The Sexual Resignation
I’m a feminist. I shop at Sephora, and I like men. Are these contradictions? Definitely not, but feminism has gotten a bad rap in recent years and become synonymous with radicalism. The idea that feminist beliefs exist outside the mainstream should be as outdated as the silly stereotypes. Feminism is a movement that promotes the social and political equality of men and women. That sounds pretty reasonable, right? It is not about women burning their bras or hating men. It’s about examining ourselves and our culture with a critical eye and working against the cultural currents that oppress women.
Unfortunately, many of the issues that engendered the women’s movement of the 1970’s are very much alive today. The statistics regarding the disparity between women and men’s wages comes to mind.
“Behind the Pay Gap, the American Association of University Women’s Educational Foundation, found that just one year after college graduation, women earn only 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Ten years after graduation, women fall further behind, earning only 69 percent of what men earn. Even after controlling for hours, occupation, parenthood, and other factors known to affect earnings, the research indicates that one-quarter of the pay gap remains unexplained and is likely due to sex discrimination. Over time, the unexplained portion of the pay gap grows.”(http://www.pay-equity.org/info.html)
But it’s not just about money, and it doesn’t just affect women. Fixed gender roles contribute to a climate where women and men are supposed to act in certain ways. This oppresses both sexes and contributes to a multitude of interpersonal problems. It also fosters a larger cultural climate that frequently turns a blind eye to the perpetration of sexual harassment and even sexual assault.
I’m afraid that the generally negative portrayal of feminism has made it less appealing to the young adults of today. The college students that I see in my clinical work frequently resist examining the sexist attitudes that prevent them from being fully themselves. Female students routinely tell me that they don’t want to appear too smart in class because it may “scare off the boys.” I’m worried for the future if young women, out of fear, resign themselves to narrow definitions of femininity. After all, it is 2009 not 1950!
I urge people to educate themselves about the true meaning of feminism and spread the word to the young adults in their lives. Together we can work toward positive changes that will benefit both men and women. This doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. Reflect on your own beliefs about gender roles. Awareness is always the first step toward change.