Neither dead nor defunct, feminism exists. Both the belief and the movement indicate women are equal to men. Belief lives strong. But the movement stagnates.
Feminism simply means the belief that the sexes are equal socially, politically, and economically. Generationally, I think we’ve come a long way, baby. Talk to Gen X, Gen Y, and the Echo Boomers and they fully believe men and women have equal rights. My mother and I span the Baby Boomer spectrum, and we both believe delivery on that truth is still a struggle.
Anecdotally, a personal mentor and colleague suggests the attitude today is that “of course” women should get paid the same as men, should be able to make their own choices, and should share (and do!) the joys of parenthood. Yet a lot is taken for granted. Both men and women appear to deem gender as a non-issue, simultaneously acknowledging that true equality doesn’t exist.
You see, attaining equality differs from having equal rights.
The feminism movement morphed from the first wave of suffragettes seeking political power through the right to vote to the second wave, a two-decade fight demarcating the personal is political (where I still stand), to the third wave, highlighting racial justice issues, gender differences, and definitions of equal.
A young woman I have mentored, who managed the pro-choice club on campus advocating for women’s voices in political action, felt today’s students acknowledge women’s rights, but they don’t become activists—those willing to recruit others, demonstrate solidarity in numbers, take action to correct inequalities in public policy. They’ll do it for racial justice or the environment, but not for women. Certainly few members identify as feminists, seeing the label as probably misandrist, militant, or at the least unfeminine.
The campus population does not understand the need for a feminist movement. One former student, when asked for input, said she feels equal to men, so she doesn’t need feminism. I would argue she still needs the feminist movement.
The inherent need for a feminist movement lies within the nuances of discrimination. Another colleague and I discussed how much students today seem to willingly accept, even embrace, cultural limitations on women: obsession with body shape and fashion, some preference for an “MRS. Degree” rather than intellect and ambition as primary paths to success. We both worry about the impact on female students and how little they take themselves seriously.
Women still don’t get equal pay—young women still don’t negotiate better pay than their male peers. Industries with high female employment such as teaching, nursing, and now public relations, are devalued by society. And glass ceilings still exist. Another former student felt she was equal, but a serial rapist’s kidnapping and murder of a young local woman made her question if feminism is weakened because women are still objectified, used, and discarded.
Students I meet are often oblivious to the public polices affecting their rights—policies on sexual orientation and behavior, bodily integrity, self-determination, even parenting. My work as a reproductive freedom fighter reinforces women’s economical, political, and social equality as being bound to reproductive freedom and feminism.
The majority of students and faculty agree. Just don’t call them feminists when they finally do something about the disparities of real equality.
Alison Gaulden is Vice President of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood in Mar Monte, as well as an adjunct professor of public relations for the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. This is excerpted from an article submitted to the University of Nevada Reno magazine, Artemisia.