OPINIONS

Feminism and the Goal of Obsolescence

I once asked my friend if she was a feminist. Her response: Of course not.

Why not? Feminism, by its strict dictionary definition, is simply the idea of guaranteed equality between men and women — an idea evident to almost everyone today. So why is there such a distaste for the term? Why doesn’t everyone identify as a feminist?

This aversion to the word “feminism” is not uncommon: The well-publicized portrayal of feminists as angry, man-hating women has perpetuated the notion that feminism is destructive, dangerous and to be avoided at all costs. As a result, people who support the ideals of feminists do not identify as feminists, and those who do identify as such are marginalized and immediately labeled as radicals.

Because of this, Stanford’s Women’s Community Center (WCC) decided to launch a campaign to change this negative perception — plastering “Of Course I’m A Feminist” bumper stickers on laptops, doors and water bottles all across campus. According to the WCC, this campaign, complete with a punk rock font and sparkly background, sought to reclaim the word “feminist” and the full implication of its meaning.

“The purpose was to get the word out about the WCC as well as the different concepts of feminism,” said Faith Kazmi, associate dean and director of the WCC. “The ‘Of Course I’m a Feminist’ idea was meant to be an opportunity for students to define what feminism means to them and to invite others to ask the question, ‘why?’”

From the WCC’s perspective, these stickers have been “overwhelmingly positive,” with students specifically coming to the WCC to request a sticker and boxes of stickers being sent to other universities. Yet despite the visibility and support these stickers have enjoyed, there has also been considerable backlash against it. Around the dining halls and even in my dorm, I’ve heard students comment on how much they dislike the stickers and hate seeing them on campus.

“Why do we even need feminism?” someone in my dorm asked me when I brought up the issue. “Why do we need to point out that we support equal rights? That should be obvious.”

Is it obvious, though?

Today, women are still paid far less than their male counterparts, promoted far less frequently and subjected to far more scrutiny and harassment at the workplace. Today, women are still forced to make unfair choices between family and work because of the huge disadvantages they face if they take maternity leave, while men are not required to make the same decisions.

Today, women account for 95 percent of domestic violence survivors and 91 percent of rape survivors and endure excruciating emotional and physical trauma, yet students still casually talk about “raping” their midterms and finals. Today, women are still objectified in magazines and ads, paraded around in pageants to be gawked at, and exploited in mainstream music from internationally respected artists. And though many women engage in these acts intentionally and are paid well as a result, these incidents nevertheless perpetuate the notion that women are sexual objects — not to be taken seriously, but to be degraded at will.

Equal rights? That’s not obvious at all.

In reality, feminism cuts much deeper than just shallow proclamations that men and women are equal. Calling ourselves feminists establishes recognition of the inequalities that still remain and reaffirms our commitment to eliminate these underlying issues so entrenched in the fabric of our society. Dismissing feminism only creates the incentive to dismiss the ideas of gender equality altogether — to overlook the fundamental, structural changes that our culture so desperately needs.

The goal should not be to remove “feminism” from our vernacular or to avoid using the word altogether, but rather to arrive at a point where the term — much like the term “abolitionist” — becomes obsolete. We want to arrive at a point in history where it means nothing to be called a feminist, since at that point there would be no need to draw a distinction between the way the world is and the way we think it should be.

This won’t happen in a day, a week, or perhaps not even in years, but we need to work toward progress nonetheless. And the first step comes through reclaiming the word “feminism” and what it really stands for.

“I think [the bumper stickers] send a great message that people are publicly willing to identify with feminism,” Kazmi concurred. “[They] have fulfilled the purpose of contributing to the conversations about gender equality, sexism, patriarchy and feminisms in a subtle yet sparkly way.”

Displaying this sticker is thus a simple yet enormously powerful gesture. Visible all across campus, these bumper stickers intend to show us that feminists aren’t radicals, but rather everyday individuals all around us, committed to seeing an idea as simple as gender equality manifest itself in reality.

