Feminism for Everybody

Mar 032005
Authors: Meg Burd

Turn on the radio or the television today and you'll often hear various pundits insulting feminism; couching it as "radical" or suggesting it serves only to oppress the male gender.

These ideas (in one form or another) have unfortunately filtered down to some in the broader population, confusing the idea of what it means to be "feminist." Indeed, even some people, who today enjoy many of things feminists of the past struggled to achieve for society, are ready to decry feminism as "dead," suggesting that men and women are already equal in today's world.

"The idea that somehow we're past needing feminism or that we are all on an equal playing field is wrong," said Kathy Plate, an anthropology graduate student who often works with the Campus Women's Alliance. "People should be willing to educate themselves about the inequalities that exist in our society so that they can be aware of inequality, and how they can use actions in their daily lives to stop the continuation of oppression."

Indeed, as we take time Tuesday for International Women's Day to consider the situation, even a quick look at issues faced by women around the world can easily demonstrate that more needs to be done and that feminism is still an important factor.

As the United Nations said in a recent press release, "Women have gained ground in the struggle for equality with men over the past 10 years, but serious challenges remain." At the opening session of the meeting for the Commission on the Status of Women, representatives from various countries discussed many of the problems that are still strongly affecting women around the globe, and how such issues are perpetuated both by discriminatory systems as well as serve to create more discrimination.

"Gender inequality is deeply entrenched in policies, legislation, attitudes, tradition and societal institutions," said Noeleen Heyzer, the executive director of the United Nation's Development Fund for Women, in a UN press release. "The challenges facing us, therefore, are formidable."

At the conference, issues such as domestic and societal violence against women, illegal trafficking of women and young girls, lack of education for females, barriers to political and economic empowerment, workplace discrimination, and HIV/AIDS were all presented as serious issues that severely impact women of the world today.

Violence against women, Secretary-General Kofi Annan once commented, is one of the most persistent human rights violations to occur globally, and one that is long from eliminated.

In a report on violence against women, Amnesty International found that "In the United States a woman is raped every 6 minutes; a woman is battered every 15 seconds. In North Africa, 6,000 women are genitally mutilated each day. This year, more than 15,000 women will be sold into sexual slavery in China. Two hundred women in Bangladesh will be horribly disfigured when their spurned husbands or suitors burn them with acid. More than 7,000 women in India will be murdered by their families and in-laws in disputes over dowries."

Such violent acts against women are often ignored, since such violence is "rooted in a global culture of discrimination, which denies women equal rights with men and which legitimizes the appropriation of women's bodies for individual gratification or political ends," the Amnesty report "Broken Bodies, Shattered Minds" continues. As Glenda Simms of the Bureau of Women's Affairs of Jamaica noted at the United Nation's conference, such violence needs to be addressed at the root cause: Identifying and attempting to proactively address these root causes is what feminism is all about.

Just a quick look at one issue facing women globally is that feminism should not be seen as something that is past us or a fringe idea. "Being a feminist is not a radical idea, but it is about more than simply thinking that women and men should be equal," Plate stresses. Being proactive and taking steps to end discrimination and systemic inequality are essential.

This being said, such ideas of equality and an end to global problems are something that everyone should address. As Plate said, the idea that men can be involved in feminism is often seen as radical, "which it should not be," she stresses. As a well-known writer bell hooks suggests: "Simply put feminism is a movement to end sexism. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy."

As we celebrate International Women's Day, we should all take a moment to remember that inequality has not ended in our world, and for that reason, feminism is still important for everyone. Feminism is something for everyone committed to seeing an end to discrimination against, violence to and oppression of women around the world. Taking up this mantle, we can, as bell hooks suggests, "share the simple yet powerful message that feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression. Let's start there. Let the movement begin again."

Meg Burd is a graduate anthropology student. Her column runs every Friday in the Collegian.

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