Get Smart about feminism

by DGO Web Administrator

It ain’t about how stupid and useless men are. Let Sarah Roberts-Cady, FLC professor of philosophy and gender studies, tell you about how inequality affects us all, whether we like it or not.

Feminism means many things to many people. Give us a general definition.What feminists have in common is an interest in ending sexism. What they disagree about is the source of the problem, as well as the solution. For example, mainstream liberal feminists often frame the problem as one of unequal rights and the solution as achieving equal rights: Equal rights to vote, as well as equality in marital and property rights. Today’s mainstream liberal feminists tend to focus on reproductive rights and equal pay. In contrast, other feminists worry that achieving equal rights and protections under the law alone will not really solve anything because it doesn’t get to the heart of the problem. The problem, according to these other feminists, is gender socialization, which restricts our view of ourselves as well as other people. For example, although it is illegal to pay women less than men for the same job, data shows it is still happening systematically all over the United States. So what’s the problem? The problem is that men’s and women’s job choices, employer’s hiring and promotion choices and choices about how to balance work and family are all deeply influenced by how we conceive of gender roles. Until we challenge the social construction of gender itself, we will continue to see men and women inequality in social and economic standing.

Emma Watson gave a speech to the UN arguing the gender equality affects men. True? Ultimately, the process of trying to get equality and overcome sexism is going to be beneficial to both men, women and people who don’t fit neatly into rigid gender identities. It’s nonsense to set it up as a men vs. women problem. Maybe that’s part of the reputation problem – it seems like feminism is just an attack on men. I don’t know any educated feminist who views it that way, though. There are ways in which men are advantaged by sexism, but far more than the benefits are the losses to men.

How so?There’s really interesting work showing how we duplicate our gender norms when we raise our children. Even parents who are really committed to equality end up accidentally parenting their boys and girls differently. One of the ways we do that to boys is that we tend to send them the message that they need to not be emotional, or at least that they can’t be sad. Anger is an acceptable emotion for little boys but sadness is not. We say, “Buck up! Be a man!” We’re telling them that they can’t express their sadness, and that if they do, they’re not being manly: “Quit crying.” “Be tough.” “Pick yourself up.” In that way, we limit boys from expressing the full range of healthy human emotion. You do that long enough and you get adult males who are stifling a huge segment of their emotional life because they don’t think it’s acceptable to express that.

What compelled you to study gender and women’s studies?I didn’t start out a feminist. I was raised in a pretty conservative family that had a really narrow view of feminism as outdated or opposed to humanism. But through my college education, I slowly became exposed to more and more data that said that the situation is kinda bad, [both] in the United States and definitely worse worldwide when you look at women’s access to education and jobs, poverty levels. It struck me as extraordinarily important to understand the causes of that problem and to think about and advocate for change.

What might the first steps to a solution be?Educating people about the problem is first. A huge amount of progress can be made by showing people data about the ways in which people are suffering, are limited and lacking opportunity because of their gender. I don’t have the answers, but as a teacher, when I give students eight different theories to the question, I’m giving them the critical thinking tools to puzzle over the solution and that’s getting us halfway there – just having people aware of the problem and thinking about the diverse ways to solve it is a huge step in the right direction. Being more self-aware about the ways that women still lack rights that men have, and the ways that our gender norms are impacting us. These things are healthy. They’re good steps.

What about women in leadership and government?A lot of our stereotypes about what it takes to be a good leader are identical to our stereotypes about males. If a woman walks into that arena, she’s in a quandary. To the extent that she fits the stereotypes of leadership, she’s failing in her femininity. But to the extent that she is feminine, she’s failing to be a leader. When you look at women’s representation in government, it’s dismal. In Congress, women make up about 20 percent. They’re 50 percent of the population. Why are we so underrepresented? Same for state legislators, where women are massively underrepresented. The number of women governors? Pathetic! The U.S. is ranked 74th in the world for women being represented in government, and we ought to be asking why this is the case.

What might you say to a person who bristles at the term feminist?Feminists are concerned that all human beings are treated with respect. They’re interested in exploring the ways in which our gender and gender assumptions create an impediment to our being respected. I would think that almost any human being would be interested in giving equal respect to other human beings and to eliminating those disadvantages so that everyone has a quality of opportunity.

Cyle Talley is out of jokes at the minute. If there’s something you’d like to GET SMART about, email him at: [email protected]


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