Because only once deeming yourself a feminist doesn’t immediately label you as angry and extreme — only once being a feminist becomes the norm and not the exception will we finally be able to make true, structural progress toward gender equality.

 

Contact Kimberly Tan at kwtan@stanford.edu.

About Kimberly Tan

Kimberly Tan is an Opinions columnist at The Stanford Daily. She is currently the only freshman columnist and enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics related to social and policymaking concerns. She is originally from Saratoga, Calif. and is a prospective Economics major. In her free time, she loves chatting with friends, visiting downtown Palo Alto and reading random Wikipedia articles. She can be contacted at kwtan 'at' stanford.edu.
  • Anonymous

    These supposed facts are not, in fact, factual. :)

    “Today, women are still paid far less than their male counterparts…” Labor Department studies (among others) show that women earn the same as men in similar jobs. And that is cause for joy! http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/the-white-houses-use-of-data-on-the-gender-wage-gap/2012/06/04/gJQAYH6nEV_blog.html

    If there is nothing wrong with a man choosing to major in education, or take a lower-paying job that allows him more time at home, or choosing to be the primary care-giver to children, then why are you suggesting it is wrong for a woman? Those are choices that lead to the so-called earnings gap. But if a woman (or man) chooses those paths freely, then I see nothing wrong with them.

