Feminism’s Glass Ceiling

Source: TheColbertReport.cc.com
Source: TheColbertReport.cc.com

Women: they’re everywhere! Mothers, actresses, professors, Presidents – you name it, and a woman will be it. This development, however, is recent. It is only in the last 100 years that society has recognized that women are also human beings, with the capacity to deserve human rights. It is for this reason that today, society is speaking up to give women the precious dignity of being treated as equal human beings – and that society has spoken up to grant equal pay, the right to choose, and the destigmatization of women in professions that have historically been considered male-dominated, like politics or high level business management. It is for this reason that America has more female Senators than ever in its history;[1] that America might have a female President; and that the number of female CEOs is on a historic rise.[2]

Despite the evidence of slow, agonizing progress, there is no denying that there is staunch opposition to many of these policies – be it the denial of the equal pay act in 2014,[3] or the media-instigated sexism that accused Hillary Clinton of being “too emotional” because of her gender during the 2008 Primaries.[4] Most of this opposition stems from the conservative right, as anyone who’s been disturbed by Fox News’ claims that women should impressed by catcallers, can claim.[5] But of late, Fox and friends aren’t setting feminism as far back as we are. The problem is with the brand of extreme feminism that’s in the news – the same feminism that we at Berkeley perpetuate, and that is fast becoming intolerant of anyone who doesn’t agree with this exact brand of idea.

This obviously does not mean that the idea of equality between sexes is the problem. The problem isn’t the concept; it’s the execution. In our Berkeley bubble, the mere thought of feminism brings to mind a variety of ineffective and potentially frustrating, if not infuriating, actions: from jumping the gun on any man who may have the scent of unsubstantiated sexism on him, to hating men outright, to redefining words in the English language because of a perceived discrimination against women. Feminism, in its basest form, is facing both an identity crisis and a public relations problem; for the first thing the common human thinks of when they think of a feminist is a furious woman who hates all men and any words with ‘men’ (like ‘women’) or ‘his’ (as in ‘history’) in them. Of course, this isn’t truly the case, for most of us who strive for the empowerment of women, including men, would love to claim that they’re feminists. Instead, it seems that men who are feminists (femenists?) are rarer than ASUC senators who fulfill their campaign promises.[6] The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough male feminists; rather, that Berkeley’s brand of feminism is alienating itself through symbolic actions, shaming women who aren’t vocal feminists, and being hostile to men.

Symbolic actions exist everywhere – from the relabeling of ‘spring admit’ to “something more inclusive”,[7] to Florida Governor Rick Scott’s policy of not using the words ‘climate change’ in the hopes that they hype over climate change will die away.[8] In a similarly ineffective manner, some feminists theorize that altering ‘women’ to ‘womxn’ fights sexism.[9] Orwell would have claimed that this is ‘pretentious diction’ or a peacock term[10] – and it seems straight out of the lines of ‘1984’; Shakespeare and English teachers everywhere would be appalled. The problem with this action is twofold: that it doesn’t really propagate the empowerment of women, and that it is overtly preachy. Women empowerment can truly be exemplified by the work of Malala Yousafsai, who has independently empowered women in the basest parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and singlehandedly awed a man as poignant and inspirational as Jon Stewart. Juxtapose this with feminists at Cal, who spell women with an x (sometimes in papers and assignments) in order to fight sexism in language; make nothing of the fact that it makes the writer look like they’re spelling ‘women’, just angrily. This action individually does nothing and makes no true impact to society’s policies for women; and there are better ways of instigating conversations regarding feminism that aren’t invasive in our everyday language, and that aren’t preached to us. The idea of being preached to boils blood, because it reinforces the stereotype that liberalism is bent on overreaching and invading our personal space and telling us how to speak, write, and behave. There are certainly arguments for using this spelling of women, but then again, there are also arguments for why ‘colour’ is a better spelling than ‘color’, or why the moon landings were faked. Engendering a conversation in such a furious and invasive manner achieves more harm than it does good, especially to the moderate and conservative political constituency that feminism needs to grasp; ‘womxn’ is also inefficient in propagating change for women at the societal level.

