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Finding the value of feminism today

Published: March 16, 2012
Section: Opinions


As I walked toward Usdan for dinner the other night my male friend and I got into a debate. Arguing is an unsurprising activity for me since the adjectives most frequently associated with my personality are “snarky” and “sassy.” I remarked that I thought the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance’s dramatic attempt to catch the eye of the Brandeis student body by hanging a clothesline of burnt bras between two trees was humorous and clever.
This seemingly provocative display forces students to reconcile their perception of feminists and drums up excitement and awareness about feminist coming out week. My friend responded that, in a world where many of the original issues that caused the start of feminism are being solved, the movement has become less relevant and therefore less prevalent in our society. I fervently disagree with him and was displeased that he was giving a movement and ideology so important to me a bad rap. In the vein of full disclosure, however, I should note that I have never participated in or attended any organized feminist activities or events. My feminism is “home grown” and stems from having an independent (and mildly defiant mother), reading various feminist works (like “The Feminine Mystique”) and my own liberal tendencies.
Some say that the talk during the Republican presidential primaries regarding women’s right and accessibility to contraception is actually a ploy to distract American voters and that the real issues that should dominate today’s political sphere are the economy, the war in Afghanistan (which as of late has become increasingly alarming) or our own domestic issues. Ruse or not, women’s access to health care should be taken seriously. When I hear of candidates who espouse women’s right for self-determination regarding their sexuality, I am comforted. Comparatively, when I listen to the rhetoric of Republican candidates, I worry; I am tempted to run to the pharmacy and buy out Walgreen’s supply of birth control just in case it gets taken away from me by a righteous, male, Republican zealot.
Perhaps Rick Santorum’s stance on birth control is emblematic of a greater problem that I’ve read a lot about recently: the ‘decline’ of men. Today, for every two men who receive a bachelor’s degree, three women will do the same. Out of the 15 categories into which jobs are broken down (janitorial, computer engineer, child care, food preparation, etc.), women dominate all but two of them. One out of every five men in “prime working age” is unemployed. Coming from this perspective, it is easy to understand why our XY chromosome brothers would be intimidated by women’s rise in the academic and professional world. Their response is to lash out and attempt to control what for so long has comprised women’s identities: their ability to have babies.
So, one might argue, if women are doing so wonderfully, what’s the point in having a “feminist coming out week”? Why should I care if feminism sticks around or not? Sure, the pay inequality gap between genders is less horrifying than it once was and more childcare responsibilities are being balanced between both father and mother, instead of the traditional roles of bread-winning father and caretaker mother (just check out The Good Men Project’s response to an apparently sexist Huggies commercial).
I believe that it is because of these things that feminism should and must continue to exist and be present in our lives and discourse. Feminism must remain as the gatekeepers and the guardians of the progress being made thus far.
In our political discourse today we see threats against organizations and services that provide vital services to women. People continue to question women’s right to exist in the workplace and hold high office. Even though progress has been made, it is still subject to attack by those who are made uncomfortable and oppose women’s equality.
The more people I talk to the more I am surprised that so many people consider feminism an antiquated movement filled with a bunch of whining women. There are still barriers that have not been broken, rape is still a problem in our society that needs to be addressed and remedied, and inequality still exists. For these reasons and many more I have not enumerated, feminism should continue to be present in our college campuses and in our society.
Being informally educated in the feminist movement in the United States, I can’t say with any type of certainty what feminist wave I am currently part of. I hope, however, that—in spite of our use of the world “wave” as terminology to describe feminism movements—feminism will remain like the ocean, constantly fluctuating but forever present, helping to keep alive and encourage the independent spirit of women and check our societal impulse that says that my female identity is all that matters about me.