  • CynSheridan

    The reason that strong women are so quick to divorce themselves from the “feminist” label is that modern feminism does NOT seek equal treatment for men and women; it seeks preferential treatment for women; it seeks a “have your cake and eat it too” mentality. And truly strong women, who are working hard to distinguish themselves as peers to their male counterparts are seeking to be acknowledged for their work and accomplishments on their own merits, not “special” treatment because they are women. Modern feminism insists that women are fully capable of being in positions of high authority where solid decision making is key to success. I agree. HOWEVER, if we as women want to be rewarded when we make good decisions leading to positive results, we have to be willing to take responsibility equally for the bad decisions that we make. And modern feminism tells the world that we wont.
    If two 22 year olds go to the same party and get equally drunk and mentally incapacitated and fall into bed together and wake up with little knowledge of how they got there, and who they are with.. they should BOTH feel a little embarrassed about how they got there… make the sheepish introductions, get some coffee and go about their hungover days. However, if we are dealing with a girl who doesn’t wish to accept that she made some bad choices last night.. she can “absolve” herself of that guilt by accusing the boy in question of rape. Why is her drunkenness a “get out of shame free card” and his is a “guilty-even-when-proven-innocent, life destroying crime”? They were both equally drunk. Both equally incapacitated. Both equally impaired in their decision making, yet she is a victim, and he is an attacker? That is so unbelievably insulting to me as a woman. Either I am responsible for ALL of my decisions or none of them. I don’t get to pick and choose. Before the inevitable “victim blaming” accusation comes out.. I am not dismissing the fact that there are men who prey on drunk women and there are legitimate rape victims as a result. I have very personal first hand knowledge of BOTH situations however. I know which mornings were a product of being attacked and which were just stupidity. The rapist was dealt with, and I am very good friends with some of the others.
    Ms Tan suggests that women are forced to decide between family and career, a choice that men aren’t “forced to make”. This is also a complete modern feminism fallacy. The truth is that men aren’t ALLOWED to make that choice. When a woman needs to repeatedly take time off from work to take children to doctors appts or school events, she is afforded that time. Women are choosing to take MORE than 6 weeks of maternity leave these days and still expecting to come back to their offices in the same position that they left. Men are not ALLOWED that time to bond with their children. All too often, if a FATHER wants to take time off for a child, the response is “can’t your wife do that”. Increasingly, it is women that have pushed the fathers of their children out of parenthood, not that men aren’t interested in being fathers.
    And lets get back to the maternity leave question. I know that this might sound inflammatory, but step away for a second and LISTEN. I have CHOSEN not to be a mother. I chose to focus on my career and accepted that I would not be able to be the type of mother that I would want to be and continue to be the professional I wanted to be, so I am NOT doing it. This is personal choice about my personal life. But what if I wanted to take a 6 weeks off from work to fulfill a different personal choice…. diving in Belize for example. This is a personal interest of mine. Would I be allowed to take a 6 week leave of absence (combined paid and unpaid leave) and expect to come back to the office with the same position and authority I had when I left? Probably not. I wouldn’t get the leave time. Even if I had 40 days of paid vacation on the books, I most likely would not be allowed to take it all in one block. It would be too disruptive to the work environment. But why is one person’s personal choice more valuable than another’s? If a deadline is approaching and some workers need to stay late one night, how do we choose who stays? If “Danny” has rugby practice at 6 tonight and “Robin” has to pick up a child at 6, why is it the foregone conclusion that “Robin” gets to leave and Danny will have to stay? Why is Robin’s choice for free time more valuable than Danny’s? Rugby may hold an equally important place in Danny’s life that children holds in Robin’s, so why do we accommodate one and not the other? How does that work? It sounds so simple when you assume that Danny is a guy and Robin is a girl… but what if the genders are the opposite, what if Danny is a girl and Robin is a guy? This maternity leave thing, this bias towards people with children, where was that determined to be “equality”?
    It has already been pointed out that the wage differential is a crap statistic. Female engineers get paid that same as male engineers. Female surgeons get paid the same as male surgeons. But no, female nurses do not get paid the same as male surgeons; oddly male nurses don’t either. But it isn’t just the glamorous jobs where the differences occur. Turns out that skilled laborers (plumbers, electricians, contractors) get paid better than receptionists. But I don’t see many women wanting to crawl under my house to fix my wiring; women tend to prefer to sit at a desk in the air-conditioning. Jobs with greater risk pay more. For a reason. Turns out that while overall men make more money than women overall (more male workers in more high paying jobs), they also do a LOT more of the getting injured and killed on the job… by like 85-90 percent. No one ever seems to mention that.
    Ms Tan. No, I do NOT consider myself a feminist. I do not seek to be treated exactly the same as a man. I am a WOMAN. And that is a pretty great thing. I seem to be treated as a PEER to my male counterparts. I want to be valued for my dedication and hard work that produces solid results. When I make a decision that goes well, I pass the credit onto my team, like a good leader should. When I make a decision that doesn’t go well… I OWN IT. In my personal and professional life. When I don’t get the next high profile project or promotion, I default to asking what more could I have done to have EARNED it, not assume that I was discriminated against because I was a women. I work with a LOT of men. I do not look for reasons to be offended. I am not offended when someone uses the male pronoun to address the group; I know that it was gender inclusive, but constantly saying men/women; guys/gals, etc gets cumbersome. I have better things to focus on. If someone makes a joke that could be considered by some to be offensive and its funny, I laugh. I get to KNOW my coworkers; so I know that they aren’t trying to make me feel bad, the joke was funny so they shared it. When someone does say something that makes me a touch uncomfortable, I call them on it. 99% of the time, they immediately apologize, express regret, and I never hear anything like that again. Turns out, that if you aren’t looking to be offended, you will very rarely be so. If you tell a man who has offended you in a gentle way that he crossed the line, he will adjust behavior. He isn’t actively looking for ways to offend.
    Turns out, Ms Tan. Too many modern feminists have taken the idea of equality to a place most women don’t want to go. Most of us actually like men. Value their presence in society. Welcome the fact that strong MEN bring a different perspective to situations than women do. Men are DOERs where women tend to be thinkers. Our differences combine to greater things. But when we insist that women are MORE equal, that the manly way of doing things is somehow inferior, we lose a huge part of what makes society work. I am a woman. I am NOT a man. I am different. and that is a good thing. I expect to be given free reign to speak in a board meeting, but appreciate the respect that is shown when a man holds the door for me as I walk into the room. I am a physically strong and capable woman, and when there are boxes to be moved, I move them. But I recognize that men are always going to be stronger physically.. so that safe in the corner? They can have that. I don’t play the “girl” card to get out of physical or dirty work, so when something is in fact out of my capability, men are more than willing to assist. It is when you refuse to get your hands dirty at all , that men find themselves irritated at having to assist.
    Ms Tan. I am not a feminist. And I am modern feminism’s worst nightmare. I got to where I am based on my actual ability without ever asking to be treated differently. I am a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy. I am a combat veteran, an expert shot, a recognized expert, poised briefer to the the highest ranking officers in my command. I acknowledged that I could not be both a great officer and the model mother, especially in a dual military family and made the unselfish decision to not try to do both, knowing that I would excel in neither. I lift heavy, love to watch football, appreciate a good joke. I am married to a great guy who appreciates all that I bring to the table and who isn’t threatened that I outrank him and make more money. He encourages that! I am also feminine. I get my nails done, have my long hair highlighted, wear makeup, (even in the field), enjoy ballets and opera, enjoy fashion and love to throw a good party with perfect decorations. I should be a model for what “feminism” demands from society. But I am not. The question shouldn’t be why I don’t identify with feminism… it should be why feminism doesn’t identify with me.

