Monday, June 28, 2010

Should men and women be treated equally?

"Turns Out You Gals Are Useful After All!" *shakes head*
The question “should women be treated differently than men?” has unnerved people for centuries, but it’s become especially prominent since the women’s rights movement of the 1960’s when women proved (at least on a more public scale) that hey, we’re people too. But in order to analyze such a broad question we have to break it down, because in its natural state it could be interpreted (or misinterpreted) a thousand different ways. For the sake of my argument, I’m going to assume the question states: “should women be treated differently, given unequal opportunities, and/or succumb to gender roles strictly because they are female?” And to that my answer is heck no.

People have always had the uncanny ability to discriminate against each other. Our foremothers and forefathers were guilty of it just as we’re guilty of it today, even if we don’t like to admit it, or like to pretend that we’re all upstanding citizens. But when you get an eclectic group of people together a hierarchy is almost always going to form, and usually for the most ridiculous reasons. After Africans were imported to North America to be used on cotton plantations and for other drudge-labor, white folks got it in their heads that these “barbarians” were inferior intellectually, morally, and spiritually. The same thing happened with the influx of people from Asia during the mid-1800’s; obviously because they looked different they were bound to cause trouble, rape our daughters, and be useless for anything other than getting out mustard stains at the local Laundromat (please note the sarcastic inflection of my voice). Adolf Hitler is another fine example of someone who had a seriously skewed perception of life’s pecking order; he believed that Jewish people were to blame for everything from economic troubles to Germany’s defeat in World War I. All of these examples were horrible shadows in our past - the types of things that, every once in a while, make me ashamed to be an American - but we can’t forget that sexism, one of the oldest forms of discrimination, is still alive and kicking.

In the beginning, when population densities were low and people spent most of their time hunting and gathering just to survive, there was general equality between the sexes because everybody played an important role in society. If men stopped hunting, everybody would starve. Likewise, if women didn’t forage for berries and other vegetation people would still be in trouble, because finding enough meat was never a sure thing. It wasn’t until the advent of sedentary agriculture that people were “freed up” from their responsibilities and left to pursue other fields. But when men and women inevitably filtered into different roles - men busying themselves crafting weapons, hunting, and going to war; women with tending fields and taking care of children - a clear pecking order was in the works. And despite the fact that more than 99 percent of male and female genetic coding is exactly the same (Brizendine), women are still feeling the repercussions of that ancient hierarchy, haunted by the term coined by Simone de Beauvoir nearly four decades ago: “the second sex.”

One of the most frustrating parts of being a woman is being talked about - or rather, defined - by our gender. As a sixteen-year-old high school girl I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people (mainly guys) saying “girls are all prissy, high maintenance, emotional, and gold-diggers.” Since when does the fact that I have “unmentionables” determine what kind of person I am, whether I’m strong or unstable, intelligent or ditzy? Frankly, it’s insulting. And it’s no better than assuming that all African Americans steal things, that all Asian people are bad drivers, or that all guys want only “one thing.” You cannot take a group of people (and mind you, there are roughly 3 zillion women in the world) and pin specific traits on them. It doesn’t work that way. And assuming that a sixteen-year-old boy has been lucky enough to meet even 0.00001% of the world’s female population, who is he to judge what trait’s all women have or not have?

The expectations for women in our society are pretty much set in stone. As women, we are expected to be pretty, delicate, soft, and cooperative. We’re not usually expected to speak our minds; it’s much more convenient if we’re seen but not heard. We’re taught from a young age that girlhood revolves around shopping, clothes (Target was recently blasted for selling padded bras meant for six-year-olds), makeup, and boys, and that our talents are much better spent in nurturing others than in scientific or technical fields that might take us away from our domestic duties. Marya Mannes may have said it best: “Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, a good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-dressed, well-groomed, and unaggressive.” In short, there is so much pressure on girls to fit into this Barbie-like mold of what it means “to be a woman,” that it can be incredibly damaging to our self-esteem and peace of mind.

