Monday, February 22, 2010

Feministing writer takes to the WaPo op-eds to declare equality an illusion--what do you think?

The founder of feministing, Jessica Valenti, writes in the Washington Post that women are deluding ourselves into thinking we have more equality than we do.  She writes:
We're suffering under the mass delusion that women in America have achieved equality. ...We're basking in a "girl power" moment that doesn't exist -- it's a mirage of equality that we've been duped into believing is the real thing.
Because despite the indisputable gains over the years, women are still being raped, trafficked, violated and discriminated against -- not just in the rest of the world, but here in the United States. And though feminists continue to fight gender injustices, most people seem to think that outside of a few lingering battles, the work of the women's movement is done.

Valenti mainly focuses on violence against women, on the streets, in households, and in the military.  She also discusses the insidious viewpoint that women should be happy to be making three-quarters a man's salary, since it allows us to have "personal fulfillment."  I would go one step further than Valenti in some places:  Not only have we stopped making progress, but there are some areas in which we're sliding backwards.  As she points out:
The distressing statistics don't stop with violence: Women hold 17 percent of the seats in Congress; abortion is legal, but more than 85 percent of counties in the United States have no provider; women work outside the home, but they make about 76 cents to a man's dollar and make up the majority of Americans living in poverty.
The problem with these statistics is not just the distressing proportions, but that these are areas where women have largely given up the battleground.  We still consider violence and sexual assault to be important fronts for progress, but it seems to me that in recent years, women have backed off equal pay, political representation, and privacy as personal agendas.  In the face of our indisputably growing equality, we've become complacent about fighting for it:
We act as if the hatred directed at women is something that can be dealt with by a stern talking to, as if the misogyny embedded in our culture is an unruly child rather than systematic oppression. Yes, women today fare better than our foremothers. But the benchmarks so often cited -- the right to vote, working outside the home, laws that make domestic violence illegal -- don't change the reality of women's lives. They don't prevent 1 million women from being raped, female troops from being assaulted or the continued legal discrimination against gay and transgender people. And seriously, are American women really supposed to be satisfied with the most basic rights of representation? Thrilled that our country has deigned to consider us fully human?
I'd love to know what you think about this article.  I find many of her points compelling, but I would add two elements.  One: There's nothing wrong with celebrating how far we've come, as long as we keep an eye on the horizon.  Two: There are some areas, such as family planning access and salary equality, where women have a real danger of sliding backwards if the new generation doesn't act.  What do you think?


  1. Coca Colo, great post. We absolutely should celebrate our success in moving past a time when a man could legally rape his wife. But Valenti got it right saying we still face "an epidemic of sexism." Female's are still judged much more harshly based on their outward appearances, which is irrelevant in a person's ability to do their job. And we still are on the receiving end of the lion's share of gender-based violence.

    I also liked her swipe at the Justice Department. In the quest for empowerment, we have slid backwards in our demand for respect in our quest for our sexual freedom. In searching for liberation, we have allowed it to become more socially acceptable for men to ‘guilt’ us into giving in. We need to stand firm and remind all women that the pressure encroaches on consent. These decisions need to be made on our terms as well.

  2. Two things from me:

    First: Of course she would raise the point that current progress is an illusion. Just remember how this woman pays the bills :) I think it would be grand to instead celebrate where we've gotten to as a society by comparison to even 50 years ago, let alone 150 years ago.

    Yet, of course, to also be ever mindful of continued progress. At least think positively about this previous progress though so we can continue on, men and women both, with a bounce in our respective steps towards mutual equality.

    Second: I disapprove of, and will always disapprove of so long as it persists, the implied hostility towards men she presents. A vast majority of men fail to connect to the honesty and rationality of feminism for this reason, when in fact it is a cause that fights for them as well.

    Honestly, the continued oppression comes from an ancestral cultural bias, and a lack of feeling like one person can make a difference. Women cannot win the fight alone, everyone in society has to change their tune.

    Articles like Jessica Valenti's were necessary 40 years ago. Today they simply draw lines and suggest there is a mystical force that holds women down, with the implication that this force is of course, men. "Thrilled that our country has deigned to consider us fully human?" This line doesn't say it is men, but whom else are we to assume she is railing against? Most men mean well for the most part, and we want to help but feel segregated by the implication that we are the problem.

  3. I was personally glad to see this editorial. I agree that Valenti sometimes strikes a very strident tone, and that this is a negative piece, but I still think it is a very useful contribution to a national conversation about sexism.

    The use of the passive voice (...being raped...being assaulted) may put a lot of male readers on the defensive, and that is fair. It may sound to some like she is calling all men rapists. However, a reader who gives her the benefit of the doubt will realize this is of course not what she is saying. And the point remains that some men do rape women, and that this is a sexist violent crime.

    My main complaint with this article is that it is so wide ranging. Painting sexual assault, underrepresentation in Congress, reproductive rights, and wage disparity together in a brief editorial suggests a clear relationship among the problems that I do not think exists. Sure, feminism addresses all of these issues, but the causes of each are distinct and should be addressed separately.

  4. Another potentially provocative point, I disagree with Anonymous's point that feminism is a cause that fights for men as well. I think feminism is about women, and that that is okay, in the same way it is okay that the NRA is about gun rights and not taxes, and that PFLAG is about gay rights and not animal rights. All may be valuable causes pursued separately.


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