  • Tracheal

    When will angry and extreme writers like the one above stop telling loathsome ‘equality’ lies about the One Billion Gender Bigots Rising movement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iARHCxAMAO0

  • Unapologetic Feminist

    Did you notice your rant is longer than the article you’re commenting on? This brief article about an attempt to counter negative stereotypes seems to have made you so angry you felt the need to go on for several paragraphs reinforcing and defending those stereotypes. Which is odd, because at the same time you go to great pains to point out that those stereotypes haven’t held you back. How very nice for you. Maybe you could allow for the fact that not every woman in the country has shared your exact same experiences in life.

  • cyn sheridan

    I did go a little long… but this issue has been building for a while. I constantly deal with women who refuse to meet the standard and then cry sexism when they don’t receive the benefits. I have long worked in male dominated fields.. and have to work that much harder to overcome the bad reputation these “entitled” females have created for all of us. I am merely pointing out that screaming bad stats at the top of your lungs does not make those stats any less bad. The wage gap is a myth. And the degree to which feminists refuse to be held accountable for the double standard that they insist on is getting OLD for those of us who actually do the work to be accepted as peers in the workforce. The point is that if you want to succeed and are willing to do the work.. you will succeed.

  • Tali DeChauve

    Hyperbole much tracheal? While the author seems thoughtful and cohesive, you are blithering and nonsensical :)

  • Tracheal

    ‘Feelin’ much Tali. If you believe there’s anything thought-full and cohesive in mainstream feminist monkey business, you are a blithering idiot. One glance at the video below should have cured you already. But brainwashed boobs at Indoctrinations U’s are most commonly incurable.

  • Tracheal

    These are not negative stereotypes. They are negative realities. It’s time for every woman (and particularly for every unapologetic gender bigot (mainstream feminist)) in the whole Western world to begin deprogramming them-sexes from from fascist ‘gendered’ foolishness.

  • Tracheal

    But women are NOT fully capable of being in positions of high authority where solid decision making is key to success. The science is in on that question. So is the biology: http://www.amazon.com/The-Woman-Racket-Science-Explaining/dp/1845401506

  • cynsheridan

    Oh dear Lord. I’m trying to imagine the man that would be so inflammatory in response to my reasoned response to this article. This type of comment is what fuels modern feminist’s anger and disrespectful responses. Perhaps, if both sides would allow themselves to see the unique differences as the positives that they are instead of looking to denigrate the other, we could get somewhere. Tracheal, you are not helping the situation with such statements. As a woman in a position of authority requiring solid decision making, I can assure you that we are in fact every bit as capable as men.