One of the most poignant aspects of our so-called “womanhood” is how much of our net worth is derived from how we look. There’s a two-to-one ratio of depression in women compared to men, but these trends don’t surface until girls reach early adolescence (Brizendine) when pressures to be “hot,” “sexy,” “desirable,” and maybe even “easy” reach their peak. During this tender age, if a girl is a tomboy, has no desire to talk about boys, would rather boldly argue her points than sit passively, or in any way goes against the “norms” for girls her age, she may have a really hard time fitting in with her peers.

But this isn’t just a women’s issue, this affects men as well. Think about it: with pressures to date, get good grades, carve out a reputation, and do otherwise unsavory activities, adolescence is tough enough. But when people don’t fit the “mold” that society has deemed appropriate for them (a role that’s existed since the dawn of time), that can be devastating. For example, do you honestly see a boy who would rather knit than play football getting a whole lot of respect from his peers? Of course not, because boys are supposed to be macho, tough-as-nails, adrenaline-pumping machines, not spineless, flower-sniffing twinkle toes . . . Do you get my point? These stereotypes are killing us. And if men and women are treated differently (i.e. unequally) based solely on their genders, this only reinforces gender roles which are damaging to all parties involved.

A sad reality for women today is that even if they encompass all the (wonderful) qualities associated with being a woman - empathy, compassion, helpfulness - these qualities are grossly devalued in our society. In fact, today’s biggest insults are ones that attack people for their (stereotypical) feminine qualities. “You’re a wuss.” “Be a man.” “Boys don’t cry.” “You throw like a girl.” When the biggest insult for a boy is to be called a girl, and the biggest insult for a GIRL is to be called a girl . . . Well, that’s when we know things have gone too far and we’ve got a problem on our hands. I’m talking a global-warming-sized problem. An economic-deficit-sized problem. A mind-blowingly HUGE problem because half of the world’s population is being attacked for something they can’t control and shouldn’t be ashamed of!

But through careful societal manipulation and advertising we’re lead to believe that aggression, boldness, physical strength, and dominance (stereotypical male qualities) beat out honesty, cautiousness, and mediation (stereotypical female qualities) every time. If we continue to let it be okay to treat women differently on the bases that we were born with a vagina - and don’t deserve every single right that men have - the gap between traits that are considered positive (male) and traits that are considered negative (female) will continue to grow, and everybody will be at a great disadvantage.

One gross misdemeanor that would make any feminist (including myself) cringe is when common courtesy is mistaken for “being a gentleman.” Boys my age complain that (all) girls expect them to hold doors open for them, pull out their chairs, and fork out their wallets every time the bill comes around. I’ll save my you-can’t-categorize-all-women-like-that speech for another day, but it’s unfortunate that “common courtesy” is all too often confused with “a man’s duty.” Don’t hold a door open for me because I’m a fragile woman who needs to be tended and cared for, hold it open for me because I’m a person, and it’s the polite thing to do. Just like I’m going to hold the door open for the next person, regardless of whether they’re a man or a woman.

Up until now, we’ve discussed strictly emotional aspects of sexism: how boys and girls feel when they’re typecast, how infuriating it is for a woman - a woman with unique thoughts, feelings, and ambitions - to be stereotyped because of her gender, and how devastating it is to be told the things you can and cannot do, all because of the parts you were born with. For some of us, the fact that there are people suffering because of gender stereotyping is reason enough to consider sexism a hot-button issue. But for others, all that “mushy stuff” isn’t good enough. These people (usually the same ones who think all feminists are hairy man-haters) want tangible proof, and unless we can show them exactly when, where, and how women are stereotyped and degraded they’ll never be satisfied. Well, I will be happy to enlighten them.

