Fifty years after Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique shocked the minds of America and the world, there is still much work to be done.
We as a global community need to ask some important questions of ourselves: Why is being labeled a “feminist” negative? What can we do to ensure that more and more people are committed to proper equality? How can we eliminate the animosity that people feel toward feminists and move toward a truly “equal” society? While we have the important formal issues such as equal pay, equal representation, and equal access, we need to also deal with more personal issues of changing the preconceived notions of “feminism.” Not only do we have to focus on certain issues affect women and men alike, but we also have to expand the conversation on feminism itself. So, what can we do to expand that conversation?
1. Let’s include men in the conversation
My understanding is that this has already started happening. In NYU’s chapter of the National Organization for Women, there are a wide variety of people from different backgrounds and sexual orientations who participate in our discussions. However, feminism is still viewed as a widely “women’s issues.” While that is indeed the reason it was formed — Charles Fourier coined the term in 1849 coming from the French word that means “the state of being a woman” — that does not mean that its issues are not applicable to other groups.
In one of the most important articles that I have read, men make the case for wanting to be allies of the feminist movement. In the article, they emphasize that not all men are monsters that use violence in their relationships. Rather, a great majority of men are people who have “remained silent” in the face of men who use violence in relationships. They admit that their silence in places where they dominate — government and law enforcement, for example — contributes to the problem. By recognizing the connection between feminism, becoming better men, and enjoying better lives, they take the first step to acknowledging one of the best ways to combat inequality: cooperation.
I would also like to make clear that being a feminist does not imply a hatred of men. Not all men are working against the betterment of women in society, and the sooner women realize, the sooner we will have allies in the male community. We should also realize that feminism can help men as well. It is important to note that men are also constrained by society’s thoughts and definitions of masculinity. Males can, according to New York writer Floyd Dell, “be free,” and feminism can make it possible.
2. A little repetitive, but let’s also include people of color, people of different financial backgrounds, and members of the LGBT community
Feminists have done a good job of isolating members of the LGBT community and those who identify as pansexual because of their emphasis on the gender binary. Despite what your personal beliefs, it is important to not necessarily accept the beliefs of others with regards to gender binary, but at the very least, understand them. If feminists can do this, we can bring in the perspective of other people that we don’t often hear from.
As a woman of color, I have experienced difficulty in relating to general feminism. In the past, feminism did not identify that different women have had different experiences. Some of us deal with immigration and assimilation problems, while others face racism and language barriers. As the United States has gotten more and more diverse, I feel that it is starting to become easier to speak of my experiences and having other people understand and relate to me.
However, there are still issues that we leave to the wayside: women who do not have the option of staying home due to financial constraints, immigrant men and women who suffer domestic violence and are without access, and sex workers who experience physical and financial abuse, among other groups. While there are some issues that occur among women regardless of skin color, women of color do experience a different, if not higher, form of discrimination. Again, hearing from these perspectives will greatly change the way people think about issues that affect everyone.
3. Take action to dispel stereotypes against feminists, members of the LGBTQ community, people of color, and men — people of all types, really
Of course, you’re entitled to your own opinions of different things. However, it is almost essential to realize the role that stereotypes play in creating negative images about certain groups. Not all men are wife-beaters, not all Asians look the same, not all feminists are lesbians, and not all poor people are people of color. There are certain religious stereotypes that are very harmful and greatly limit the different kinds of input we can have in the feminist conversation: we are very easily excluding Muslim women by judging them based on their culture and style of clothing.
We really have no right to judge other people. Everyone has different experiences; we can’t group people based on our limited knowledge of them.
These are all steps that I plan to take now and going forward as well. If all self-identified feminists can take the steps above, we can create a better society for all people.