By Emily Topper | firstname.lastname@example.org
“So are you like, a feminist or something?”
The question hangs in the air, opinions forming as I hesitate to answer. I can’t exactly pinpoint when feminism became a dirty word, but today’s connotation is fueled by misconceptions and lack of education. Society enjoys painting a certain picture of the feminist: a bra-burning, unshaven woman who prides herself on her hatred of men. Let’s clear one thing up right now: That is not a feminist.
The simple definition of a feminist is a person who, regardless of gender, believes that men and women should have equal rights.
A woman who hates men is known as a misandrist; a man who hates women is a misogynist. While some may consider this to be a technicality, it should be said that it is extremely ignorant to apply false traits to an entire group of people.
And that’s exactly what part of the problem is. So many people, men and women alike, know next to nothing about women’s history or the women’s movement. Feminism is given a bad name by those who are afraid to educate themselves and those who simply choose not to.
Feminism dates back to the 19th century, when the first women’s rights meeting was held in Seneca Falls, NY. Those in attendance were seeking equality on social, political and economic platforms. Since then, women have advanced by leaps and bounds – though sometimes that is brought into question.
In 2012, a female student at Steubenville High School in Steubenville, Ohio was raped by fellow students. The rape was recorded on multiple social media platforms and discussed over text messages. Two football players, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were convicted—yet they were tried as juveniles, and both only received the minimum sentences for their crime.
In the media coverage that surrounded the case, a CNN reporter claimed that it was “extremely difficult” to watch the sentencing of the boys who had “promising futures.” Despite the heinous act committed, the rapists were celebrated for their athleticism and the victim was put to shame both in the public eye and on social media. A girl who had been violated in so many ways was a disgrace to a community—and nation—that tells women that they are at fault for a crime against their own body.
Although this rape case was prominent in the media, it is not the first of its kind. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), only three out of every 100 rapists will serve time for the crime. In fact, one out of every six American women has been a victim of rape.
Still, the legitimacy of a rape case is always questioned. What was the victim wearing? Was she intoxicated? Was she leading on her attacker? Those questions are not the product of equality between men and women. Those questions come out of a society that has taught women to ask themselves, “Was it my fault? What did I do wrong?”
Women will never be treated as equals as long as the crimes against them continue to go unpunished. And sadly, rape is only a small part of that.
By now, everyone has at least heard about the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Under the ruling, companies with religious objections can choose against providing contraceptive coverage to employees—despite still covering male vasectomies and Viagra.
This case has become a battleground for women’s rights. Many who agree with the decision do not understand the dire effects that this can have on contraceptive coverage—despite the Supreme Court’s later statement that this ruling could apply to broader contraceptive coverage, and not just the ones that were discussed in the case’s decision.
This is inequality at its prime.
I don’t know what’s worse: The fact that companies under religious objections may now not have to cover any contraceptive costs, or that we’re still talking about this in 2014. Besides the fact that a company’s religious beliefs are now being forced on its female employees, religious “freedom” was achieved through denying thousands of women coverage that they may not be able to afford otherwise.
Birth control is expensive. It’s also none of your business.
Through all of this, it’s amazing that there are still women who have found the courage to share their stories, empower one another and fight for equality. Women today have role models like Texas senator Wendy Davis, who recently celebrated the anniversary of her senate filibuster last year and announced her candidacy for Governor of Texas. Women like Carol Bartz, the CEO of Yahoo, who taught women that they can have it all. Women like Nawal El Saadawi, the Egyptian doctor and novelist who fought for her gender despite government oppression.
These role models are creating a spark that is igniting women across the nation—women who will remain silent no more.
But these women aren’t enough. We need feminism. We need more than a total of 44 women in the United States Senate and more than 300 in the House of Representatives. We need more women to speak out about their injustices so that we can acknowledge the problem and fight for them. And most of all, we need to teach our nation that if we continue to degrade women by treating them as objects—and by judging them on their looks or outfits or interests—we are undermining the work that happened at that first women’s rights meeting in Seneca, NY.
When people say, “I think men and women should be treated equal and all, but…,” I get worried. But what? But you’re afraid of standing with people who are trying to create change? In that “but,” you say it all.
You say you see the problem, and that it’s not worth your time or energy. When you do that, you do a great disservice to women because you’re saying you’re afraid of equality.
You’re saying that putting men and women on the same playing field isn’t worth it because it might cause a stir, because it might put you in the crossfire, because it might cause some confrontations.
But it should do those things. It should do those things because it’s something that’s worth fighting for. It’s something that I will continue to fight for.
Does that answer your question?