According to Deborah Siegel in Sisterhood, Interrupted, “Women own only 1 percent of the world’s assets, continue to make up the majority of the world’s poor, [and] are disproportionately victims of violent crime.” Speaking to that last item, we girls are constantly reminded how dangerous the world can be and how it’s our responsibility to protect ourselves. But isn’t it funny that disproportionately less time is spent teaching young people (i.e. males) why domestic violence is wrong, or how it can be prevented in the first place? In an extreme example of how little people acknowledge the all-too-real threat of abuse, “The South Carolina House Judiciary Committee voted in 2005 to make cock-fighting a felony, but tabled a bill that would have done the same for domestic violence” (Valenti).

I could write a book on how unfairly women are treated in the professional world, but I’ll start with something called the Glass Ceiling Effect, as explained by Jessica Valenti in her book Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters:

It’s illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sex (or race, color, national organization, or religion, for that matter), but it still happens all the time. The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission found that one of the reasons for discrimination is a “difference” barrier that “manifests through conscious and unconscious stereotyping and bias.” So basically, the people who do the hiring like hiring people who look like them. And if it’s a white guy doing the hiring... Well, you see where I’m going.

As of 2007, women represented 16 out of 100 U.S. senators, 71 of 435 representatives, 20 percent of college professors, 17 percent of law firm partners (Seigel), and men continue to outnumber women six to one in top corporate jobs (Valenti). Not to mention that equal-pay-for-equal-work is still a joke, “because for every dollar a man earns, a women still earns only 77 cents - an increase from the 59 cents she earned when the second wave of feminism began, but still far from equal” (Siegel). And if all this weren’t enough, an article in a July 2006 issue of The New York Times reported that “unemployed men do less work around the house than women who have full-time jobs”; a 2005 study from New York University found “the more a woman weighs, the less her family income and occupational prestige”; and reputable publications around the country are printing articles with outrageous titles like “Don’t Marry Career Women” and “Career Women Make Bad Mothers” (Valenti). We just can’t win, can we?

What’s worse, men are rarely (if ever) discriminated this way. When have you heard of a man being refused for hire purely because he was a man? Men have been fired for being “too fat” and “too gay” (just a couple of the many stigmas we “imperfect people” face) but never because of their gender. In fact, if we were to create a fictional world where some men earned less than other men because they were, say, shorter - most people would just laugh. Even though the scenario mimics perfectly how some women are treated (i.e. the short men would be earning less for biological factors completely out of their control), we all know that this would never happen in real life.

So when do we stop talking about that instance of office sexism when a woman’s behind was treated like a piece of meat, and start reporting it? When do we stop accepting less pay for doing the same jobs as men (or, if that doesn’t affect us personally, start standing up for women who are in that position)? When do we stop letting others dictate the types of fields we enter, the top positions we apply for, and the passions we have? When do we stop letting terms like “bitch” and “slut” define women in this country? And when will we finally realize that heck, we’re worth fighting for?

This is where feminism comes into play.

If you’re like most Americans, the word “feminism” conjures up several images in your mind. Maybe you picture hippie ladies burning their bras and letting their untrimmed facial and underarm hair flap in the wind. Maybe you picture radical women plotting their next attack on mankind (literally), or socially-inept, angry-at-the-world shut-ins as they mutter curses under their breath before sitting down to a meal of little puppies. There are so many misconceptions about feminism (thank you, media!), that it’s really frustrating for young women who want to be an advocate for women’s rights, but don’t want to be labeled as any of the above stereotypes. In her comprehensive novel Feminism, Christina Fisanick explained:
According to a 2005 poll conducted by CBS News, it is a tough time to be a feminist. Although the majority of women polled believe that the women’s movement had helped improve their opportunities above those of their mothers’ generation, 70 percent of them did not consider themselves to be feminists. This data reflects what has become a growing number of women who have distanced themselves from the label “feminist.” It is not uncommon for women, especially young women, to begin sentences about the rights of women with the phrase, “I am not a feminist, but . . .” Regrettably, feminism has become the new f-word.
Pat Robertson, a right-wing political spokesperson and host of The 700 Club, even went so far as to say feminism is “a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” Wow. Please take a moment to stifle your incredulous laughter, or regain consciousness (whichever comes first).

