There are many pieces of wisdom to be inherited from the conflicts fought by generations before us. We frame the world around us through a history laden with battles that helped achieve the very freedoms we so often take for granted: civil wars, world wars, holocausts, suffrage, civil rights, etc. Whole segments of our society had to fight for recognition, equal rights, and an escape from casual injustice. They offer guiding echoes from our past, which ensure we don’t stumble as a society once more.
But with every war, comes the eventual peace and agreement of new terms. The very real fight for feminism, as it manifested in the Western world, demanded actionable and specific goals: the right to vote, to be elected, to work, divorce, and own property. There are many inspiring female activists around the world today, fighting the oppressive and archaic theocratic regimes which seek to keep them shackled, veiled, and repressed as property to their husbands. Exposure to this hellscape of inequality in the developing world has caused an interesting schism in modern feminism, where many Western women feel an apex of accomplishment has been achieved, and have become divided on whether they even identify as a “feminist.”
The cultural debate about gender roles and feminist issues has taken odd turns in our modern times. Is Bella Swan (heroine of the Twilight saga) an inspiring figure to young women, or a disappointing setback to female characters measuring their self-worth via the men in their life? Are magazines which espouse female beauty empowering their readers or burdening them with body issues and insecurities? Is there still a battle to be fought over wage gaps, or has the marginal difference been accounted for with maternity leave and shorter career spans?
The echoes of feminism’s past conflicts have left modern women divided on which social issues remain important enough to view through the lens of gender, rather than generalized inequalities that apply to everyone. Is any injustice suffered by a women necessarily a woman’s issue? Does that approach not by default only exacerbate divisive notions of inequality? When Republicans strategize about how their party can appeal to all Latinos, are they being considerate to a particular demographic of society…or painting an incredibly diverse pool of cultures and nationalities with one generalized broad stroke? It might benefit us as a society, to recognize that no one doctrine applies to all women, just as there is none that applies to all men. True progress is made when we work towards what we have in common, rather than emphasize, demonize, or victimize our distinctions.
Some women want to celebrate femininity rather than feminism. Some women want empowerment, while others want tradition. Some want careers, some want families, some want to travel the world as wandering hippies. That diversity of desires and options is the very sign of successful progress we always wanted to achieve. The tide of public support against any injustice still suffered by women, guarantees that the majority will always fight against exposed inequalities, sexual harassment, or discrimination.
Though some social conflicts continue for generations, there are others that have clearly passed the threshold of their greatest victories. You’d be hard pressed, for instance, to find a pro-slavery plantation owner, an anti-suffrage male voter, or a loyal colonialist eager to be under the yoke of the British Empire. Unions once fought for decent wages, holidays, health care, and an end to child labor or terrible work conditions. Now they are more often seen as complacent protection rackets that hinder progress in the workplace. Instead of only championing a legacy of old conflicts, we should look to the future and recognize the issues we are about to collectively face: environmental decay, food shortages, technological class systems, wealth disparity, etc. Otherwise, we will continue to be broken into, and separated by, the labels and distinctions that diminish our sense of common humanity.
Thinking this way might inspire more women to see themselves as heroes, rather than victims of injustice. We rarely get to enjoy a story about an accomplished woman, that isn’t centered on a struggle of gender. Take Tesca Fitzgerald, for instance. At age 16, Tesca is currently on track to get her Ph.D. in artificial intelligence. At the age of 10, she was the lead programmer on a robotics team and was almost disqualified from a competition, because her solution was "too complex for a child to conceive." When faced with the limited simple language available in the competition's technology, she chose to write her own computing language to embed and execute orders within the deeper code. This is an unbelievable accomplishment for a child, and Tesca is undoubtedly headed for great things in the altogether male-dominated STEM field (Science Technology Engineering and Math).
Perhaps there will never be an "end" to feminism. As long as any woman is suffering some form of inequality or injustice in society, she will always be able to frame it as a gender issue, the same way connotations of racism, classism, nationalism, and political ideology will always be labels we smear onto our conflicts to address questions in our society regarding why some of us have more, and others have less.
But absolutism in any form bleeds easily into fanaticism, and social activists and media outlets will always be far too eager to simplify our complex issues into black and white camps. The recent Zimmerman trial is a perfect example of this. George Zimmerman was an over-eager idiot, who fancied himself an action hero and ignored multiple instructions by police to stay in his vehicle. Approaching what he suspected to be a trespasser, Zimmerman stalked his target in the darkness, and didn’t identify himself as a neighborhood watchman. Trayvon Martin reacted in the only way he knew how, when being advanced on at night by a perceived threat — he met pending violence with self-defensive violence, and lost his life in the fight. People were far too eager to jump on a bandwagon of racial outrage, because it suited their worldview. But if this story was about two men of the same ethnicity, it barely would have appeared in the papers. Zimmerman was an idiot, not necessarily a racist — and his acquittal does not necessarily speak to racial injustices permeating throughout our society.
Gender roles are constantly being reassessed and discussed in America. Is a long working career a preferred male responsibility? In our overpopulated world, can women live fulfilled and joyful lives eschewing traditional maternal roles? Can stay-at-home fathers be perfect substitutes for a nurturing mother? The more diverse stories we’re exposed to, the more we learn that anything is possible, and nothing is "standard." Individuals should pick the life path that suits them, and the people they want to be with. And as long as they don’t harm anyone else, a society that claims to champion freedom should do nothing other than get out of their way.
That is when we know we’ve achieved the goals of feminism or racial equality, not by eradicating the notion of gender and race — but by accepting any form in which they choose to exist.