What Feminism Means to Me

On Friday, I went and saw Passengers with four friends. (I know, I know, a lot of my blog posts have started with or dealt with movies in some ways. They provide a real-world example and an easy transition.) There is a scene where Jennifer Lawrence is incredibly irate and beating Chris Pratt. A few girls sitting in front of me started clapping. It sounded like I knew what they were thinking. “Yas girl! Show him who is boss! Down with the patriarchy!!” It may not have been exactly that, but there is a possibility they were thinking along the lines of the “feminism” of today. I put the word feminism in air quotes because a lot of the feminism of today is not feminism at all.

Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am all about equality, I am not misogynistic at all, and I call myself a feminist. However, I do not identify as a liberal or modern feminist. There is nothing wrong with that if you believe that way. I am not trying to call you out or offend anyone. Trust me, that is the LAST thing I want to do. I am trying to make clear what MY stance on this issue is.

Merriam-Webster defines feminism as, “1. the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes or 2. organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests”. Nowhere does it say “making women better than men” or “degrading men to raise women up”. No. If you do that, you are not a feminist in my opinion. You are a misandrist, which I think is just as bad as being a misogynist. I find it interesting that most people know what a misogynist is, but not as many know that a misandrist is the opposite.

Anyway, back to the movie. I have mentioned before that I do not stand for any sort of abuse, and that would definitely classify as abuse in my opinion. So while those girls were applauding, I was clenching my fists. While they were being entertained, I was being repulsed. To me, that was not an act of feminism.

To explain what feminism actually means to me, I need you as a reader to understand the history of feminism, specifically in the United States. Women have been calling for equality probably about as long as America has been a country (241 years this year). American history is filled with women doing something that they “should not be doing”. For example, one of my favorite stories of a woman doing something that she should not actually might be related to me. Basically long story short, Charlotte Parkhurst was sent to an orphanage after her mother died. However, she ran away at age 12 and dressed like a man. She even took upon a more masculine name (Charley). She (He) was taught to drive a coach. Then, in the height of the California Gold Rush in the late 1840s, Charley sailed from the East Coast of the United States to California (using the Isthmus of Panama as the Canal would not be built for another 60-70 years). Once in California, Charley made a living as a stagecoach driver. It was not until after her death that people realized she was actually a woman. Doctors said that she had even given birth at one point. How she managed to hide her gender all that time, I will never know, but a lot of sources claim that she was the first woman to vote in a Presidential election in California. However, it is not known if she did actually vote or not (also, one article says that other women voted before her because certain states granted women’s suffrage before the passing of the 19th Amendment, but she may have voted in the Presidential election of 1868, as she was registered. Also, the first state to pass that law, Wyoming, did not do so until 1869). I highly encourage you to look her up on your own to read about her. Some of the articles claim they do not know why she dressed as a man. Well, I’ll tell you why. It’s because as a woman, she would have had no rights, no freedom, and no way to live without a man.

I know that with the Civil Rights movement, a lot of focus was on how people were not treated the same because of the color of their skin. While that was definitely true, women were definitely treated as bad (if not worse) than slaves or even free black men, especially before and during the Civil War. I have read multiple stories where a slave owner’s wife would get jealous of a favored slave (usually a young female) because the slave would be treated better than the wife. Women were property or a trade agreement between families. Their sole purpose was to provide sexual pleasure for the husband and birth children. If a husband died, the wife would get a portion of the estate, but it was usually smaller than the oldest child’s portion. If the husband and wife divorced, the wife automatically received nothing and lost custody of the children. Wives would stay in an abusive relationship (and trust me there was countless) because while they were still married, they had an identity. To them, any identity (even if it was a husband’s) was better than no identity. When they were married, they actually had some freedom.