Thanks to the media (and lovely right-wingers like Mr. Robertson) Feminism has been distorted almost beyond recognition. This idea of a man-hating subculture of women surely isn’t what our grandmothers had in mind when they picketed for equal job opportunities and reproductive rights. At it’s core, feminism is simply “the movement toward full political, economic, and social equality for men and women” (Baumgardner). But we might relate better to the phrase made famous by Cheris Kramarae in The Feminist Dictionary, “feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”

Feminism is generally described in three stages or waves. The First Wave initiated in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York with the first formal women’s rights conference. Women who joined this movement were often part of the thriving antislavery movement; other times they were inspired by local Native American cultures that afforded women extensive rights, like land ownership and the right to vote. Second Wave feminism was dedicated to equality under the law and in opportunity, and “beginning in the sixties and continuing into the seventies, laws were passed guaranteeing equal access to education (Title IX), outlawing gender discrimination (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act), and coining phrases for date rape, domestic violence, and sexism - serious problems that used to just be called life” (Valenti). Though Second Wave feminism is often criticized for exclusively favoring white, middle-class women, modern-day feminism (or Third Wave feminism) has been shaped by women of all races, nationalities, religions, abilities, and sexual orientations, making it increasingly relevant to all of our lives.

However, there’s still a lot of controversy surrounding “liberal feminism” and how it might corrupt the integrity of the initial movement of the 1960’s. In short, there are some women who believe female empowerment is all about flaunting their sexuality. “Only thirty years (my lifetime) ago,” stated Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture,“ our mothers were ‘burning their bras’ and picketing Playboy, and suddenly we [are] getting implants and wearing the bunny logo as supposed symbols of our liberation. How had the culture shifted so drastically in such a short period of time?” Levy went on to say:
What was almost more surprising than the change itself were the responses I got when I started interviewing the men and - often - women who edit magazines like Maxim and make programs like The Man Show and Girls Gone Wild. This new raunch culture didn’t mark the death of feminism, they told me; it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved. We’d earned the right to look at Playboy; we were empowered enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes.
However discouraging this new wave of “chauvinist women” may be, we can’t forget the hordes of women who still want to represent the integrity of First Wave feminism. Women around the country (and the world) are gaining momentum as an extremely positive and influential force; we are the enlightened ones who know sexism and gender discrimination is fundamentally wrong, and we’re the ones who are trying to do something about it.

There are some people out there who believe feminism is irrelevant in this day and age. “Women got their 19th Amendment,” they say, “isn’t that good enough?” While women have come a long way (I certainly appreciate the fact that I’m not barred from wearing pants), we still have a long way to go. Women still have a great deal to fight for because, to be honest, women are not seen as equal to men. Not on a whole, anyway. Now this doesn’t mean that all women are oppressed, that all women are unhappy, or that I’m not appreciative for the rights we do have. But there are plenty of women in the world who are suffering unnecessarily for things beyond their control, and as part of the glorious group that is the WAWOW (Wickedly Awesome Women of the World) I have to do my part to better the condition of women everywhere. Because the day we stop standing up for each other, the day we sit down and throw our hands up in the air, the day we stop fighting for the rights we know we deserve - is the day we agree with everything we’ve ever been accused of.

Works Cited
Baumgardner, Jennifer, and Amy Richards. Grassroots: a Field Guide for Feminist Activism. New York, N.Y.: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. Print.

Brizendine, Louann. The Female Brain. New York: Broadway, 2006. Print.

Fisanick, Christina. Feminism. Detroit: Greenhaven, 2008. Print.

Levy, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. New York: Free, 2005. Print.

Siegel, Deborah. Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women To Grrls Gone Wild. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Print.

Valenti, Jessica. Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide To Why Feminism Matters. Emeryville, CA: Seal, 2007. Print.

Weiner, Jessica. Do I Look Fat in This?: Life Doesn't Begin Five Pounds from Now. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2006. Print.


