“Aren’t we, like, so done here?” (2).
After the Women’s March, I saw a ton of comments on the internet from people who could not understand what “those” women were marching for. They wanted to know what the point of feminism even was anymore; ladies can, like, totally do stuff now – isn’t sexism over?
I would say sexism is over because women can now do more in the same way that racism is over because we had a black president.
Since a few of you guys mentioned seeing the same kind of comments, I decided to dedicate this blog post to trying to figure out this phenomenon of people thinking we no longer need feminism because “we’re already equal.”
I happened to already own a book on the subject by Susan Douglas called Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work Is Done.
Douglas argues that the media and pop culture have been factors in the perpetration of this idea that feminism’s work is finished. We see women on TV behaving and being treated a certain way and assume that what we are seeing is a reflection of real life – but there is a disparity between the depiction of women we’re seeing and what women’s lives are actually like.
For example, when our favorite TV character gets pregnant and has a baby, the baby is often off screen, “with a sitter.” Our favorite character pretty much goes on about her life and career as if motherhood doesn’t take up any of her time. We’re shown that it’s possible to have the exact same kind of life after a baby as you had before. Douglas thinks we internalize these kinds of images, and come to normalize the idea that a woman can be a mom without her career suffering or it really changing her life at all, but this is hardly reflection of real life.
Douglas also points out that women in pop culture (when not seen as simply sex objects *insert eye roll emoji here*) are often portrayed as high-power individuals.
“How do we square the persistence of female inequality with all those images of female power we have seen in the media – the hands-on-her-hips, don’t-even-think-about-messing-with-me Dr. Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy, or S. Epatha Merkerson as the take-no-prisoners Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on Law & Order, Agent Scully on The X-Files, Brenda Leigh Johnson as ‘the chief’ on The Closer, C. C. H. Pounder on The Shield, or even Geena Davis as the first female president in the short-lived series Commander in Chief?” (3).
Powerful women can be found all over in pop culture. In 2008 (two years before the book was published), we even saw a woman run for president and one run for vice president.
With images of high-power women everywhere, and the claim that even scantily-clad women are empowered through their sexuality instead of reduced to it, it becomes easy to see why some people would assume women have already achieved equality – they can do whatever they want!
But just as with TV moms, this presentation of women’s lives and their real lives do not line up.
In 1999, the top five jobs for women were “in order, secretaries, retail and personal sales workers, managers and administrators, elementary school teachers, and registered nurses,” and in 2007, still were “secretaries in first place, followed by registered nurses, elementary and middle school teachers, cashiers, and retail sales persons. Farther down the line? Maids, child care workers, office clerks, and hairdressers. Not a CEO or hedge fund manager in sight. And in the end, not a president or vice president either” (3).
Douglas says that “Under the guise of escapism and pleasure, we are getting images of imagined power that mask, and even erase, how much still remains to be done for girls and women” (6).
And much, indeed, still remains.
“In the United States, we have the flimsiest support network for mothers and children of any industrialized country, an estimated 1.9 million women are assaulted each year by a husband or boyfriend, and nearly 18 percent of women have been a victim of a completed or attempted rape. White women still make 75 cents to a man’s dollar, and it’s 62 cents for African American women and only 53 cents for Latina women” (20).
These statistics are from a book published in 2010, but you might try googling “Why I Need Feminism” to see just how many issues everyday women still face today.
So, there is plenty to march for still. And even if some of “those” women are privileged enough to not be affected by many of these issues, they still may want to stand up and march for those who aren’t as fortunate. Women supporting women, I think, is one of the ultimate goals of feminism today. As the quote goes,
“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” – Emma Lazarus
(You may have also seen Emma Lazarus’s words somewhere else…)
I’m sure the media’s depiction of women is just one factor that contributes to society’s idea that feminism’s work is done. I am thinking of expanding on this topic for my capstone project for this semester, so I’m very interested in what any of you guys might think also contributes to this idea.
Douglas, Susan J. Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work Is Done. New York: Times, 2010. Print.