This letter was written in response to an editorial by Jamie Primeau, published in The Signal on Sept. 12, 2012.
By Ama Banahene
“I don’t understand why feminists today are so angry. I never did anything to you. Back in the day, they were seeking equality, but now there’s no reason to be angry.” This was the comment made by a classmate of The Signal’s Editor-in-Chief to which she wrote an editorial in response last week. Frankly, although on the surface this comment is offensive based on the speaker’s misguided notions about feminism and the issues surrounding gender equality, there is some truth to the underlying question being asked.
In modern day western societies, women can vote, own or inherit property, open a bank account, exercise financial freedom, are legally required to be educated to at least the secondary level, are enrolling and graduating from college at high rates, can run for office and hold high executive positions, among other things. With so much progression being made, is there still the need for feminism, particularly in the U.S.?
The truth remains that even in present day America, women are still at a disadvantage in various aspects of society due to factors such as race, culture, religion and social-economic status. And there are still laws and public policies in existence addressing issues such as violence, health care, reproductive rights, etc. that are still damaging rather than beneficial to a lot of women.
However, there might be those who will argue that these modern day disadvantages are only experienced by women of low economic and class standing, limited education, illegal migration status, from ultra-conservative cultural or religious groups or those with limited grasp of the English language. And that women who belong to groups believed to be more “privileged,” such as those with at a college education, are very much equal to men.
In the article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Anne-Marie Slaughter points out that social norms surrounding motherhood and child rearing, alongside workplace policies addressing it, continue to place women at a disadvantage. These policies lead to the creation of gaps in terms of career advancement and the implicit financial well-being of women in comparison to men irrespective of qualification and individual work ethic.
Though the topic of motherhood and child rearing is not of much immediate importance to majority of college students and is rather personal, the fact remains that in the next decade or so, a majority of our female readers will have to consider making a choice between building career or family or trying to balance the two. And even those who choose not or simply can’t participate in motherhood will still be at a disadvantage. Due to the emergence of politicians and authority figures who want to instill polices that will make reproduction a privilege heavily policed by the government instead a right influenced by personal choices and preferences.
In an economy plagued by high levels of unemployment, lower wages, reduction or removal of pension/health care plans alongside the increase in overall standard of living and the amount of personal debt (student loans), the financial well-being of women is very much at risk than that of men. Due to more college graduates today being of the female gender, a large portion of the youth entering a weak workforce will be women crippled with personal debt from student loans. With high interest rates from private loans, a recent police change which has made direct student loans unavailable to graduate and professional students, and the possible increase in interest rates of federal loans, the development of financial status is on very shaky ground for college-educated women.
Statics indicate that a large percentage of these women hold degrees in fields that are traditionally “low-paying” such as education, arts and humanities, though some hold degrees even in prospering economics. Given that these sectors are more negatively affected by the depression of the economy, women face a high risk of unemployment or underemployment due to limited job opportunities and decrease in wages.
Discriminating policies surrounding motherhood and child-rearing, alongside the rather negative American attitude which equates a strong work ethic to the degree of availability in time and devotion to work-related tasks places women at a higher risk of job loss or less likely for promotion based on so called “lack of dedication or motivation.”
Therefore to answer the speaker, the modern feminist is still “angry” because she has to fight policies which will make her career advancement rather difficult if she chooses to participate in motherhood. Demand for laws that will protect rather than punish her for being a victim of sexual violence. For there to be the understanding that in spite of her personal or religious beliefs, the decisions she makes concerning reproduction are valid, important and private and must be respected. There should be polices towards making post-secondary education affordable and debt-repayment easier. More importantly, there should be a celebration of intelligent women in the media which should include more of those with science, math, technology and non-administrative aspects of business as well. Also, there should be an emphasis on science and math education targeting females, thus increasing their desire to pursue qualification and degrees in such fields and thus decreasing their financial risk and creating a more balance in the job market.