  1. Oh my goodness Danielle! I love your website! This truly just fires me up and inspires me! This is really really amazing! I love it~!
    P.S. This is Katherine Lee :D

  2. Thank you Katherine! That means SO much to me!!! Thank you ^^

  3. Hi, I found you through and your blog is awesome!! This essay is amazing and wonderfully sums up my beliefs about feminism. (I'm an experimenting teenage feminist too. :) ) please keep posting!

  4. Wow, I'm so late on this reply - but thank you Alexa! It's always amazing to meet other teen feminists! :D

  5. This is a great article, although it digresses quite a bit and only spends a small portion answering the question that starts it--which is not bad, per say, it's just interesting.

    You're very intelligent, and your writing does an excellent job of opening up the heart of issues; I'm really impressed, especially since you're a self-professed teenager. I'll be watching your blog closely for new articles.

    “...make me ashamed to be an american”: There's nothing Americans are guilty of that human beings as a whole are not. So, “ashamed to be human” would be more appropriate.

    It's funny that you chose short men as a fictional example because short men actually suffer widespread discrimination just because of their height.

    I particularly love your statement about gender roles: "These stereotypes are killing us. And if men and women are treated differently (i.e. unequally) based solely on their genders, this only reinforces gender roles which are damaging to all parties involved." I couldn't agree more.

  6. I think women should be treated as equals but for me that mens equal in *everything*. By that I mean women have an easier time with sex crimes. i.e. It's easier for them to falsely accuse a man and it's easier for them not to face punishment when they commit a sex crimes(rash of female teacher rapes for example). Also women committing the same crime as a man is more likely to get a lesser sentence. The death penalty is another inequality. Women should be made to fight on the front-lines in the service and they should be required to sign up for selective service. IMO equality means being equal in all aspects not just the ones they want.

  7. Studies show that career women actually make BETTER MOTHERS because they are more independent having their own career outside of the home. :) (I saw the stupid ad on the bus picture)

  8. Girl, you're awesome! I just stumbled across your blog today and I think you have a wonderful voice. It's so refreshing to hear critiques of hatred and ignorance that don't themselves incorporate hatred and ignorance. Keep up the good work!

  9. made my day.
    very inspirations, completely true, witty and impressing. i support you from the bottom of my heart, let's unify and fight for all the ladies in the world who suffer so hard, let's get to equality already!

  10. That's just it though. You sum it up in the first paragraph. No women should not get special treatment. But if they didn't, feminism wouldn't exist. Do you see how men treat each other?

  11. Not all women are bad in their chosen career. It's a matter of how would you spend your quality time with your family even when your busy at work.

    1. But the whole point is that your career aspirations shouldn't be halted by society's expectations of you and your role in the domestic life.

  12. I'm two years late with my comment, but I just wanted to say that you're blog and this article in particular just completely inspired me. You're an amazing person!

  13. I realise this blog is no longer active but this has made me so happy. I'm 17 and not afraid to call myself a feminist and I have yet to meet someone else like me! It shocks me that in 2013, the word feminist has such a negative connotation, and when the topic of gender equality arises in a conversation with anyone and the word 'feminist' comes up, I feel as though I am immediately written of as a man-hating beast and all of my credibility is lost... It makes me so sad sometimes. Just bringing up the topic of gender equality, which to me seems like something very very basic, gives rise to so much controversy! Many people seem to take my expressing that there is still a problem (gender inequality) as a personal attack. How the heck are notions such as gender equality and feminism still deemed 'radical' and controversial today?! It amazes me... But this blog has really made me feel a bit better in knowing that there are other young people out there who know what feminism means, represents and promotes. Thank you

  14. Um I guess you are officially one of the coolest people ever! I too am a budding young feminist, and reading things like this gives me so much hope. Today even I told a guy off for being sexist, which gave me some femi- pride! This is one of the few things I am passionate about and glad there are other teens who are too. I would absolutely love your thoughts on weddings, seeing as so much is not gender equal. Thank you so very much!


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