* Updated 2023
Gender inequality has been a big issue throughout US history. While feminism was always seen as a growing movement, it has certainly grown increasingly vocal over the last decade, in response to the Trump presidential victory in 2016, the #MeToo movement taking off in 2017, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death in 2020 and the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022. That being said, there is also some resistance toward the feminism movement in society. Although fighting for an important and just cause, at times, feminists have been perceived by some as overly aggressive. The question arises as to whether gender-based inequality in America is as rampant as is often portrayed. To what extent is feminism still relevant, or does it need to change to take the cause forward?
Here are three arguments for feminism and three against it:
Arguing for Feminism:
Body-shaming, while very real for men, is a rampant issue for women
Women are more likely to be affected by an eating disorder than men. The fashion and entertainment industries – and social media – have long contributed to the objectification of women. This is reflected in society, where female celebrities are body-shamed for not having what’s considered the ideal body type (and this also includes men!). It’s gotten so normalized that there are endless articles about celebrities “fighting back.” However, their replies do not cancel out the negative cultural messages to young and older women. Even being too thin breeds criticism and skinny shaming, as some have learned.
Women still face unequal treatment in the workplace
While some women have managed to break the glass ceiling, they are few and far between. For example, the Fortune 500 list of companies released in 2022 included just 44 companies with female CEOs – yet this was considered a record number. Also, in addition to getting paid less (82 cents for every dollar a man earns), women are still often given – and expected to do – menial tasks in the workplace. In office meetings as well as in online meetings, women are discouraged from voicing their opinions and are listened to less than men are. In fact, women employees were experiencing condescension from their male coworkers so much that a new term was coined for it: mansplaining. Apparently, women get mansplained to six times a week. With such a negative, sexist office culture, we can’t claim to have a society that treats women equally.
Violence against women is still a huge issue
Every 9 seconds, a woman in the U.S. is beaten or assaulted. One in three women has been the victim of severe violence by their intimate partner. Also, one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives. Global campaigns like the #MeToo Movement and Time’s Up have brought more attention to the issue of sexual assault, especially in the workplace, but it’s not enough to stop the violence; many women still don’t get the help that they need due to lack of funding. While the trials and convictions of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly brought much-needed awareness, justice and condemnation about systematic sexual assault, women still don’t always feel safe to come forward (especially not after Cosby’s conviction was overturned). Feminism can contribute to efforts to make society even more aware of violence against women.
Arguing against Feminism:
More women than men go to college and graduate from high school
According to the Pew Research Center, more American women enroll and graduate from college than their male counterparts. Additionally, according to the U.S. Department of Education, high school graduation rates are in girls’ favor as well. Having a better education as well as a degree are key factors in obtaining well-paid and stable jobs. Good jobs, which allow for richer lives, tend to require better job experiences and degrees. If these trends continue, the average woman will have far more career opportunities and therefore a higher standard of living than the average man. It seems that it’s better to focus time and energy on female empowerment through education than through any feminism movement itself.
Some efforts hurt the feminist cause by being perceived as ‘anti-man’
When Dr. Matt Taylor gave an interview about the progress of the Rosetta space probe, he attracted a wave of feminist criticism for his shirt, which depicted semi-clad women. Taylor ended up tearfully apologizing in a video. Some responded by claiming that a scientist being brought to tears over a t-shirt design is perhaps not the best way to fight for women’s rights. Similar mixed emotions were raised as a result of the crack of “Manspreading,” the practice of sitting with one’s legs spread apart. Seen as a display of male posturing and ego, journalists and bloggers attacked it as a patriarchal issue. Many argue that when feminists fixate on men’s poor behavior, especially when unintentional, it hurts the feminist movement and distracts from tackling more fundamental issues.
Is Feminism focusing on the right topics that are most in need of attention?
India’s horrendous female infanticide rate, the fact that 28% of Niger’s girls are forced into marriage before the age of 15, or that female genital mutilation is still globally widespread are all critical issues that require movements to fight in their name. Not to mention that human trafficking is still prominent, throughout Europe and even in America. If the feminist effort being made in the West went into more pressing female-oppression issues also in other countries, perhaps an actual life-saving and -changing difference could be made, which would more easily unite the nation around the “feminist” flag.
The Bottom Line: Issues like workplace inequality, sexual harassment and body-shaming show that we are not beyond the need for feminism, but the movement shouldn’t come at the price of hurting men. Where do you stand on feminism? Would you call yourself a feminist?