In Defense of Modern Feminism
A Submission by Lisa Leung
Whenever I mention I’m feminist, most people are not impressed.
I’m usually greeted with some expression of skepticism or mockery - an eye roll, an “Oh, really?” or even an “Of course you are.” So, it makes sense that these days, “feminist” is the last label that people like to give themselves. To be fair, most people don’t like to characterize themselves as an activist at all. The entire movement has been reduced in the eyes of many to a caricature of itself. In place of a normal person pushing for progress there is now the image of an annoying “social justice warrior”, someone complaining for the sake of complaining. For feminism, the image of women and men striving for genuine equality has been replaced with that of an obnoxious woman who hates men. But this caricature is false, and its continuation only serves to blur and ultimately set back the fight for equality itself. After all, how can we move forward, how can we discuss anything if one side always views the other as simply looking to pick a fight, motivated by either unjust hatred or boredom? We can’t. So, we have to disprove the caricature before we move forward.
Once you believe a movement has no real interest in progress, you can believe the people in it are merely part of it for attention, entertainment or some other unworthy motive. As a result, the root of the caricature of feminism comes from, in short, the belief that feminism today has no real purpose. But feminism absolutely has purpose. It may be less obvious, and in many cases it may not be easily tangible or straightforward. But it exists.
It’s worth noting that feminism clearly has a purpose in plenty of countries where women don’t even have close to the same rights as men. There is no shortage of countries where women are seen as the property of their fathers or husbands, where women are still second-class citizens, where the proper role of women is still a mother, a caretaker, a homemaker. There is no shortage of countries where women are denied an education, and killed when they try to seek it. This alone should be proof enough of the need for feminism. Our picture of feminism shouldn’t be limited to our relatively progressive country (I’m speaking from the perspective of an American). Even if you don’t believe your country needs feminism, the world surely does.
Even then, even in countries considered progressive, feminism is still very much necessary. There are countless social and cultural issues that remain relevant and pressing. It is still commonplace for a woman to be harassed or sexually assaulted. It is still commonplace for women to be raped, and then pressured into staying quiet. Women are still shamed for dressing as they please. Women are still not taken seriously in positions of leadership. Women are still expected to be the main caretaker of children, the homemaker. Women still lack the right to a safe and easily accessible abortion. Women are still written off as emotional and irrational. Teen girls are still exposed to unrealistic standards of beauty. Teen girls are still shamed for having sex, when teen boys are congratulated. Teen girls are still not allowed to be too confident or too “bossy. Little girls are still encouraged and praised to reject feminine interests. Little girls still lack role models of women as leaders and entrepreneurs. The list of issues with how we treat women and girls is endless. But the point of this article isn’t to list out every single challenge that women and girls still face. The point is: women still face many challenges today. They are a different category of challenges than the ones faced long ago, but they are still worth addressing. And for the record, to say that these attitudes and beliefs are minor, that their impact is negligible is simply untrue. Social and cultural issues manifest their impact in concrete harms. It’s because of these attitudes that teen girls are the most likely demographic to develop an eating disorder, that women are still paid less for the same exact jobs, that just 6% of CEOs in the US are women, that studies from Princeton find that little girls still believe the trait of “brilliance” is reserved for boys. No, these attitudes and their impacts are measurable, real, and absolutely deserve to be talked about.
In the end, it’s true that under the law, women are generally treated equally. But a couple sentences on some legal documents cannot dissolve the deeper cultural and societal attitudes that still undermine equality. No, only feminism can do that. Only acknowledging the need for discussion and progress and actively working to solve those problems, to combat these attitudes can mitigate them. Choosing to ignore that, to deem an entire movement irrelevant for your convenience is equivalent to perpetuating them.
Those who don’t believe in feminism now like to make comparisons between feminism 100 years ago and feminism now. Feminists 100 years ago, they say, fought for their right to vote, to participate politically. What are you fighting for, they ask. What rights do you not have now? Then they point to all the laws that “guarantee” women are treated the same as men. Clearly, you have no need to complain. You have far more than women had 100 years ago, you should be happy. But we shouldn’t. No woman, and really, no man should be satisfied with mere surface-level legal equality. There are countless social, cultural, and legal differences that prove equality has not been achieved. They may be less obvious, and harder to articulate, but they are worth advocating for. If someone believes that women have enough, that asking for more, pointing out the still existing divides in our society is whining or asking for too much, perhaps they don’t actually support true equality, just the kind that requires no effort, that only gives the impression of equality while denying the reality. The truth is: much has been done. But there is much more to do.