A guest post by Taylor Kahl
Until recently, I refused to be called a feminist. As a child, I thought it was an insult. A “feminist” was an idealist, an obsolete remnant from the past; someone who wanted to disrupt society for no reason. Yet, all my life I’d had a nagging feeling that I would never be as respected as the men around me. That led to some serious cognitive dissonance. Over time, believing that men and women should have the same opportunities, I began to accept feminism, even though I didn’t know I was becoming a feminist.
Reading Lean In, I was struck by Sheryl Sandberg’s story about coming to terms with feminism. In college, she and her friends had assumed that gender equality was a reality and that feminism was no longer necessary. I could relate to her mindset all too well. Reflecting on that story, I suddenly felt like society had brainwashed me into believing an alternate reality—one where gender discrimination is only a myth perpetuated by trouble-making women.
I recognize that this perspective on feminism was a result of how I was raised. My family has always expected me to have it all—job, husband and children, in that order. But they don’t understand that it’s harder for women to advance in their careers; that women do most of the childcare and housework; that women have less leisure time; that’s it’s altogether more difficult for women to “have it all.” When I mention these issues to people I know, they usually respond: “But that’s not how my workplace/family is.” By denying the existence of gender discrimination, they contribute to its persistence.
I know that not all women had the same experience; many have grown up as feminists. Still I wonder, how has our society made so many women (and men) afraid to consider themselves feminists? I think that this is mostly a result of societal backlash to a changing status quo. Change is always met with resistance. The way we live now was once inconceivable to most people in this country: women vote, go to college, and work outside the home. But women are still fighting for independence and empowerment—as of now, they are largely underrepresented in leadership roles. The work of the women’s movement is not done yet. In some circles, “feminist” still carries the negative connotation of someone who is dangerous to babies, dangerous to families, and dangerous to men.
Why is it still common to snub feminism? There are many possible reasons. People don’t realize how pervasive gender bias is in our homes and workplaces. After all, women and men technically have the same rights. With this mindset, it is up to individual women to ensure their own success, not the responsibility of society or the government. This mindset also leads to thinking that a woman who talks about her gender-related difficulties is only whining or using her gender as a crutch.
Moreover, some fear that empowerment for women will inhibit the success of men, as they think that success is a non-zero sum game. Others are simply comfortable with the status quo—they’re used to viewing women as merely playing a supporting role. However, advancement for women does not mean subjugation for men. I believe that it is possible for everyone to advance together. Research shows that businesses with more gender-equal leadership are more successful and profitable. And, if women take more of a leadership role in their families, men can resist the pressure they face to work and earn as much as possible. Female empowerment can benefit everyone.
As it turns out, gender equality is an illusion. Even people like me who try to be aware of our own biases still have biases! Feminism is not obsolete; it’s just as necessary today as ever to ensure that women don’t play supporting roles to men in our personal and professional lives. Men and women are inherently different, but that doesn’t mean we should have unequal opportunities. If you believe that feminism is no longer necessary in this country, take a look at the many forms of gender inequality and be open to the possibility that, as I once was, you might actually be a closet feminist.
About the author: I am a senior at Georgia State University beginning my adventures in neuroscience. I plan to design mechanical devices that can be controlled by the brain and nervous system. Beside the sciences, I am passionate about yoga and believe that mindfulness can change lives. I am also a cyclist, a knitter, a wannabe gardener, and (of course) a feminist.
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I agree that we still need feminist in society. As real as gender discrimination is, it will continue to be denied as fact by both men and women. One main reason is that those who do not feel the direct effects of gender inequality refuse to believe that it exists. Another reason gender quality continues to exist is because people do not know what it means to be a feminist. One solution would be to increase awareness on what a feminist is. Feminist are always perceived as angry woman who hate men which is completely and true. The media should try to paint feminist in a better light so that we may progress toward equality of women and men. Feminist just want to fight for equal rights of all genders and both men and women can benefit from the work of feminist.
Gender discrimination is pretty real. There are expectations for both men and women to fit certain societal roles, and progressing in a direction away from what is “expected” can lead to a lot of pull back. I agree with a lot of issues that feminism addresses, but still do not consider myself a feminist (or any sort of activist) for a few reasons.
I highly recommend watching Cassie Jaye’s documentary for a different perspective.
There has been much success in the fight for gender equality, but too much of our society still fails to realize why feminism is important for both sexes. Yes, feminism largely aims to give women equal opportunities, but it is a misconception that feminism is only beneficial to women. True feminism isn’t working towards female superiority, but rather towards the equality of feminine and masculine traits. This is why men need feminism just as much as women do. Our society is moving further away from traditional family roles, and those roles that have typically been reserved for women need to be valued and respected. Men should not be criticized for prioritizing roles such as family care over their professional careers. Just as feminism allows women to assume roles that are considered masculine, it also allows men to assume roles that are considered feminine, and that is why feminism is important for both sexes.