Beyond the issue of ‘womxn’ as a troubling issue for society, at a macro level feminism in its truest, bluest liberal form is a truly furious movement (cue images of an all too Berkeley protest, complete with screaming, both against men and Janet Napolitano). The staunchest feminists will turn against those women who don’t support the movement, inciting backlash at anyone who doesn’t believe in their brand of feminism – despite the most basic idea that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, no matter how wrong they could be.[11] There are myriad examples of this self-destructive behavior that attempts to govern all women for their behavior and their beliefs, ignoring the basic idea that there may be a wide spectrum of beliefs and a variation in the type of feminism that people support – because women, (like human beings) do not have homogenous beliefs. Beyond this, even noted feminists and women of action have publically shamed and vilified women who’ve been in difficult circumstances; Monica Lewinsky comes to mind.[12] Her name became synonymous with a vixen; famous newscasters and women shamed her for her looks and for her position, ignoring all her achievements and the idea that her public shaming was a disastrous path to go down.[13] Feminism, is to an extent, becoming toxic, because it is intolerant – and we at Berkeley are becoming tolerant of the intolerant.

And this feminism isn’t simply intolerant towards women; the brand of feminism that Berkeley follows is intolerant towards men. Be it using ‘check your privilege’ as a conversation ender in order to invalidate the opinions of men wishing to support the cause; or generally labeling men as incapable of supporting the feminist movement (because, you know, men). Take the example of labeling Trevor Noah as a sexist based on a few Tweets – antagonizing a man who could be a vessel that could take feminism even further through the platform of The Daily Show.[14] Take the example of the Matt Taylor from the European Space Agency who was shamed for his shirt, despite his major moment in the limelight after having sent landed a space probe on a comet.[15] These, and many others, are all men who are willing and able to support the cause, even if not with the same tenacity. These are all men who have the ability to empower women – in Noah’s case, through shining a light on gender inequality and implicit sexism; in Taylor’s case through encouraging women in science. Beyond these micro-examples, feminism at Berkeley has yet to accept that sexism is experienced by both men and women – women through the infinite examples of inequality and unsafe public environment; men through biases against males during child custody trials, or overt pressure to be “manly” or aggressive.[16] Yet by jumping on men because of perceived sexism, creating a toxic community, and ignoring the idea that sexism, gender inequality, and traditional gender roles affect both men and women, feminism is turning into a cause for women – without the support of half the society (i.e. men). We as feminists cannot expect to bring forth equality without truly having the idea of placing men on the same level as women, rather than inculcating a culture that antagonizes and vilifies those, who in the end, must ultimately propagate feminism.

Feminism is in the limelight today. It is in the news for a host of bad things and good, and is thus at a crossroads. We, as a society, as men and women who want a fair, equal, and just society, must decide the direction of a feminism that is inclusive. We need a feminism that doesn’t alienate people just because their brand of feminism is different from ours. We need a feminism that works cohesively to help alter gender norms and bring a more equal society, rather than one that angrily targets some single perceived cause of sexism. We need a feminism that is not tolerant of the intolerant, and one that unites society… we need a feminist movement that follows its own basic values: that of equality of genders and the empowerment of women into a society where we’re at ease with each other.

[1] http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/01/senate-women-secret-history-113908.html?ml=m_po#.VRIrIPnF-Sq

[2] http://fortune.com/2014/06/03/number-of-fortune-500-women-ceos-reaches-historic-high/

[3] http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/senate/217775-senate-gop-blocks-equal-pay-bill-again

[4] http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/09yfp5/the-broads-must-be-crazy—belittled-women

[5] http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/h8v90t/masters-of-sexism

[6] http://bpr.berkeley.edu/2015/03/30/the-empty-ballot/

[7] http://www.dailycal.org/2015/03/29/berkeley-spring-admits-become-january-admits/

[8] http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article12983720.html

[9] Also, in the event that you’re writing it as ‘womxn’ please provide an alternate pronunciation. How are we going to teach our children this word? Is it wox? Wo-Mexican? Wo-ch-en (because they’ve also started spelling Chicana as Xicana, meaning that X is the same as C)?

[10] http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/

[11] http://anitafinlay.com/2015/01/04/kaley-cuocos-im-not-a-feminist-comments-why-the-backlash-matters/

[12] http://www.vanityfair.com/style/society/2014/06/monica-lewinsky-humiliation-culture

[13] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/style/monica-lewinsky-is-back-but-this-time-its-on-her-terms.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1409232722000&bicmet=1419773522000&gwh=0D3F765844DB90F4CA1198079D497B58&gwt=pay&assetType=nyt_now&_r=0

[14] http://www.ew.com/article/2015/03/31/comedy-central-defends-trevor-noah-after-twitter-controversy

[15] http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/13/living/matt-taylor-shirt-philae-rosetta-project/

[16] http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/05/when-men-experience-sexism/276355/?utm_source=SFFB