Learning lessons about feminism

Dr. Spar discusses the struggles of identifying as a feminist in her book.
Dr. Spar discusses the struggles of identifying as a feminist in her book.

By Chelsea LoCascio Production Manager

For the longest time, I was hesitant to admit that I was a feminist. That was until I attended a Women’s History Month lecture led by the President of Barnard College, Dr. Debora Spar.

As discussed in her book, “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection,” Spar gave her own, captivating take on feminism.

Less than a year ago, I didn’t identify as a feminist because I accepted society’s negative perceptions of it. At first, Spar said she did too. Her generation, similar to ours, saw feminists as ugly, bra-burning man-haters who were fighting for a cause she believed had already been solved.

These opinions haven’t changed much, as 37 percent of adult Americans associate feminism with a negative connotation, according to a 2013 Huffington Post poll. Despite a few radical outliers, a rational feminist would define the movement as advocating for all rights of women to be equal to men.

In “An Open Letter to Radical Modern Feminists” on futurefirstlady.com, certain conservatives challenge modern views like Spars, saying there’s no need to fight for equality. Because American women can vote, drive and pursue education unlike women in other countries who are denied these basic freedoms, the issue, they claim, is moot.

While we do possess these freedoms, look at the analogous issue of racial inequality. These are not identical issues, but people of color in America still face institutional racism,  racial profiling and subsequent trouble obtaining jobs or being promoted even though they live in an “equal” system.

Conservatives also call the existence of a patriarchal society “fictional.” According to Spar, several studies indicate that women make up around 16 percent of every industry. If women do manage to move up, Spar said that promotions of women in companies run by men were merely tokenism.

Spar said that if women want a family, then they typically stop working around their forties due to their responsibilities at home. The transformation from ’50s housewives to modern working women has added expectations on them without taking any away, making it harder for women to have both children and a career.

The societal pressure to be intelligent and gorgeous professionals, homemakers, wives and mothers all at once set women up for failure. Although men are taking on more of the housework and childcare, they’re still looked at primarily as breadwinners, and society’s expectations of them haven’t changed much, Spar said.

According to futurefirstlady.com, women complain about equality but will gladly accept free drinks from men in bars. One can assume that a woman is using a man for a free drink or politely accepting something she didn’t ask for, and now the man thinks she owes him.   

Regardless of each person’s motives, those personal choices don’t reflect the beliefs of the general movement.

I became a feminist when I realized that anyone who wants equality for women was a feminist by definition, even if they didn’t call themselves one. I was just hesitant to be known as something that was seen as negative, but Spar’s lecture reassured me that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

For those fed up with feminism, just remember that ignoring an issue doesn’t mean it will go away. Wage inequality, portrayal of women in media, gender roles and countless other issues continue to plague American women. And while most Americans are not overtly sexist, they still subconsciously rank women second to men.

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