Considering that gender equality still doesn't exist, why isn't the women's movement more visible and why aren't more young people identifying as feminists? Are all the women out there OK with the status quo?
I have read and heard all sorts of things about being in a supposedly post-feminist society and that women of my generation shy away from identifying as feminists. I've also talked to plenty of women who don't really know whether we need a women's movement and whether one still exists or not. A Huffington Post survey completed in April came up with only 20 percent of Americans as identifying as feminist.
Certainly, feminism is a controversial word that can conjure strong emotion, opinion and, in many cases, negative and uninformed stereotypes, which may well account for some young people steering clear of the label.
The existence of stereotypes and narrow ideas of what feminism has done for society is unfortunate. In the United States, feminists have worked to achieve so many positive advances such as suffrage for women, the illegality of marital rape and improved reproductive care for women. Included among the most obvious goals remaining for women to achieve equality are pay equity, universal paid maternity leave and stopping the objectification of women.
We are undoubtedly not in a post-feminist society. The work needed to achieve gender equality in our society is unfathomable. Much of what feminists are doing right now does not make it into mainstream news as much as it should and this decreases the visibility of feminist work.
Regardless of whether women of my generation do or do not identify as feminist, the point is that my generation desperately needs feminism. More and more of us are earning advanced degrees and working hard to develop careers that suit and fulfill us. Women of my generation may have a rude awakening should they decide to have children. Taking time out for childbirth without laws guaranteeing them leave and a return to their jobs could bring their careers to a halt. Those years of hard work may not count for as much as they imagined.
The work of building a society that better suits women has only just begun in the United States. We are still the only industrialized country that does not require paid maternity leave.
I understand my generation's reluctance to identify as feminist. I first encountered feminism as an undergraduate in a philosophy class when I was assigned an essay on the topic. I dismissed feminism as something "not needed anymore." At the time, I had no idea of the breadth of feminism. I also didn't realize that I had in fact benefited from it outside of class in the form of enjoying such basic rights as accurate sex education and opportunities for self-development.
Up until that point, I had heard from a high school guidance counselor that "the world was in the palm of my hand." I was convinced women could now do whatever they wanted. Needless to say, as an undergraduate I was naive and had no idea what lay ahead of me. I never forgot the feminist theory I read in that particular philosophy class, and when things get to a point where I really need it, feminism is there for me.
Although much of the information I know about the status of women in this country and globally is depressing, knowledge is still power and I am a happier and more confident person because of my feminist education.
Feminism should not be a controversial word. My generation needs to claim it for itself and decide what it means to us. The women's movement is alive; it is just slightly fractured because empowerment means so many different things to different women. Reclaiming the term feminism is one step toward creating a foundational level of solidarity and a stronger women's movement.
Lauren Pizzoferrato, 28, of Farmington completed her master's degreee in women's studies at Southern Connecticut State University last year.
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