The feminist education is starting to sink in

By Katie Wolf

I am a feminist. Maybe I’ve been brainwashed. Maybe I’m finally seeing the light. Or maybe it’s a combination of the two. Full disclosure: The two classes I’m taking this semester are PS 311 Women in Politics and COM 325 Gender Communication.

Five days a week I’m reminded of the struggles society has faced, stemming primarily from differences in sex or gender. More specifically, I’m reminded of the challenges women have met.

I’m living, eating and breathing this controversial topic. I knew I would be inspired to write something before the semester ran out.

Defining feminism

It’s a subject that’s debated all the time: What is a feminist?

Feminism, defined by Merriam-Webster, is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. I think we can all get on board with that.

By societal standards, however, feminism is commonly defined in much different terms. Bra burners, radicals, man haters, lesbians, the list continues. There is a negative connotation associated with the word, and many people are afraid to identify as such because of those negative associations. One of my textbooks calls it “the other f-word.”

I’ve asked my peers and mentors if they consider themselves feminists. Some said yes, but more often the answer was along the lines of, “Well, sort of. I believe women should be treated equally and everything, but still …” And then they do this little verbal dance, to make sure they don’t sound like one of those stereotypical nutjobs who hate men. A lot of uneasy, wishy-washy fluff. The hesitation in their answers is disheartening.

I know why there are stereotypes; they didn’t occur from thin air. So I can understand why someone wouldn’t want to be compared to the radical, negative stereotype, because some of these people really DO exist. But these are the radicals, and they don’t have to be the representation of feminism unless we allow it.

Another common misconception is that only women can be feminists. I’d like to let people in on what seems to be a little known secret: “Feminist” is not synonymous with “woman.” Men can be feminists too!

Feminism’s biggest mistake

Speaking of men, an important question needs to be asked: Are they the real enemy? I think the feminist movement does itself a huge disservice if it labels men as the only problem. Men are not the only ones who perpetuate the problems feminists are trying to fight. If you read this week’s Mouthing Off column on page 29, you’ll notice how ridiculous some of the material is that  Cosmopolitan spews.

A magazine that claims to be about female empowerment, Cosmo focuses primarily on sex and often how to please a man. They throw in a bone here and there about more serious issues like health and safety, but for the most part Cosmo just teaches women how to be pretty.

I fully support catering to the many different needs of women, but I think there’s more to life than which jeans will make my ass look hot, or how to flirt with my eyes.

The point is that in 2010, women are just as culpable of the same infractions as men. Yes, men set the stage a very long time ago for female oppression, but they are not the only ones in charge nowadays, and it’s time to stop blaming them for the problems of today.

Looking to the future

Another issue I take with the feminist movement is how much time is spent discussing the past, and how oftentimes that leaves little room to talk about the future. I understand that it’s important to know where we’ve been to help see where we’re going, but at some point you have to let go of the past. And what boggles my mind is that while I hear about how much women were oppressed, belittled and berated, I don’t hear nearly enough about the steps feminists took to change the treatment of women. We can’t change what’s happened, so it’s time to stop harping on it. And if we insist on examining history, let’s look at the solutions, not the problems. That’s what’s going to help further the movement.

Despite how much education’s focus is placed on the past, I think that men and women of my generation take for granted the struggles of the first and second wave of feminism. Women today have the right to vote, and they’re treated more equally today than ever before. It’s difficult for us to remember a time when that wasn’t possible. And just because we’ve broken those barriers, it doesn’t mean the work is done.

Inequality is still prevalent

One of the clearest pieces of evidence that men and women aren’t completely equal can be found in our language. Our language is still pretty sexist if you think about it. We’re starting to weed out some of the obvious words: Fireman is now firefighter, policeman is now police officer, etc. Champ Kind had it wrong in “Anchorman”: “It is anchorman, not anchorlady! And that is a scientific fact!”

But what about the word “whore”? We don’t actually have a male equivalent for whore, unless we add a prefix. We did an exercise in my class where we had to list all the negative terms for men and women who are promiscuous. The female list was longer. And most of the male terms weren’t that offensive. It’s because today, even with magazines like Cosmo that celebrate female sexuality, women are still held to different sexual standards than men. A woman who sleeps around is a slut. A man who sleeps around is just a man. His biology makes him do it.

Another secret? Biology makes women want to have sex too.

What’s one of the biggest insults you can throw at a man? Call him a woman. Not only are you taking away his masculinity, but you are going to a whole new level by comparing him to a woman. I will never understand why that’s a bad thing. When you insult a man by calling him a woman, you are quite literally placing women below men in the order of respect and importance.

“Grow some balls” is a directive order to garner courage. Are testicles really the source of courage? Or do we just equate our genitals to our characteristics? I don’t need balls to be courageous, and I don’t think it’s my ovaries doing the work either.

Feminism still has its place in society, and it is an important one. I only wish that it could be a bigger force with a better image.