* Updated 2020
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 in response to President Trump’s victory in 2016, the #MeToo movement taking off in 2017, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s recent death. 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 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 are. An issue for all women, whether models, celebrities or regular Janes of all ages, this condition is exacerbated by a feeling of needing to lose weight to look more attractive. The fashion industry and media – including 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 includes men!). It’s gotten so normalized that there are endless articles about celebrities “fighting back,” their replies do not cancel out the negative cultural messages to young and older women, anyway. 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 2019 included just 33 companies with female CEOs – yet this was considered a record number. Also, in addition to getting paid less, women are still often given – and expected to do – menial tasks in the workplace. In office 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. Over 4.7 million women suffer violence from their partner every year. One in four 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 and their presence at the 2018 Golden Globes 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 of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, not to mention a scathing documentary about R. Kelly have brought much-needed awareness, justice and condemnation about systematic sexual assault, women still don’t always feel safe to come forward. Society needs to become even more aware of violence against women, and feminism can contribute to that happening.
Arguing against Feminism:
More women than men go to college and graduate from high school
According to the US Census Bureau more American women graduate from college than their male counterparts. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education report found that 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.
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.
Is Feminism focusing on the right topics that are most in need of attention?
India’s horrendous female infanticide rate, the fact that one in three of Niger’s girls is forced into child marriage, or the fact that female mutilation is still 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 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. With the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, many people are once again focusing on feminism. Where do you stand on feminism? Would you call yourself a feminist?