It would be almost comical at this point if you were unaware that a new president was sworn in on Friday, and the day after, hundreds of thousands of women gathered in Washington as a sort of anti-inauguration for the new leader.
The marchers in Washington were joined by crowds across the country, including—perhaps even surprisingly—those in my own Little Rock, Arkansas. The event, which by some measurements is the largest public demonstration in U.S. history, was intended as a feminist protest of the incoming administration. When Donald Trump, a man guilty on several accounts of misogyny and sexism, was elected president, women around the country viewed it as an insult to them and they took to the streets to say it.
Let’s talk about Feminism.
It’s almost become cliche at this point, but just in case you’ve missed it, it needs to be explained what exactly Feminism is. It is not, as the name seems to imply, an exaltation of females over males and an appreciation for only them—rather, it is the advocacy of women’s rights based solely on the conviction that the sexes are equal.
The positive effects of feminism are immeasurable. From a purely practical position, treating workers equally and paying them fairly is extremely healthy for a capitalist economy and its labor market. Beyond that, there are eternally more valuable increases in women’s self-esteem contrasted with the steep declines in all forms of sexual abuse. The case has also been made that the great surges in science and all matters of life that we’ve seen over the last hundred years loosely correlate with women’s suffrage and their increased representation.
Despite this, there is still work to be done.
The offenses against women exist on an explicit-implicit spectrum, and sometimes go unnoticed. Somewhere closer to the explicit side is the ever-present gender wage gap, which admittedly having shrunk in recent decades is still very much a beacon of injustice. Further down the spectrum is the denial of campus rape incidents, and still further is the general demeaning of or double-standards for young girls. One of the most controversial examples of implicit sexism is something called ambivalent sexism or “beneficial sexism.” Beneficial sexism, so named because in the mind of some it is good or at least genuine, is sexism that is not directly antagonistic, but rather enabling an unhealthy double standard (e.g. the idea that women are weak and need protecting).
Yet while most people can get behind the efforts to eradicate these—there’s something in the title “feminist” that precludes and even makes many cringe at the idea. There are surely a host of reasons this might be the case, but two in particular come to mind: radical feminists and abortion.
Because a few times over the last century we have seen feminism at its worse in the form of impractical and vengeful practitioners, we tend to be wary of their ideology. Too often when we think of feminism, we think foremost of Mike and Jane’s mom singing “Sister Suffragette” and marching out the door away from her children. And while this brand of feminism is suspect, it need not be our paradigm for all those battling for equality.
Our model of a feminist must be more nuanced, perhaps something more along the lines of the feminist giant that is Mary Poppins, herself, who is presented as a paragon of feminine strength and beauty, being both caring and firm—standing toe-to-toe with every male character in the movie.
Abortion is the other big issue. Most self-proclaimed feminists (I haven’t looked up any numbers to verify this) identify as pro-choice, often arguing that restrictions in these matters are unevenly directed at women. This issue is a deal-breaker for many, and understandably so. But, just as with radical feminism above, pro-choice is not locked in with feminism. An ideology does not have to be adopted wholesale, and not every prescriber is representative of the group.
I recently had a friend on Facebook post something that said the exact opposite of this—but I cannot emphasize enough how untrue it is that one must claim pro-choice sentiments (or hate men) in order to be a feminist. The definition of feminism is the only bar: equality of the sexes.
Now let’s turn to the practical stuff.
The first thing that anyone needs to do is to realize where they are and meditate on where they need to be. I think this spectrum of positions is a helpful tool for anyone’s consideration, and I want to note for anyone who takes the time to read it, that it is OK to recognize difference—that’s encouraged—we are not a unisexual creation. But it is not OK to bar, isolate, or marginalize on account of that difference.
But beyond self-reflection, we must take action. We must catch ourselves in our double-standards; we must eliminate “you [verb] like a girl” and why not reduce “mankind” over “human kind” while we’re at it. There are so many implicitly sexist things we do everyday that a reflective person can easily eliminate and progress past.
And because of phenomena like beneficial sexism, women are not immune from this—goodness, how am I just now getting to this? Simply because a woman says or does something that others call sexist does not make it not sexist. Women are culpable as well. And then there’s sexism against men, but that’s for another time.
These small and practical changes are why feminism exists. It has done so much good in the last century, but its efforts are not over and those opposing strictly on name have not decreased. Realizing what feminism is, what it is about, and how you can make small gestures like marching on Saturday morning is the beginning of a continuous effort to elevate all to an equal plane.