
“Things are slow with any social or political change,” English teacher and self-proclaimed feminist Laurie Repko said.
Government officials play a major role in achieving equal rights and help to move the process along.
“Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a warrior for gender equality,” senior Olivia Johnson said.
Ginsburg was appointed by former president Bill Clinton in 1993 and has been an important advocate for feminist-based laws ever since.
“She is the co-founder of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union,” Johnson said. “Throughout her time on the Supreme Court, she has repeatedly cast her vote and advocated in favor of reproductive rights and equal job opportunities for men and women.”
The increase of women in government has brought to light feminist-based laws that create an equal ground of opportunity for both males and females. Frontrunners for the movement have made continuous strides towards achieving equal rights.
Jeanne Shaheen, the first woman to be elected as a governor and a senator, has consistently passed legislation in favor of equal pay and protection of the rights of sexual assault victims. She also played a key role in passing the legislation to get the first female to ever be on the $20 bill.
“As this movement expands, opportunities for equality will follow suit,” Johnson said.
Ellen Malcolm, an influential powerbroker, has helped to elect hundreds of pro-choice, democratic women into government positions in America for the past 30 years.
“It’s seeping out into a global arena as well. It’s not just here in America,” Repko said. “I think we’re having a profound impact on the direction that other countries are taking.”
First Lady Michelle Obama has continuously advocated for the education of girls worldwide, focusing on involving other countries to invest in the 62 million girls who cannot go to school due to sexist laws and the cultural standards set for them.
“I think if you look at the Scandinavian countries and what they’re doing as far as pregnancy leave, women’s equality and job bene ts, they’ve always been 40 years, if not more, ahead of us,” Repko said.
Along with employment inequality, the lack of female representation in government is an aspect in which the United States falls behind in, but that has recently been tested. Senator Hillary Clinton was recently the first woman to be on the ballot for president, quoted as the most qualified person to ever run.
Clinton’s loss came as a shock to many, but through her evident determination to fight for women’s rights, her campaign caused cracks to form in the metaphorical glass ceiling that acts as a barrier for women and validated the voice for gender equality.
“One thing that I find interesting about modern feminism would be women just finding what their voice is,” English teacher Brian Nicola said.
This voice has empowered women and men to come together to advocate for human rights. Although there is still a ways to go, progress has been and will continue to be made.
“The future of feminism is a world filled with opportunities. Any gender can choose any path they so desire,” said Johnson.
Stereotypes are being broken down and each day more and more people – not just women – are declaring themselves feminists. In an age where women really can do anything, it’s important to make sure that it is recognized and that girls and boys everywhere know all that they have the potential to be. Society shouldn’t be able to hold anyone back.