Contrary to popular belief, feminism does not mean women above men. Feminism is equality. It's not about dominance. It's not about overpowering. Being a feminist should be the same as being a human. If you support the equality of all people regardless of their gender, then you are a feminist. Period. The issue is that there are many who call themselves feminists but they support the notion that "girls rule the world." These people are known as misandrists who think women are better than men and that all men are evil. This is simply not true and shouldn't be applauded. A feminist is someone who supports and advocates for the equality of men and women in all aspects of society. If you are a feminist, then by definition, you should not support patriarchies OR matriarchies. I think that feminism is one of the most important social movements we have and I believe, in the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, that “we should all be feminists.”
Women have always been essential to societal progress. In the US, the earliest feminist roots are from 1776 when Abigail Adams reminded her husband, John Adams to “remember the ladies” when fighting for America’s independence from Great Britain. Jane Addams helped immigrants and impoverished peoples gain access to necessities and resources by organizing settlement housing, or more specifically, by founding Hull House in 1889. If not for the work of Carrie Chapman Catt in lobbying Congress to pass the 19th Amendment in 1919, women would still not have the right to vote. Reproductive rights aren’t anything new either. The Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade asserted that a woman should get the right to choose. More recently, like a few weeks ago, there was another SCOTUS ruling that asserted the right to abortion clinics being open in Texas. Have we truly progressed in gender equality here in the States? I say we have. I mean look at Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first ever female presumptive presidential nominee of a major party in US history. That is progress. But the work isn’t finished. We are so far from equality.
How do we compare to other countries? Well in comparison to Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan, we've come a long way. In Saudi Arabia, some women get acid thrown in their face and there are VERY strict gender roles. In Iran, many women are not allowed to attend colleges or universities for higher education. In Afghanistan, a certain Nobel Peace Prize winning (not at the time) teenage girl was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education. On the other hand, we are far behind Iceland, Norway, and Sweden in terms of gender pay equity and women in top leadership positions. Equal pay for equal work. This is just plain old common sense, so I won’t elaborate. More women should be in leadership positions. We need to get over this stereotype that men are always bosses.
It is primitive to think of women being inferior to men. In the days of hunter-gatherers, before permanent settlements, strength was the most important trait a person could have because strength meant you could survive longer. Men were the leaders of communities because in basic biology, men are physically stronger than women. It made sense then that women did the less physically demanding jobs of gathering foods while the men hunted for sources of meat.
But now we live in a society in which strength is not the most important trait a person can have. Intelligence and creativity are so much more important and valuable. And I will argue that women are equal to and many times even better than men when it comes to having these traits. In fact, it is scientifically proven that women mature faster than men. Yet, men are more commonly given leadership positions, while women are left with the “lowly” jobs. Gender roles are apparent in work: women have the social service jobs — teaching, because it is in their “social sphere” since they are accustomed to raising children. Men are expected to have careers in STEM fields and to love cars and sports.
Marriage is not the most important event in a woman’s life. A married woman is no more competent in society than a single woman. We need to stop teaching our daughters that one day they need a spouse to lean on, to depend on. We should be teaching them to be independent. They can take care of themselves. If marriage is something they want to pursue in life, it is their choice. Not their parents’ and not anyone else’s. Dear parents, your daughters do not exist to give you grandchildren. If a young girl decides early on in life that she doesn’t want to get married, then you cannot and should not force a marriage on her. Don’t even get me started on arranged marriages. My family comes from a country in which until a couple of decades ago, love marriages didn’t exist or were reprimanded. It wasn’t unheard of for a son or daughter to get disowned from his/her family because they chose who they were going to marry themselves.
I’ve learned from experience that changing how people see gender roles is difficult because everyone has their own definition of sexism. This is because of the way people are raised. To my grandparents, arranged marriages aren’t as horrible as they are to me. To me, it is sexist to be expected to know how to make the bed or clean the house because I am a woman, but to my mom, these are the skills she grew up believing were women’s jobs. For my grandma and my mom, it was not ever an option for them to go to college and get professional careers. They grew up believing that only men could aspire to earn those high paying jobs. They grew up aspiring to be house wives, nothing more. So often, young girls cannot have dreams or aspirations. They don’t get the chance to go to school or to learn to read or write. Education is a human right. Access to basic schooling is denied from so many girls around the world. For these reasons, they stay at home, learning how to be the best wives like their mothers and grandmothers. They stay inside. They stay neglected from opportunities.
So what is the solution towards a society in which people are truly equal, regardless of their gender? Education. To me, it seems like education is the most permanent solution to so many of today’s issues. We must teach, rear, and raise our children to seeing everyone as equal. Parents should teach their sons about how to do housework: basic cleaning and cooking. Why is it expected that only the daughters should know how to nourish themselves and why are the daughters expected to learn to cook for everyone else? The irony is that even in the "female" domain of cooking, men have the highest-paid positions and most well-known names. When men decide to cook, it is seen as somehow exceptional, while all women everywhere are expected to be good cooks innately and get little recognition for all the other work they do to care for their families.
Women are not domestic, fragile, weak creatures that can be objectified and discriminated against. They’re humans who deserve dignity and respect. We should teach boys and men to look at women as equals, because they are! We should teach all of our children to dream and to hope, not just our sons.
Nowadays, overt discrimination is no longer such a commonplace issue; however, implicit bias still is, and it’s a dangerous problem because changing buried perceptions is hard. Internalized and unconscious misogyny effect how men perceive women and girls. Whether they know it or not, men are constantly expecting women to do their work for them. They expect their mother to do the laundry and to cook breakfast. They expect their wife to dress nicely. They expect their daughter to be gentle and soft spoken. More often than not, many of my teachers, male and female, have treated my classmates and me differently based on gender. When a male student raises his hand and asks a question, the teacher is more likely to make eye contact. In math and science classes, the environment is such that my boy classmates are more likely to speak up, while in my humanities and arts classes, the girls are more likely to speak up. When answering a question from a girl, teachers are more likely to use soft and gentle tones, while using louder voices to speak to boys. Honestly, even women treat themselves poorly. They feel like they have to be private about the menstrual cycle or breastfeeding. Be proud of what makes you a woman. Heck, my mom breast-fed me in public, on top of the Eiffel Tower, when I was less than two years old. We should be able to talk about pads and tampons without being secretive and clandestine, because frankly, they’re as much of a biological necessity as toilet paper.
Society’s double standards don’t help either. Women are expected to fit society’s idea of “beautiful”. Women are judged if they aren’t thin. They’re judged if their hair isn’t styled. They’re judged if they have one blemish on their face. They’re judged if they aren’t wearing makeup. Men aren’t expected to be “pretty”. In fact, if a man does wear a little makeup or put on some nail polish, he is called “feminine”. Men are always expected to be “masculine”, tough, and strong-willed.
I end with the words of a leader whom I will miss terribly when he leaves office, President Obama: “We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive; that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear. We need to change the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality but gives men a pat on the back for theirs. We need to change an internet where women are routinely harassed and threatened when they go online. We need to keep changing the attitude that congratulates men for changing a diaper, stigmatizes full-time dads, [and] penalizes working moms. We need to keep changing the attitude that prioritizes being confident and ambitious in the workplace — unless you’re a woman. We need to keep changing the culture that shines a particularly unforgiving light on women and girls of color.”
How will we truly progress towards a better future if that future is decided in rooms where women aren’t allowed and if half of the world's people are still seen as inferior?
We’ve got work to do. According to the Global Gender Gap report, at this rate, it will take 170 years to fully achieve gender equality. I don’t know about you, but I am being an optimist and hoping that it doesn’t take that long.