Monday, May 4, 2009

The new F-Word?

Feminism is a dirty word. According to Kristen Rowe-Finkbeiner’s book, The F word: Feminism in Jeopardy, it could even be the new F-word. In a time when women are more politically active then ever how is it that the ideals of feminism are so often under attack? Increasingly women and men are turning their metaphorical noses down at feminists. The feminism has taken on the image of the un-washed masses of inferior women who gather in the enclaves of liberal colleges seen only to ‘stitch and bitch.’ In reality the numbers of such feminists are few and seldom live up to the stereotype. So why does it matter if women approve of the feminist movement? Because even with the increase of women voters in the US little political ground has been made as most women are still reluctant to demand equal rights. In order to gain equal footing women need to form a coherent political movement or risk witnessing women’s rights continued undermining by past stereotypes. College age women are a prime group for examining such stereotypes. Their views show a need to redefine the image of the modern women’s movement.
US Census department states that 69 percent of women compared to 66 percent of men are registered to vote in the US. This slight edge in political activity is lost in an ever increasing wage gap. A gap which has led most sociologists to define a new category of ‘pink-collar’ jobs which are fields almost solely comprised of women. These fields include teaching, healthcare, daycare, house cleaning, and many other fields characterized by lower wages. More women are now working outside the home than ever before. But most do so for lower wages then men while baring, quite often in the case of single parent households, a great share of the burden for raising children. Buchman and Lenart note in their research that college women ‘exposure to non-traditional gender roles,’ (i.e. women working outside the home or independent from men), ‘are no longer definitive, or even relevant, predictors of support for feminism.
Buchman and Lenart actually find that most women fall into a group they term ‘precarious feminists.’ These women ‘have moderately strong group identification as well as strong beliefs in individualism.’ They belief these women see a need for combined political action but believe that in their case they will advance based upon individual merit. Some of this feeling comes from the raise of women like Hillary Clinton and others who have seemingly broken through the metaphorical glass ceiling which has held women back in the past. Although as Jackson Pollock could have told us metaphor in our post modern world is bullshit. If anything Clinton has simply side stepped the glass ceiling. The Fortune 500 still reports only ten women CEO’s on their list and congress, the political body elected by an electorate of over 60 percent women is comprised of only 17 percent female representatives.
College age women, according to Buchman, have increasingly negative responses to the term ‘feminist’ commonly associating it with women’s liberation movements like the 1960’s protests of the Miss America Pageants. These protests are the source of the metaphorical bra burners and nothing more, as these protestors never actually burned any bras. Buchman explains that many women associate feminists with cognitive images of militant radicals. In perspective no feminist, and for that matter no group of individuals, ever fits into such a cookie cutter mold. Interesting the leading cause of support among college women for feminism comes, not surprisingly, from personal experiences with sexual harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. Too many women wait till they are the victims of discrimination before standing up for their rights.
So if Feminism is the new F-word what happens now? If women continue to allow the ideals of equality represented by feminism to be attacked future generations will have little chance for gaining equality. As it stand women have a great deal of ground yet un-covered. Along with the wage gap the Equal Rights Amendment remains an unfulfilled dream. The equal access to oral contraceptives for women, abortion rights, and equal footing in the workplace still stand just outside of the reach of most women in the US. College age women need to reach out and change the stereotype of feminism or whiteness the death of the movement which first proclaimed their freedom.

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