Josh, this is a wonderful point. Gender roles are as important for men as they are for women, and it’s so common for feminism to be conceived to only pertain to women. In reality, feminism seeks to balance both genders and find a common ground that requires compromise and adjustments for both men and women. Normalizing familial priorities for men is essential – it must be acceptable for men to prioritize their family over their career. It is shocking to me that people rarely express the double standard that exists for men, because it’s similar to that of women, but just reversed. I think that if it were more common for males to hold dominant, or even equal roles in childcare, then it would be much more acceptable for men to find a work-life balance. This would also aid in women being able to invest more into their career if they weren’t expected to be the sole caretaker in the home. This advancement would be mutually beneficial.
I really like that you pointed out that men need feminism more than women do. The whole point of feminism is to achieve equality so it would make sense that both genders should be a part of the movement. Men are just as necessary as women because men are in the advantage here. If women are the only ones that believe in feminism, only so much change can occur.
Another thing, roles should not have a gender and I think that’s something feminism is working towards eliminating. Home does not equal woman and construction does not equal man.
Sarah, I agree that this would bring more work-life balance to the lives of both men and women. I think that when kids grow up seeing their mom only attending to them and their home, they don’t have a concept of what they can learn from her and don’t necessarily respect her as much. On the other hand, when men follow the messages that society sends them, working long hours to earn a handsome living, they are kept from nourishing their relationships with their wife and kids. Even if their kids idolize them, they still don’t have the opportunity to interact with them because their job takes all their time. A shift of the nature that you are talking about would help men and women be more involved in their families which will greatly benefit the kids as they get the chance to get to know the people who brought them into the world.
Krishna – I’m so disappointed to hear about your experience! Despite that being terrible advice for you, I think that the woman who gave it was well-meaning. NaKiera also asked, don’t men want better for their daughters? Advisors and parents often want the best for us, but they don’t know what “the best” for us really is. Many people actually believe that a the most important achievement in a woman’s life is to be a good wife and mother.
There is still a message promoted by society that our lives won’t be fulfilled if we don’t have children, and I think this applies to men as well. But most men aren’t encouraged to plan their careers around their families, because if there needs to be a compromise between work and family, this compromise is usually at the expanse of the mother’s career.
I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I know that having children is not enough to fulfill my life’s purpose. Keep listening to your inner voice. Others will keep pushing what they think is the best for you, but only you can determine what that is.
I completely empathize. Until quite recently, my parents were similar, and suggested that unless I found an extraordinarily “progressive” partner, I would be better off avoiding the sciences if I wanted a family (at some point, they realized I was going to pursue what I wanted anyway, so they might as well support me). In general, as a Middle Eastern woman especially, I am always spoken to with the assumption that I desire a husband and family, which is both heteronormative and sexist. I sometimes call people out for these comments, but usually I simply explain to them my perspective. And if/when they disagree, I remind both of us that this is my life, and that it is important to stay true to what I believe in, if for no other reason but to be a good, strong, female figure in my sisters’ lives.
In general, I feel like Sheryl Sandberg’s point in Lean In is a potent one: men would never be asked these types of questions. It’s simply assumed that the partner will help, and in the event that the partner is not there (because of divorce, death, or other complications), life will be more difficult, but certainly not impossible.
I agree, it’s definitely unfortunate that men will never have to experience these questions but this will make us stronger in the end. The same is true from an indian family, I have been told so many times that I should start thinking about a family and that 22 is an ideal age to get married and have a husband.
Luckily, in the US, it’s not as common to get married at a young age. There is so much more that we can do instead of thinking about when we want to settle down. It is very important that we stay aware of these issue and be positive role models for the next generation to come.
I think another silly aspect of these questions is that they don’t take into account how people go about finding a spouse these days. If I meet someone at some point who I actually want to marry and if I want to be a stay at home mom, then I’ll totally leave my carreer. However, I have not met any such person, so closing doors because I thing Mr. Right won’t be behind any of them is very premature. If I am to marry someday, I want a husband who is ambitious and who shares my passions. How would I even find someone like that if I was not pursuing those things wholeheartedly? I think chasing my dreams is such a good plan because it may help me meet someone who I would want to spend my life with, but if it doesn’t then I will still end up having a very purpose driven and fulfilling life. Limiting ourselves can create more problems than it saves us from.
All my life, I have always been encouraged to do whatever I wanted to do, whether it be a STEM field, business or anything else you can imagine. I never understood what feminism was all about. I just assumed that by the time I would graduate high school, college, and graduate that things would be different. However, I have realized I was wrong. Just recently I attended a career fair and while I was obtaining information for a medical school, another lady was watching me while I was talking to a representative. After I finished, she proceeded to ask me why I would want to be a doctor? I told her my reasonings and she immediately asked why I didn’t want to be a dentist. Normally, it wouldn’t be a big deal, my reasoning was that I just wasn’t that intrigued with teeth. Instead of supporting me on my hopes of being a doctor, she started asking me if I wanted a family, when I wanted kids, how am I going to manage all of these things myself. She then asked me if I was aware of all this as a woman entering the industry. This struck me. She was automatically assuming I wanted all this, even if I did, I felt like she was already bringing me down on my dreams and aspirations to do something that she felt would be “better” for a woman in the healthcare field.
