Last week I went to a book club discussion. I’ve never really been a part of a book club before, but when I heard the book being discussed would be Gail Collins’ When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, I decided to go at the last minute; if it gave me the opportunity to hear opinions on a good book on the history of feminism, I had to go.
It was a relatively small gathering, apparently not accumulating as many readers as last month’s, but promising an interesting discussion nonetheless. In the end, there were five women (including myself) and three men, ranging in diversity from a grandmother who experienced much of what the book discussed to a man and a woman from other countries who could compare America’s feminist progress to their own country’s. Certainly, it was an eye-opening experience.
However, one of the topics that stuck the most with me was about today’s feminism. A number of the people present seemed to believe that the feminism movement was going just as strong as in the past and without receiving as much grief from non-feminists. Certainly, there are feminists continuing to strive for equality, but there’s also a large group trying stubbornly to soundly undermine them. I also have to wonder how we can compare our current feminist movement to that of the past when nowadays many people (including young women that could be the strength of a feminist movement) are under the impression that feminism isn’t even needed anymore. These people think we’re all fine and peachy now that women are able to wear pants without grief even though women are still being paid less than men.
There’s the classic, “I believe in equal rights for women, but I’m not a feminist” phrase that really says a lot about some people’s view of feminism. It’s been warped in many people’s minds from a cause for equality to something ugly and extreme. Thanks to people like Rush Limbaugh and his famous invention of the word “feminazi” and other media, people don’t want to associate themselves with feminism.
On Feminist Frequency, Anita Sarkeesian used the sixth part of her Tropes vs. Women series for Bitch Magazine to point out just how the media has tried to sabotage people’s opinions of feminism through the use of what she calls the “straw feminist” trope. Sarkeesian explains that the media not only presents viewers with feminist extremists in this trope (if you can even call these characters “feminist”), but also feeds them the idea that feminism isn’t needed anymore. This makes anyone who dares to call themselves a feminist look crazy and extreme. Similar issues are discussed in Susan J. Douglas’ book Enlightened Sexism: the seductive message that feminism’s work is done.
Hey. I’d love it if feminism wasn’t needed anymore, too, but if people are just going to believe it isn’t needed, they may as well try to believe away the recession as well. As long as companies like Hardee’s and JCPenny are still using scantily clad women as the bait to get customers, Hollywood is still shoving offense female stereotypes at viewers (while pointedly not presenting us with many realistic female characters), and the government won’t allow women to make their own health decisions, we still need feminism.