We Still Need Feminism Today
Last updated: January 22, 2020
Undoubtedly, the argument surrounding both the merits and demerits of the feminist movement remains one of the most fiercely-contested issues of our age. Individuals on both sides of the philosophical aisle have tended to take a hard line on the topic over the years, and a variety of different feminist "waves" have sprung up to tackle a widely divergent and often contradictory set of problems. (Even if both groups exist under the umbrella of traditional feminist philosophy, for example, the aims of so-called "TERFs" or "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" will be radically different than the aims of trans-inclusive feminists.)
The following arguments regarding feminism represent only a small fraction of the various dialogues that exist around the topic, but discussing various viewpoints around feminism may go some way towards elucidating few key issues related to this fascinating subject. Indeed, it has never been more important to understand what makes feminism such a compelling and contentious subject across the globe.
Women are Human Beings, and All Human Beings Deserve Equal Rights
Moreover, because of the extremely deleterious effects of social prejudice on women, discrimination against and persecution of women in the form of antifeminism is also immoral and unethical. Just as a man would regard it as a significant moral offense to be subjected to mental or physical pain during a social encounter such as a job interview or a discussion about a pay raise, it is equally morally objectionable to subject a woman to such pain.
An acknowledgment of these differences is not discrimination; rather, it is simply an admission that different individuals have different strengths. This is demonstrated by the fact that there are numerous fields where women tend to outperform men by a wide margin: In the future, for example, it may be found that the greater amount of compassion that women tend to exhibit tends to make them stronger political leaders than men. As the journal Foreign Policy points out, for example, Baroness Margaret Thatcher is widely regarded within the United Kingdom as one of the country’s greatest Prime Ministers. Her capacity for empathy may have been an asset in the socially-rigorous world of politics.
By this logic, in fact, it would not be an example of discrimination for a political party to elect a female as its leader; rather, it would simply be an acknowledgement of a natural propensity for women to excel in the field of politics.
Discrimination Against Women Perpetuates a Culture of Violence
In Afghanistan, for example, a strong culture of discrimination against women has led to an epidemic of acid attacks against females who do not "fit in" with notions of traditional femininity. According to the BBC, moreover, Afghani civil rights leader Malala Yousafzai was shot by a member of the Taliban for speaking up against the lack of educational opportunities for women within the country.
As in the case of the Taliban, it is clear that distorted and violent notions of masculine behavior tend to emerge around fundamentally antifeminist belief systems such as ultraconservatism and ultra-religious orthodoxy. They also enable other members of society to sweep episodes of violence "under the rug" via a system of denial and cognitive dissonance. For years before allegations against him were widespread, for example, the powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein acted against women with almost total impunity.
To wit, unless the relationship between traditional notions of femininity and male violence are addressed via feminism, widespread violence against women is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
For example, it is perfectly rational for the male head of a household to believe both that women should adopt traditional roles within society and that violence against women is morally wrong. While some individuals attempt to create a link between traditional social values and violence against women, the truth is that violence against women is its own "value”: If members of the Taliban perpetuate acid attacks and other assaults against Afghan women, it is because groups who perpetuate such violence fundamentally hold the value that such violence is a societal good. Not all traditional values are equally moral.
In the United States, for example, acts of violence against women committed under any circumstances are heavily penalized. Most people who hold traditional viewpoints with regard to traditional gender roles in society abhor violence against women; they also criticize and condemn any man who would attack a woman. Again, while the traditions of some cultures create an atmosphere of violence and oppression, this state of affairs does not imply that all traditions are therefore morally wrong. Many traditions are deeply beneficial to society: For example, a culture that values a strong work ethic will often produce excess resources that can be used to benefit all members of that culture. Should such beliefs be discarded merely because they are a part of a cultural tradition?
Women Internalize Negative Societal Viewpoints from an Early Age
It is also clear that current notions around femininity subtly reinforce the power of men while denigrating women. Within popular culture, men can be depicted as slovenly and careless about their appearance. Such men are even regarded as antiheroes and countercultural icons.
Yet women who neglect their looks in the same way often become objects of shame and ridicule. Tabloids regularly feature photo spreads of female celebrities that serve to denigrate any powerful woman who does not maintain a “perfect” appearance at all times. This kind of body-shaming perpetuates a cycle of social embarrassment in which women of all ages struggle to develop genuine foundations of self-esteem; that struggle can manifest itself in a variety of mental health conditions such as eating and anxiety disorders. If women do manage to succeed under the pressures of such a system they are are often made to feel as though their success is only due to their outward appearance.
It might be almost beside the point to assert that such a system violates the human rights of women. This is not the ideal of a country such as the United States, where all people should be regarded as equal regardless of their gender, sexuality, or ethnic background. To discard that ideal is to discard one of the most fundamental values in the American belief system.
Women are indeed regularly confronted with unrealistic standards of beauty, but men are inundated with unrealistic images of masculinity from an early age. They are expected to be good providers with high incomes. They are expected to remain silent about any problems they experience. They are expected to fight and even die for their country. All these issues receive very little attention in the culture at large, and yet men are often humiliated and portrayed as weak if they so much as speak out about their feelings on such matters.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in fact, the suicide rate among American males is far higher than the suicide rate among American females. Indeed, men who even discuss suicide with reference to unrealistic societal standards of "proper" male behavior are often ridiculed on television and in films. It is perhaps even more troubling that domestic abuse against men is often treated as a subject of derision within the media.
While it is true that it is dangerous and regrettable for women to have to internalize negative beliefs about femininity, it is equally regrettable that men internalize negative beliefs about masculinity. Clearly, the solution is to work towards an equitable system that reinforces healthy beliefs in both genders. Treating the issue solely as a problem experienced only by one gender is unfair and unwise in the extreme: Men struggle too.
Society Improves as it Progresses
For example, women during the Victorian era were treated as little more than human chattel: A married woman was the property of her husband, and the power that such men could exert over their wives was often abused in the extreme. According to The Atlantic Monthly, a man who was dissatisfied with his wife's behavior during the Victorian era could have his wife committed to an insane asylum. There, his wife could be subjected to electro-shock "therapy" in a bid to "cure" troubling behaviors such as “insubordination.”
Tragically, any woman who spoke out against an emotionally or physically abusive husband could be branded as a "lunatic" and locked away for years. Tragically, with the absolute male power of the Victorian patriarchy came the absolute power to silence any assertion of female rights.
To halt the progress of feminism would be to return to an age such as this. Moreover, we do not yet know how future societies will view our own treatment of women: The way in which women are treated in contemporary society may one day be seen as a profound injustice. Because it is the duty of every citizen to root out and eliminate injustice, it is the duty of every citizen to support the rights of women and fight for feminist ideals. To do less would be to shirk a civic responsibility, and history has looked unkindly on those who have remained silent when innocent people have suffered.
In the wake of revelations about powerful sexual predators such as Harvey Weinstein, for example, it seemed that the culture at large was almost ready to do away with evidence-based trials altogether. At the slightest hint of misconduct on the part of celebrities, many feminists were prepared to ruin the careers of popular entertainers. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, for example, the popular comedian Aziz Ansari was decried as a rapist in 2018 due to scurrilous accusations against his character stemming from a completely consensual sexual encounter. Are such baseless accusations the hallmarks of a society moving "forward" in its moral conception of itself? In fact, these situations are more reminiscent of 17th Century witch hunts than they are futuristic utopias.