Feminism Unraveled: Misconceptions and Global Female Experiences
Feminism Through the Ages: From Suffrage to Modern Misconceptions
It started with the first wave of feminism—which began in the 18th century—and followed into the 20th. The first wave focused mainly on women having the right to vote. Women all over the Western world protested, holding up signs and demanding the right to vote. Then came second-wave feminism. It started in the early 1960s and continued for nearly two decades. They fought for equal rights of all kinds—equal pay, equal rights, and to stop being patronized by men.
And there’s a reason we still need feminism today. Modern feminism is a topic of great controversy, even amongst American women. It’s a topic I believe in, a topic that I’m passionate about, a topic I feel strongly about.
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There’s been a lot of talk on whether or not feminism applies to modern society—or if we’re all just a bunch of crazed, violent psychopaths who refuse to let history rest. Unfortunately, the latter is more widely believed than any of us care to think about.
It’s not just businessmen, politicians, or certain employers that keep this dangerous cycle going. It’s women, too. Women who think that feminism is a broken concept—one that started out good, then went wrong within years and years in the making. Women who believe that modern feminism is simply about women who think they deserve special rights. Women who believe that men are inferior.
Beyond Misconceptions: The Global Struggles of Women and the Imperative of Feminism
That’s not to say there are no women who don’t believe these things. But this isn’t feminism—far from it. That’s called misogynism, and some people simply don’t know the difference.
We don’t just need feminism for our own country. Perhaps some women have grown too sensitive—trying to force their daughters to be gender neutral, trying to make their boys do “girly” things, thinking we shouldn’t have anything secluded for men and women, such as “men’s” deodorant, or “women’s” deodorant.
But really, that’s not what it’s about. Here in America, we as women may be doing the exact same job as men, but we often get paid 9% less. We’re still patronized and still get told we’re overly emotional. There’s even a “hot/crazy scale” that I learned about only just this year that men created. The “hotter” you are, the “crazier” you are. Now, who’s the crazy one?
But then there are other countries. The countries that really suffer. Way more than we do. Maybe more than we ever have or ever will.
Take into consideration, for example, female genital mutilation (otherwise known as FGM). This still happens in many countries, where it’s extremely common. Child marriages, which are still legal in many other countries, are extremely common. In certain religions, it’s believed that the woman “belongs” to her husband.
Of course, no one here in America believes in FGM or child marriages (at least, we can all hope not).
Casey Cavanagh, whose ultimate credibility is that she’s a very talented freelance writer, editor, and writer for The Huffington Post, held up some key points on the matter of both FGM and child marriages.
There are more than 120 countries that still practice both FGM and child marriages, both of which start from an insidiously young age. The psychological effects that one can obtain from FGM are just as dangerous, and even more so for children who were forced to marry from as early as six years old.
Feminism in America: Disentangling Myths from Realities
But here in America, one of the richest countries in the world, the “smartest,” the land of the free…feminism isn’t accepted—and never truly has been—not entirely. Because America’s feminism doesn’t involve child marriages, doesn’t involve FGM, or our husbands quite literally owning us, as in many other cultures.
However, it does involve other problems—our own problems that we have here in America. The pay gap, the sexism, the fact that women still hold less than 20% of the seats in Congress—the other 80% taken by old men who refuse to retire.
Cavanagh quotes Lena Dunham, the actress in the HBO TV show Girls. “Feminism isn’t a dirty word. It’s not like we’re a deranged group who think women should take over the planet, raise our young on our own, and eliminate men from the picture.” (qt. Dunham)
This isn’t widely known or agreed with, though. Many men and women believe otherwise—that modern feminism is a corrupted construct today amongst women.
Laura Furster, for example, whose ethos is that she’s a freelance writer for The Hamilton Spectator, is one of these women. While reading Furster’s article, I found that she’s what I’d consider to be a modern feminist—however, her view on today’s feminism is flawed. She believes the examples of the small percentage of women who are misogynists: the angry women who dislike men, the women who want them out of the picture entirely, the women who get angry at a man simply for opening the door for her. I’ve found that many women who disagree with modern society have only ever seen this side of feminism. The flawed feminism.
Challenging Feminist Narratives: From Misunderstandings to Commercialization
Laura hooked me into her article, and I found myself agreeing with a lot of what she said, despite the fact that the title of her article was “The Problem with Feminism.” I expected her article to annoy me, and I expected to be disappointed by her views. But Furster pleasantly surprised me. “Indeed, many women are under-compensated in the workplace, overworked in the home, and struggle to be recognized intellectually if they’re found to be sexually desirable.” (qt. Forster)
This is how I identify as a feminist. Faster appears to be a feminist whether she truly knows it or not, and although I don’t know all of her views, some of the things she mentions in her article are widely thought to be understood as a feminist view—both with modern feminism and first and second wave feminism alike.
It’s true feminism is thought of as a dirty word today. People such as Steve Bannon (the Chief Strategist in the White House) even related feminism with cancer. Yes, cancer.
As for those politicians who are feminists and some celebrities, there is one author who has quite an interesting view. Journalist Sarah McVeigh had an interview with Jessa Crispin, the author of a book called Why I’m Not A Feminist, who had a very interesting viewpoint. One in which I didn’t agree with. When asked what she thought about people like Obama or Beyoncé and their feminist standpoints, Crispin’s response troubled me.
“I think that they are trying to get something. Beyoncé—or Taylor Swift is also a good example—they don’t necessarily live their lives by any moral standard. They are capitalists trying to sell a product.” (qt. Crispin)
Intersecting Cultures: Porizkova’s Lens on American Feminism and the Ongoing Struggle for Respect
My favorite article I read when doing research on this topic was an article titled “America Made Me a Feminist” by writer and model Paulina Porizkova.
Porizkova is from Czechoslovakia, located in Central Europe, where feminist customs are quite different.
She grew up mainly in Sweden, then moved to Paris when she was 15 years old, then came to America when she fell in love with an American man.
She explains how, in the Czech Republic, the nicknames for women are bitter or practically fall into the spectrum of animal cruelty, such as old cow, kitten, and swine. In Sweden, women practically rule all. They have the best parental leave and the best company audits. In Paris, you’re mainly feared by the men—seen mainly as a manipulative seductress.
But Porizkova has her own opinion on what it’s like to be a woman in America: “The American woman is told she can do anything and then is knocked down the moment she proves it.” (qt. Porizkova)
So, why is this? Is it because women are seen as inferior? Is it because women have fought so hard for equal rights (for over 100 years, in fact) that we’re now seen as ridiculous, man-hating, violent morons? Is it because now not only men—but women, too—are starting to turn against their own gender because of the small percentage of women who have decided to be more misogynistic rather than feminists?
In conclusion, I’m not sure Americans will ever agree on much of anything—let alone feminism. I’m not sure women will ever be taken as seriously as men are—or if women will ever feel completely safe when walking to their cars at night time, or back to their apartment, or even just walking around in the mall. But I do know it will never change if even women ourselves are treating other women poorly. Insulting each other, putting each other down, calling each other names. And that’s only America’s plight.
- De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Vintage, 1989.
- Cott, Nancy F. The Grounding of Modern Feminism. Yale University Press, 1987.
- Faludi, Susan. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. Crown, 1991.
- Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, vol. 43, no. 6, 1991, pp. 1241-1299.
- Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.” Boundary 2, vol. 12, no. 3, 1984, pp. 333-358.
- Zeisler, Andi. We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. PublicAffairs, 2016.