While there have always been pushes for equality in the United States, one of the biggest ones for the feminist movement happened in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York. At the convention there, the speakers were mainly women, along with those in attendance. With the closing of the convention, the main organizers (Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott) wrote a Declaration of Sentiments that was modeled after the Declaration of Independence. Every point made in the Declaration was agreed upon unanimously, except for one- the right to vote. In the end, however, that was kept and 100 people signed the document, including Frederick Douglass. Even before the Civil War broke out, women like Stanton and Mott were some of the loudest antislavery voices. Women everywhere called for abolitionism. The Civil War ended, and those of color were granted freedom to be citizens and to vote. When these women cried out in indignation, they were met with statements like “It’s not your time.” “We cannot have both blacks and women having the same freedom.” “Women don’t need to vote. That will only be doubling their husband’s opinion.” “Why do women need freedom?” I could go on and on.

So women bided their time, protesting even if there was no one to listen to them. However, certain states began to hear, and in 1869 in Wyoming, women were legally allowed to vote for the first time on their own ballot for any government position, just like men. Colorado followed suit in 1893, followed by Utah and Idaho in 1896. There was a small lull in states granting women’s suffrage in the early 1900s, but the second decade of the 20th century saw fifteen more states allowing this freedom before the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920. These states were (in order by year) Washington (1910), California (1911), Oregon, Arizona, Kansas (all 1912), Alaska territory, Illinois (1913), North Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, New York (1917 for all four), Michigan, South Dakota, Oklahoma (1918), and Indiana (whoop! (1919)). By 1920, those in power in Washington, D.C. realized that America was heading in this direction, and passed the 19th Amendment, which states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

So women were granted the right to vote. It took seventy-two years for the Seneca Falls Convention to take hold, but it happened. However, that still was not quite enough. Women had some rights at this point, but they had certain careers they could choose. A woman was expected to be a teacher, a nurse, or a “homemaker” (housewife/stay at home mom). They were never expected to hold certain careers that were deemed “too strong” for women to handle (factory working, construction, lawyering, doctoring, etc.). Any woman in a job that was “too difficult” for her was heavily discriminated against and mocked.

The Great Depression hit, and many women who had jobs lost them (men too, but we are not focusing on that. The Depression affected ALL Americans, regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity.) Then, what happened after the Great Depression? On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor, getting the United States involved in World War II. To fight a war, you need soldiers. Well, the men went off to war, and all of a sudden, a plethora of jobs opened up. With the men gone, who would fill these roles? So, women stepped up to answer this question. They worked in the factories and did what was needed to help those defending the nation. However, the war ended, and the men returned. So a majority of these companies that had employed women laid them off to hire men (oh, and did I mention that the owners of these companies were paying women less?) to resume their original positions. The women were having none of this.

In the 1950s-60s, women finally gave up. They started speaking and refused to be silenced. Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama in December 1, 1955. While this is pretty much common knowledge, what may not be common knowledge is WHERE she was sitting. See, a lot of people nowadays like to paint her as this defiant hero who refused to take crap from anyone. However, in all reality, she was sitting in the COLORED section of the bus. The “white” section happened to be full and a white male wanted a seat. She was obeying the social protocol and sitting with “her people”. She was sitting where she was supposed to be! In the movie Hidden Figures, there is a scene where a black woman is talking about being an engineer. The head of the project asks her, “If you were a white male, would you wish to be an engineer?” She responds with, “I wouldn’t have to. I’d already be one.” While many people would argue that she said that based on her color (Hidden Figures takes place in 1961), I argue based on gender as well. ANY woman wanting to do “a man’s job” in this time was heavily scoffed at, regardless of the pigmentation of their skin. Both examples can be used as an argument for integration as well. The thing is, sexism went hand-in-hand with things like racism or its predecessor, slavery. Those who spoke out, especially women, argued for both gender equality and integration (or abolition). The government finally listened and passed things like the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Since then, women’s paychecks have risen relative to men’s (but men usually do still make more. However, “gender” cannot be the excuse for this). The Supreme Court also ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that birth control was legal for MARRIED couples. The steps to improvement were there, but they were small.

The feminist movement picked up fire again in the 1990s. Because of the actions in the 60s especially, women were seeking much more independence. They had all the same rights as men, but a lot of women were still expected to marry and raise a family. However, with the changing of the culture brought about the feminism we see today.

