I live in Southern California, the liberal stronghold of America. Our newspapers are liberal, our teachers are liberal, and our politicians are most definitely liberal.
So what happened to feminism?
Over the past year, my high school went through several discussions on feminism, in the classroom and during club meetings and on social media. At every single one, the only thing clear was the large number of young Americans who believe we’ve already reached gender equality. Yet it is many of those same young Americans who make me believe we haven’t.
During the 2016 election, I heard countless peers slander Hillary Clinton for her appearance, for her toughness, and for her age. I heard many complaints that feminists are too aggressive or petty. I heard many students openly say men are stronger than women and that equal pay in the workforce is not necessary. I heard laughter directed towards young activists fighting for equal rights. On social media, almost every YouTube video featuring a female celebrity is accompanied by a comment section focused exclusively on her appearance. Yet, male celebrities face hardly a fraction of the same objectification.
It’s not just the teenage generation that makes me nervous- our youngest seemed to be inheriting the same patterns. On an episode of the California based show “Jimmy Kimmel Live”, a 5 year old boy claimed that women are too weak to be president. Sure comedy may seem silly at times, and one episode isn’t the greatest sample size, but here it reveals an important aspect of our culture because kids generally repeat what they see around them from older siblings, parents, the media, and films. They regurgitate the lessons fed to them by society.
It’s important to understand that women have made great progress over the past 100 years from the right to vote to the right to work to the right to a college education. It’s important to be grateful for this progress and the brave people who made it happen. But it’s also important to understand that there is still progress to be made. Women are severely underrepresented in politics and among top level positions in business. Other professions typically associated with strength-such as surgery, directing, banking, and comedy-are strongly skewed towards men because of widespread, but faulty, expectations that men are emotionally stronger than women. Objectification runs rampant across the media and strict gender roles persist in the household. What separates our situation today from the past is that many young Americans, many of our most liberal and forward thinking Americans, do not believe these problems are important.
There is no quick political solution. Even if there was, history shows politics tends to move extremely slowly when it comes to women’s rights. Women were prevented from voting until 1920, nearly 150 years after independence, and denied access to contraceptives until 1956. Even the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have established equality under the law by gender, faced severe opposition and ultimately failed. Today’s politics spends much discussion over a potential “Equal Pay” bill, which would be a great first step but unfortunately faces staunch opposition from the Republicans who own Congress. However, what we can create and what we do need is cultural change. Throughout our history, cultural change has been the key to improving women’s rights and inspiring political action. During World War 1, after women were forced to assume more responsibilities because the men went overseas to fight, our culture began to see them as more than wives and mothers. Sure enough, just after World War 1, we passed the 19th amendment. The 1940s and 1950s were defined by powerful female figures in our culture, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosie the Riveter. Sure enough, these two decades were marked by another significant expansion in women’s rights.
Today, we need to accept that women still face obstacles and that we need to adjust our perspectives on gender roles as a society. The blame for these problems does not belong solely to men and the ability to fix them does not belong solely to women. There was strong opposition to the above mentioned Equal Rights Amendment by many women across the country and many men have contributed greatly to the women rights movement historically, ever since the early days in the Seneca Falls Convention. It’s clear that it will take effort from both genders to create lasting change. Change does not have to come from celebrities, activists, and politicians- it can come from men assuming more domestic responsibilities, teachers encouraging female students to pursue leadership positions, fathers telling sons it is okay to shed a tear, and mothers inspiring daughters to pursue their dreams.
As I mentioned earlier, Southern California is indeed the liberal stronghold of America-from our social values to our educational systems to our politics. But still, we aren’t much far ahead on this particular issue. At least, we aren’t as far ahead as many would like to believe. So yes, today is indeed the greatest time in our history to be a woman. But there’s no reason why tomorrow shouldn’t be even better.