23 ways Feminists have made the world better for women
23 Ways Feminists Have Made the World Better for Women
"We're gathered to celebrate Women's History Month, but I don't celebrate Women's History Month," announced writer Mona Charen, one of the panelists at the Heritage Foundation's recent panel on feminism and happiness. "It doesn't interest me whether a person who happens to share my chromosomes sits in the Oval Office. It doesn't interest me how many women members of the Senate there are." No, Charen continued, one of the things that interests her the most about Women's History Month is how "feminism has done so much damage to happiness."
It was a bold statement, and one that set the tone for the conservative foundation's panel discussion among a group of conservative writers and academics addressing an audience of mostly male interns. During the meeting, the attendees waxed poetic about the failures of the "project" known as feminism, spending hours decrying the perceived failures of the women's movement in America.
But that's simply not true.
It may seem like a bizarrely obvious statement, but somewhere between earning women the right to vote, pushing through legislation opening up universities to female students and advancing the civil rights movement (to name just a very few examples), feminism has indeed made life much, much better (and as a result, happier) — not just for American women, but American men as well. Far removed from the stereotypical and inaccurate image of the bra-burning activist, feminists have proven time and time again that women's rights are human rights. And as the Declaration of Independence so elegantly points out, the ideals of life and liberty are intrinsically tied up with that third pursuit: happiness.
Yes, feminism has changed the world. And yes, it has made people happier. To argue otherwise, as the Heritage Foundation panelists attempted to do in Washington, is to show blatant disregard (or willful ignorance) for the historical record. It is also an argument that insults the legacies of centuries of badass feminists who have bravely fought, failed and ultimately prevailed in the ongoing struggle to empower the marginalized and elevate the disenfranchised. A comprehensive list of these achievements would be far too long, but here we've compiled a pocket edition, just in case you ever run across someone who honestly believes feminism has made the world an unhappier place.
1. They quietly propelled the civil rights movement.
Everyone knows about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but most Americans don't know about the other women involved in organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
In her book, At the Dark End of the Street, Danielle McGuire recounts the many women who copied and distributed fliers, effectively leading the boycott, not only to protest segregation but to fight back against sexual assault. That fight, against the ritualistic rape of black women by white men in the South, had begun generations before Parks, who is rarely granted credit for the breadth and depth of the feminist work she did.
The Equal Rights Amendment, first written by Alice Paul in 1923, read, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
Proposed as a constitutional amendment that would guarantee all women have equal rights under the U.S. Constitution, the ERA failed to be ratified in dramatic fashion in the late 1970s.
However, the fight to get the ERA passed signaled a monumental shift in American society and sparked a new debate about the role of women and how they should be treated, pushing many states to draft their own gender discrimination laws.
Anti-feminist activist Phyllis Schlafly recently argued that women don't need equal pay: "Another fact is the influence of hypergamy, which means that women typically choose a mate (husband or boyfriend) who earns more than she does. Men don't have the same preference for a higher-earning mate. ... Suppose the pay gap between men and women were magically eliminated. If that happened, simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate."
Thank goodness she's just a relic.
In reality, the women's movement has brought women out of the household and into the workplace. Women of color who were already working were joined by housewives in the labor force, which fundamentally changed the economy.
Changes catalyzed by feminism have closed the wage gap between men and women from 62 to 77 cents on the dollar, though there's still a long way to go. But feminism should be credited for changing the conversation around what types of work women can do and what they demand to be paid for it.
"Date rape" isn't something that feminists made up. And contrary to some terribly inaccurate statements made by conservatives, it was feminism that helped begin to remove some of the stigma surrounding sexual assault, giving survivors the language to label their sexual trauma.
The fact is, 1 in 5 women will experience an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. This is a problem of epidemic proportions, and we should all be talking about it, not sweeping it under the rug and blaming feminists for being hysterical.
Increasingly, young feminists are starting to taking active roles in the fight against violence, as well. The recent wave of activism on college campuses to end rape, as well as the Slutwalk movement, highlight some of the ways young women are working to protect their own bodies, while creating safe spaces to learn and thrive.
Online feminism is responsible for some of the movement's most high-profile recent victories. The backlash against the Komen foundation for pulling Planned Parenthood funding for political reasons, forcing the takedown of anti-choice billboards in downtown Manhattan, as well as the response to Rush Limbaugh's sexist attacks on Sandra Fluke, feminism is alive and well.
Feminist blogs are among the most popular on the web and stories about women and the issues that impact their lives are creating the space for important conversations about inequality. Further, online spaces have allowed for people living on the margins to find a proper audience, whether domestically or abroad, and this has opened discourse on intersectionality and transnational feminism.
They are the losers, those who make the religion hard and tough. They imperil themselves who enforce tough practices of Islam. They destroy themselves, those who are extremes.
——— Prophet Muhammad (s) as reported by Ibn Masud in Sahih Muslim.