Again, I want to reiterate that I do not think modern feminism is bad. Nevertheless, I do think that some people’s view of feminism is skewed. I write all of this history to come to my point: the history of women has kinda sucked. Now that we are getting to the point where women feel equal or even superior to men, I need to offer a warning. Having this power does NOT give women the right to treat men like women have been treated. What needs to happen instead is to put this gruesome past behind us and move forward as equals. I cannot stress this enough.Women are not superior to men. Men are not superior to women. We complement each other and are equals. As people, we all have our flaws, regardless of gender. We need each other to cover our flaws. What one woman lacks, another woman will have. What that woman lacks, a man will have. What that man lacks, another man will have, and so on. It is a cycle. As people, we balance each other out and work together to make improvements for ALL. However, at the moment, we still live in a society where women are treated as inferior (even if it is slight in some cases).

For my last point on this, I’m going to give a more modern example, soccer. The United States men’s team makes exceptionally more money than the women do. As if that weren’t cruel enough, the women have won THREE World Cups. How many have the men won? 0. Absolutely none. And yet the men STILL get paid more. Five of the women on the team filed a complaint in 2015 to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. U.S. Soccer responded with a statement that basically says, “The men draw more crowds, so they get paid more.” Umm what?! Where does that make any kind of sense? The men have more promotions and various opportunities (MLS, Barclay’s Premier League, Bundesliga, etc.) than the women could ever dream of having. If you look up online the number of professional women’s leagues versus men’s leagues around the world, the difference is outstanding. All of the women’s options fit on one article on Wikipedia. However, if you look up the same thing in men’s, all the different leagues based on regions open up to a whole new article! Men draw more crowds because they have more opportunities to draw more crowds! The women are better but do not have the same opportunities! In the United States alone, the MLS has 22 teams for men to be a part of. On the other hand, the women’s NWSL league have 10 teams. That is less than half. I love soccer, and Christmas of 2015 I asked for a WOMEN’S jersey. The difference is that the women have three stars above the U.S. logo to signify their World Cup victories. The men have none. I am proud to wear my women’s jersey because the women are better and deserved to be recognized as such.

As a feminist, I am not for tearing down men to where women used to be. I will NEVER advocate something like that. However, I will always advocate for women to be treated equally. Feminism is about bringing women up to the level that men are already at, NOT tearing down men to be lower than women. I am all for equality. Men don’t need to be torn down; women need to be brought up. That is where I stand on the situation of feminism. We are ALL EQUAL.

Back to the movie, those girls may not have even been thinking that, and I may have taken that entirely out of context. However, that was my thoughts on it, and I needed a way to segue into this conversation because, while it is definitely necessary, it is never easy.

 

 

Sources for research can be found here:

FeminismSeneca Falls ConventionWomen’s suffrage statisticsCharley ParkhurstRosa ParksU.S. soccer gapU.S. soccer historyWomen’s soccer leaguesMen’s soccer leagues

2 thoughts on “What Feminism Means to Me

  1. I would like to disagree in regards to the Passengers scene. I find it doubtful they were cheering her on for “Yas girl! Show him who is boss! Down with the patriarchy!!”, which is actually quite insulting to feminists. It is much more likely, at least to me, that they were applauding Lawrence’s character for her “payback,” if you will. Pratt’s character took away her life. She had a plan in place and an intent to go on this mission and someday return to Earth to tell about it. Pratt’s character took that from her, knowingly, and she had every right to be angry. Does that make abuse okay? No. But being irate and taking it out on someone is normal. Just because you interpreted their applause as a “modern feminist stance” does not mean it was. Sticking up for yourself and being angry is NOT synonymous with feminism, and should not be paralleled as such. To sum it up: You cannot tell what those women were truly thinking when they applauded,and Lawrence’s character had every right to be angry over Pratt’s ruining her life, and although I do not condone violence, it makes sense in regards to the film.

    Like

    • I want to apologize. I very well might have taken it out of context. That was never meant to be the goal. However, to me, it did sound like they were being that way. I mistyped, and I need to own up to that. I am so sorry if I offended you or anyone else by what I wrote. Anyone that knows me knows that is the last thing I ever want to do. I appreciate your honesty with me, because both criticisms and compliments help a writer grow. I never meant to upset anyone. I ask for your forgiveness, and I hope that this does not happen again. I have amended my words on this post, and I will try to do better.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s