The reason this bothered me so much was because, how is one suppose to demand gender equality when there are people like this is workforce? If the women who we are supposed to look up to and ask them for support ask you to consider a different lifestyle just so you can have kids and a family. I know myself and I know it would be possible to do both, however, I also know that I will have support from others such as the father.
I can’t help but wonder if this is a reason. Have women just assumed that they have to have children and have families and that they have to do all the work? Feminism stands for equal opportunity, but if we don’t treat ourselves as equal first then how can we expect to make a change?
Has anyone else been put through a similar situation? If so how did you react?
I think that the hardest misconception to overcome with the word “feminism” is that it promotes the supremacy of women instead of the equality of men and women. I too, up until last year, was one of the people who avoided being described as a feminist even though all of my beliefs coincided with the true definition.
People fear change and I agree with Taylor that people are “comfortable with the status-quo”. Many, if not most, cultures have a strong history of patriarchy. Men have been placed in power above women for hundreds of years so it makes sense that the ideals of men being superior to women are strongly instilled. With that being said, we should be able to change these simply toxic ideologies. People are quick to adapt to new technologies that come out every year that were not here hundreds of years ago so why can’t the same be done with the concept of equality of people themselves?
Feminists are just asking for equal treatment and opportunities. Through education and making people aware of their biases we can continue to work towards change.
It is so important to address the issue of women being underrepresented in leadership roles, as Taylor has mentioned in this post. Everyone including men, women, and those who currently hold leader positions in businesses and enterprises need to evaluate and think about 1) how to encourage and appoint more women and minorities to fill leadership positions and 2) the benefits which this would bring for everyone. As Taylor has stated; female empowerment can (and will!) benefit everyone. Women have unlimited qualities and attributes to offer and having more women (intersectional) taking on positions of leadership and guidance could truly bring about so many advantages (both financially AND socially) to the workplace. By having those who are already in roles of leadership and higher position mentor and uplift women to fill their roles, this would be a step forward for everyone involved. This includes improving relations between coworkers of all backgrounds, benefiting families and the personal lives of many people. I believe that with feminism on the rise, we are headed towards a place where gender equality in the workplace is very much attainable. However, as Taylor has made very clear; feminism still matters, and I believe it will always matter in some form or another because there is always room for improvement and the aim of feminism is to continue working towards a better place not just for women, but even more so for humanity.
I agree with Semaje about feminism being a similar movement to Black Lives, both of which aim for equality. It’s unfortunate that the extremists of the movements often give the entire movement a bad name though. Moreover, no women in the world should have a problem with labeling herself as a feminist, and no one should fault her for it. The people that see feminism as a problem are part of the problem. It’s not fair to fault someone for wanting equality. How would a man feel if the roles were reversed? I think men forget that if they were in this same place they would likely be a feminist too. Who doesn’t want better for their gender counterparts? Is it not inspiring to see a woman doing great things? For the men, what about your daughters? Are you okay with them being slighted even if they have the same capabilities as a man?
As far as gaining equality, I think we are on the right track. Women have been taking more control of the situation, speaking out against the inequality and more women are joining the movement. Knowledge, education, and hard work is key; we must show men that we are just as capable if not more of performing the same job. This inequality has gone on for too long and hopefully sooner rather than later it will be no more.
In a society where men predominantly control most of the decision making, power, and wealth, I do believe that it is important that ideologies like feminism exist. I feel as if feminism is believing in the idea that women should have equal rights and be able to hold the same social positions as men. Like it was mentioned, as men with mothers, sisters, and daughters, it is important that we be in support of our women being treated equally and given the same opportunity to foster their own success in society. If the roles were reversed and men were the minority, we would want the majority to step in and support us in our causes. It takes a collaborative effort from both accounts to take a stand and lean in for women’s rights.
“Feminism-The radical idea that a woman is actually a human being”. I view feminism in the same light as the Black Lives Matters movement. Being proud of being a woman and demanding the same treatment as the ruling majority, in this case that being men, isn’t hating men, or considering ourselves better than. Being a woman has been looked at as a handicap for most of history. Present times has called for the elimination of the negative associations with being a female. We must now work hard to be seen as equal, and some may take it too an extreme. But, the majority of women are not bra burning, man-hating individuals. We are people who want to be treated just like men; in the workplace, at home, and in society as a whole.
I agree with you Semaje, we must unite and act together. If not, I feel like our generation and the next will see no improvements. We need to show that we are not handicapped, we are just as capable. Men and women should both have equal opportunities. The only true difference is our body parts. We have the same amount of intelligence and confidence. As seen before, there are always those people who just take it way too extreme giving a bad name to an entire group. I definitely agree with you with your comparison of black lives matter.
On the basis of gender equality, I agree with you NaKiera, being educated about this situation is crucial. I don’t think many people understand what they are walking into until the come out of college with a degree and are faced with these challenges.