Women’s rights are under attack! What do we do?
STAND UP, FIGHT BACK.
For those of you not in the know, J and I just got back from Washington, DC (Pentagon City, baby!) where we participated in the 2013 National Young Feminist Leadership Convention. We listened to panels made up of women from some of today’s most influential organizations for women’s rights and it was very humbling, eye-opening, and all-around phenomenal. (J actually sat next to Dolores Huerta on a bus stop bench and had a casual conversation with her about immigration reform.)
Left to right that’s Eleanor Smeal (Feminist Majority Foundation President,) Katherine Spillar (Ms. Magazine Executive Director,) Dolores Huerta (co-founder of United Farm Workers,) and Tina Tchen (Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls AND Chief of Staff for Michelle Obama.)
J attended workshops including “The Global Struggle for Women’s Health and Rights,” “Policies That Contribute to the Growing Prison Population,” and “Advancing Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” and I sat in on “Stand Up Fight Back! Standing In Solidarity with Women Workers,” “The Gendered Impact of Climate Change: Eco-Feminism,” and “Causes in Common: LGBT and Reproductive Rights.” We both attended the Town Hall meeting with Tina Tchen, which was also phenomenal and informative.
I could write pages and pages of what we learned (I took 14 pages of notes) but instead, I’ll just give a brief sampling of statistics we picked up:
- 2/3 of minimum wage workers in the US are women
- On average, white women make $.77, black women $.70, and Hispanic women $.61 for every $1.00 earned by a white male in the same position, even though the Equal Pay Act was passed 50 years ago
- 52% of all Walmart employees are women, but they make up only 15% of all manager positions, and, on average, female Walmart employees make $5,200/year less than their male counterparts
- 80% of all sweatshop workers are women
- The US constitutes 5% of the world’s population, but contains 25% of the world’s incarcerated persons, and when comparing equal crimes, women spend more time in prison than men.
- On college campuses, 1 in 4 women will experience sexual violence
- Due in part to lack of substantial sexual education, the US has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the world
- 220 million married women have unmet reproductive needs
Like I said, I could go on and on, but I thought that that was enough to remind us all that we do not yet live in an equal world, and that we are fighting for things that matter. Which brings me to my next point…
The other day, someone told me that he didn’t understand why J and I would attend this conference, likening feminism to an “obsession” and saying that our generation had already “achieved gender equality.” This absolutely broke my heart (and, to be honest, pissed me the hell off.) First, because that’s a view born out of ignorance, and second, because a white man felt like it was reasonable to tell me that, because he didn’t see it, there must not be any inequality. Sure, he’s never been a woman, a minority, or a homosexual, but if he doesn’t see any discrimination, it must not be there.
So, this is to clarify for anyone else who might hold those (misguided) views: feminism is not an obsession and our world is not equal. (Re-read those statistics above if you’re still unconvinced.)
So what is feminism? It’s a struggle for equality. We are fighting for an end to racism, sexism, systematic poverty, unfair labor practices, marriage inequality, climate change, ecological non-sustainability, and domestic violence. We are fighting because equality is equality: there is no halfway point, and there is no acceptable compromise. I am a feminist for myself, for my sisters, for Malala Yousufzai, for my Uncle Brad, for my future children, for Nirbhaya, for all of us, and I believe that feminism can change the world.
Am I obsessed? No. Am I passionate? You bet your ass. And I invite you to be passionate about feminism, too!
Armed with all these fairly depressing realities, it’s easy to feel bummed out about the state of the world rather than feeling empowered, but there is hope! Knowledge is power, remember? The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you are to stand up and fight back! And feminism? Well, that’s something worth fighting for. So, if you haven’t already, go out and educate yourself on an aspect of feminism you’ve never thought about before. What you learn might surprise you. (And feel free to leave me a comment on what you learned!)
Ellie Smeal and me, fighting the good fight