Friday, February 10, 2012

Are you a feminist?

There’s a topic I am very passionate about and have wanted to write about for a long time, but wasn’t sure how exactly to jump in.  So, consider this the introductory post for one of my favourite things to talk about:  feminism.  Let’s get into it. 

Think about this question and answer right away:  are you a feminist?  If you answered no, was your reason something like “I’m not a man hater” or “I’m a dude!  Guys can’t be feminists” or “Women can vote, drive, and work outside the home – feminism is a done deal and no further discussion is required”?

Here’s the definition of feminism:  “The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”  So news flash:  feminism is about women’s rights.  Not bra-burning, not man-hating, not anti-marriage or anti-family or the thinking that women or superior to men.  Women should be paid the same for the same work, be able to vote and run for political office without having to face sexual discrimination, and be taken just as seriously as men on a social level.

Pretty simple, right?  So let me ask you again:  are you a feminist?  Was your answer something like “well I guess I am, because of course I think women should be equal, but women ARE equal so we still don’t need to be talking about this and being a feminist in this age of equality is pointless”?  Here’s where I disagree with you.  Let’s break it down by the definition:  economic, political, social.


I feel like the most obvious thing to discuss here, the gender pay gap, is too lengthy of a discussion to summarize here, but here’s an interesting article from Time about it if you’re interested.  I used to dismiss this topic as a bit of a myth because I figured it was because women generally chose lower-paying careers than men, but a) is that maybe related to discrimination? and b) there have been studies that show that women and men doing the exact same job, with the exact same experience still have a pay gap.

My economic issue that proves that equality has not been reached economically is that advertising is still ridiculously sexist.  Spend 10-15 minutes watching this set of commercials (or this one) and try to tell me that advertising has progressed from the 50s with a straight face.  Guess what – you can’t.  Yes, commercials today don’t outright say things like “good tires mean more when a WOMAN is driving alone” or “how can such a pretty wife make such bad coffee??” but commercials that imply the woman of the house is the ONLY one who does any cooking, cleaning, or other domestic duties (well, sometimes dads can do stuff if the product is easy enough to use, like frozen pizza) show a pretty obvious perception – domestic duties are still a woman’s job.

Virtually all men I know of my generation can cook, clean, do their own laundry, change the toilet paper roll, etc.  The fact remains, though, that in the US, 85% of brand purchases are made by women (but 97% of advertisers are men).  So yeah – advertising is going to market to this demographic (without really knowing how), causing a bit of a chicken-and-egg cycle.  This doesn’t sound like economic equality to me.

(Yes – I do know that advertisers are currently researching how to market to men better, and I absolutely think it’s a step in the right direction.  But just because they’re working on it doesn’t mean the current issue won’t still be around for a long time.)


Yup, women can vote.  Women can run for office.  Women can even get elected as president/prime minister/etc.  However, it’s not without about 10 times the struggle men have to get through.

It’s a pretty well-known idea that for a woman to be accepted and get ahead in business, politics, etc. she has to strike the right balance of being not-too-feminine-not-too-masculine... but definitely more masculine than feminine.  It’s a fact:  if you’re viewed as too “feminine” in a male-dominated field, you will not be taken seriously.  Feminine women are not smart, and that’s a pretty huge stereotype that we ALL buy into.  Don’t kid yourself on that one – think about it.  The smartest woman in the entire world could get dressed up like Marilyn Monroe and without speaking to her, you’d judge her as a bimbo.  I would.  I admit it.  That doesn’t mean it’s right, and it’s something I consciously have to remind myself of all the time.  On the other side of things, being too feminine makes you look stupid but being too masculine makes you look harsh and unlikeable – finding the right balance that the majority of voters will accept is near-impossible!

Case study:  Read this article (one of about a million) about Hillary Clinton’s famous “cry on the campaign trail.”  There’s really not much else to say.  

This is a topic I’m really, really interested in, so definitely expect more posts on the subject.  But for now if you’d like some more literature on the subject, check out the blog Name It. Change It. about calling out sexism in the media geared towards female politicians.  It will totally change your perspective on what to consider legitimate journalism.  Also, read the Wikipedia article about Michelle Obama and tell me if you think it’s right that the "accomplishment" she's most known for is being “The First Lady of Fashion.”  I threw up a little bit when I typed that. 

Political equality?  Totally laughable.  Let’s not even get into other countries, where women still can’t vote, drive, go out in public unchaperoned, etc.


This is the one that causes the most arguments I think, and the one that the other two inequalities (economic, political) stem from.  Because in North America, women are “technically” equal by law, many people consider feminism to be over and done with.   

If you read that article about Hillary Clinton though, it brings to light the social issue that I feel most strongly about – women are technically allowed to make whatever choices we want (have a career, stay at home, keep our name, sleep with as many people as we want, wear whatever we want, cry in public) and behave the way we want but we are judged for them.  We're judged if we want to have a career and a family.  We're judged if we just want a career.  We're judged if we get a Ph.D. but decide to be "just a mom."  And yes, we should be able to say WHO CARES??  But for women who may have aspirations to get to the top politically or economically, a lot of those choices and behaviours are going to factor into whether we end up getting what we want out of life.  You can't become president if no one wants to vote you in, and there's a MASSIVE double standard here.

And men are judged too for doing "feminine" things.  Guys - what would your first thought be if one of your friends got married and took his wife's name?  Why are women generally favoured by courts during custody battles?  Why do men who choose to be stay-at-home dads face ridicule?  The fact of the matter is that no matter your gender, you're generally looked down on for making traditionally female choices, or if you're a guy doing something normal (but traditionally feminine) like cooking dinner, it's super impressive.  My own relatives are shocked and awed whenever Brahm bakes cookies.  How is any of this gender equality?

I really like this TED Talk with Eve Ensler (author of the Vagina Monologues).  It’s about accepting that, as a human, you have emotions and should embrace them, rather than being ashamed of your "feminine" qualities.  Emotions are not a bad thing!  Being feminine is not a bad thing!  But until society agrees with that sentiment and truly accepts it, you cannot tell me that feminism, the advocacy of women’s rights to equality on a social, economic, and political level, is no longer needed.

So – are you a feminist?

(I hope you enjoyed this post.  I realize that it only just brushed the surface of discussions to be had on the subject, and in no way to I consider the few examples I used to be the defining examples of why women are not equal, and I don't know if I stressed enough the problem that not only are women treated like Stepford Wives by advertising, but men are also shown huge disrespect.  So please - know that my stance on gender equality is that I want all people to be given the respect they have the rights to, regardless of gender.

I also understand that while I believe women are not treated with the respect they deserve in North America, we've still got it about a billion times better than women in the Congo or the Middle East, for example.  I don't mean to downplay those issues at all - I truly believe that the more power women gain in developed countries, this will be a big influence in positively changing the status of women all over the planet.)

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