(Though I wasn’t originally planning on making a posting today, I’ve decided to go ahead and write up this short piece in honor of today, March 8th, International Woman’s Day. Comments always welcome!)
Sometimes I still have trouble wrapping my head around the way some people think. Let’s take this scenario: Talking to a female friend we get onto the topic of feminism somehow. I explain that I am a feminist (to some surprise), to which I am told by my female friend that she is not a feminist. Although I’ve experienced this scenario probably a half dozen times, it still makes me want to do a Looney Toons-style exaggerated double take every time:
“You’re not a feminist? What!” I’ll ask in shocked reply.
“Nah, I’m not one of those crazy bra burners who hates men. And don’t you have be a lesbian?” At this point I’m resisting an overwhelming urge to indulge in a reflexive facepalm.
Feminism, at its core, is merely the belief that women should be treated as equals to men. Whether or not you choose to expand on that and take it further is another matter; feminists, regardless of what propaganda you’ve heard about militant lesbians (feminism, like any other ideology, can attract fundamentalism, which is inherently problematic and dangerous), are chiefly interested in gender equality. They recognize that as it stands, gender equality is absent from many parts of the world, including the United States. As a feminist, I believe it’s important to pursue gender equality tirelessly.
Feminism does not have a prerequisite of gender or sexual orientation – anyone can believe that their mother, their sister, their daughter, their friend, their girlfriend or wife deserve to be treated the same as anyone else. Personally I don’t see anything radical or questionable about such a belief and find it quite concerning when others do, especially in a nation which supposedly prides itself on its principles of equality. It is doubly troubling when women have trouble getting behind feminism.
Fortunately, this week, we saw President Obama reauthorize an expanded Violence Against Women Act (originally authored by decent guy Joe Biden, in 1994) which had faced a year and a half of lapse due to partisan opposition in Washington. The VAWA sought, among many things, to correct many problems within the US Department of Justice regarding systemic bias against women, particularly in instances of domestic violence and sexual assault – both by law enforcement and in the courtroom (if they were taken seriously enough to get that far). And the VAWA works – data gathered in the years since the Act was first put into effect, released earlier by the DOJ in February, shows that rates of violence and assault against women have fallen drastically and that successful prosecutions have increased. It is especially heartening to hear that this renewed version of the VAWA has been expanded to include these protections to members of the LGBT community.
But this brings me back to this point – how could anyone think that, even if we aren’t talking complete equality yet, women do not deserve the same rights to protection and prosecution against violence and their perpetrators as men have? Surely no one, right? Well, it probably won’t come as a great shock to hear that 22 Republican senators voted “nay” yesterday to the Violence Against Women Act. Please, tell me again how gender inequality is just an illusion pushed by the ever-ominous (and clearly quite evil) “liberal agenda” who just wants to provide quantifiably effective protection and civil rights to a huge portion of our citizenry.
As Americans we almost make a pastime out of thumping our chests and proclaiming our superiority to the rest of the world – particularly when it comes to “freedom” and civil rights. But it’s becoming increasingly hard to take this attitude seriously when we have 22 democratically elected senators who believe women do not deserve equal treatment and protection in our nation. Americans love to make hay out of the extreme oppression women face in parts of the world like Afghanistan (at the hands of an American-backed Taliban). But let’s not pretend that the job at home is done. Far from it – the Global Gender Gap Report released last year ranked the United States 22nd in the world for gender equality.
Are we satisfied to be merely better, by comparison, than the Taliban? That seems like a dismally low bar to set. Yes, we are better than many places, like Afghanistan, but why settle for that? As an American the ideology of equality is potent and moving – it is the reason many of us, despite conservatives’ generous suggestion years ago that “if yeh dun like it, yeh can jus’ git out” (an offer I’d like to extend to you, in these current times, as well), remain in the United States to seek the realization of such “crazy” ideals. We can bury our heads in the sand and say everything is okay, but in reply I’d like to ask you how many women have either run or been elected as president in the United States while pointing out that Ashraf Ghani, a woman, ran for president in Afghanistan in 2009. Though getting a female president won’t mean gender equality has been resolved (much like having a black president hasn’t resolved racism), noting who is and who is not allowed to run your nation is not a bad litmus test.
Be a feminist, and be proud of it, regardless of your gender or sexual orientation – as Martin Luther King, Jr. once remarked “If one is oppressed, all [are] oppressed.”