In honor of Gloria Steinem and her critical role in the second wave of Feminism, let’s chat about what Feminism really is. Unfortunately, some people see Feminists as bra-burning man haters, a reductive and inaccurate portrayal of the movement. So let’s move beyond this misconception and get down to the brass tacks on Feminism. Feminism is a complex and multifaceted movement, but it all boils down to the simple concept of gender equality. That’s right, Feminism is the struggle to eliminate the role of gender in determining a person’s worth.
The issue here isn’t who is stronger or smarter but what happens when we create those designations. When we say someone is smarter and stronger we are creating a system of hierarchy. While hierarchies may not seem overtly oppressive, in reality they create a system in which those at the top are valued more than those at the bottom. Contemporary society places more value on a man’s contribution than a woman’s, a hierarchical structure called patriarchy. Feminism is about creating a space where men and women have equal value because they are human beings and that isn’t possible within a patriarchy.
Patriarchy is what Feminism wants to eliminate. Eliminating a system that puts men first and women second is better for everyone. Among many things, the patriarchy establishes that men are more capable and therefore responsible for providing for and protecting less-capable women. It isn’t the moral responsibility of any man to protect and provide for women. Men and women should be able to fulfill any role they choose. Our society will not collapse if women’s contributions are valued the same as men’s and if men don’t feel like they need to provide for women.
Gloria Steinem dedicated her entire career to gender equality activism. Although women had won the right to vote decades earlier, in the 1960s and ’70s they still faced inequity in marriage, the workplace, and access to reproductive health, among many other forms of oppression. Steinem challenged these manifestations of the patriarchy by openly discussing abortion when it was considered taboo, calling for the end of female objectification, and helping launch Ms. Magazine for women. She also paved the way for legislation that protects women against domestic violence and provides women with more control over their reproductive health. We still have miles to go, and at 81 Steinem is still at the forefront of the Feminist movement.
Steinem’s work is still unfinished and it is up to groups like the YDWA Women’s Caucus and allies of every gender to fight for equality. We cannot tackle this important societal issue alone. Rather than arguing about what Feminism means or whether we should use the word, let’s focus on how we can work together to create a society based on equity. Let’s set the bar as Young Democrats of Washington.