  • Tracheal

    There’s nothing inflammatory here. You might be Johanna Boyd (after the Air Force’s John Boyd) herself but that doesn’t mean that most women can cut the mustard…particularly in jobs were male or masculine abilities are needed. The science is quite clear on this too.

    Fueling modern feminist anger and inducing even more disrespectful responses from members of the world’s most officially coddled anti-male hate movement is actually helpful. There’s absolutely no reason to see the feminist side of things because the whole asinine ideology is based on bankrupt ideologies recycled from the trash heap of history. Besides feminists almost always silence free speech and duck debate there’s no reason to take em the least be seriously.

    Perhaps if feminist women were willing to take their heads out of the Estrogen Sewer, they’d be able to come to some sort of sensible conclusions about sex and about (genuine) gender. As for you, I’d suggest a dose of Camille Paglia. She’s got the chops to impress a woman who falsely believes she is equal to any man in the military.

    And FYI, I have nothing against you personally, I just loath the hate movement in whose name you speak….and for very very good reasons too. May I suggest that if you are so poised and capable…that you do your homework before you weigh in so ‘authoritatively’ here.

  • cynsheridan

    Tracheal… You have clearly failed to actually read what I wrote. I absolutely do NOT identify with the feminist movement. I am fairly certain that modern feminists such as the author of this original article are part of the reason that I have to work so hard to succeed. I agree that the movement is hateful, and that most of its members present as very angry people. Please re-read what I actually wrote and you will find that I most certainly do not speak in the name of feminism… nor do I believe in their movement. I never suggested that I was equal to any man in the military… I said that I was well-respected in my position based on my abilities. I work in a support role to true operators.. My respect for them is unquestioned. They share that respect for the job that I do. We have very different roles.. yet compliment each other.
    For the record…. I happen to be a big fan of Camille…

  • Tracheal

    It’s pretty long but I did read your opening, I did scan your middle, and I did read your conclusion. You made a lot of good points which your Twisted Sisters would do well to heed and were refreshingly adult in your reasoning for a modern woman. I was simply trying to break down the common feminist falsehood that women are equal to men performance-wise in positions of high authority. You agree. The science disagrees…and you called my statements inflammatory.

    Glad you like Camille. How about Catherine Hakim at the LSE?

  • cynsheridan

    How about we agree that not everyone is well suited for positions of high authority? That there are both men and women who are suited to positions of authority and both men and women who are NOT suited. I have been blessed to have worked with some amazing leaders.. male and female. I have also worked with some terrible leaders… both male and female. Coming from a Naval perspective… aviators and surface warfare officers approach leadership from different angles (as a generalization). I find it useful that our battle group staffs are divided with an Admiral who is one and his Chief of staff being the other. In many ways the same is true for men and women. Because of the differences in how we tend to approach decision making, there is a lot to be said for there being a teamed approach. Again.. doers vs thinkers. short-term vs long-term. pragmatic vs intuitive. These are complimentary and the best solutions should include both perspectives.

  • Tracheal

    Read Moxon’s The Woman Racket, assess Catherine Hakim’s Preference Theory, or scan Fifty Shades of Grey (hugely popular) to see the gross differences between men and women in terms of competence, preference, and thinking ability. Complimentary teamwork is fine but don’t plan on women being powerful systemic thinkers or being easily able to handle really high pressure positions at the very highest levels. It’s just not in the interest of most females to even aspire to these positions…and that’s because most women are NOT men…even though feminist gender bigots are trying to force them into that box.

  • Tracheal

    It’s really the courageous vs the comfortable here: http://news.yahoo.com/ap-exclusive-few-army-women-want-combat-jobs-142327301.html

  • JoMama

    You used a book from amazon as a legitimate source? LOL

  • JoMama

    Camille Paglia? Are you kidding me? She’s never served in the military so she has no credibility in that respect whatsoever!

  • Tracheal

    The bookseller has something to do with the quality of the book!? LOL.

  • Tracheal

    So you is telling me that Camille Paglia is unable to read or to assess greatness or lack thereof in other people?

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