What is the State of Feminism in the 21st Century?

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I’ve been watching season two of Makers on PBS, a documentary series about the changing roles of women in America during the last century, with the focus of the massive social changes made since the 1960s.  Each episode is both inspiring and moving. We’ve all come a long way in the last fifty years, an amazing long way. For example, in the episode, “Women in War” they showed a history of women being kept out of the military, yet they were interviewing women generals, pilots, field commanders, spies, and grunts of today. We have all come a long way, but how far do we still have to go? Each episode of Makers, which are available online to watch, show how far women have made it in various fields, including film, business, politics, military and even standup comedy.

What I want to know is how far our society has to evolve before women are truly equal to men? These documentaries show a great progress, but also stark failures. One reason the public didn’t want women in combat was the fear that their daughters would be raped by the enemy. It turns our the real problem is their daughters in uniform are being frequently raped by their male comrade-in-arms. In another episode they showed how women pilots were kept out of the Mercury space program because they weren’t combat test pilots, even though many of the women pilots tested did better on the astronaut medical exams than the original 7 astronauts, and they also weighed less, so they would have required less fuel.

Our real problems are still another case of Pogo’s:

Pogo

I know I’ve had to constantly change to keep up with the demands of my women friends, and I’m sure I’ve got a lot to learn still. I think we all need to be feminists. Our culture does a number on everyone along the spectrum of gender issues. We still have never passed the Equal Rights Amendment. Most young people won’t remember the long battle for the ERA, but many of the vocal opponents were women, and there’s even an antifeminism movement by women. Hatred of women is often expressed in our society, both overtly and subtly. Most of it comes from males, but not always.

Back in the 1970s the word feminism was routinely heard in conversations, but I seldom hear it today. The entry at Wikipedia for feminism is very good, and talks about third wave feminism in the 21st century, and post-feminism. For many people, equal rights means equal opportunity for jobs, and many women feel they now have that opportunity, so they don’t feel the need to campaign for feminist causes, or worry about passing the ERA. But it’s much more complicated than that.

There is no way I could sum up the current state of feminism in a short blog essay, even if I knew it. What I can say is if you keep your eyes open, you’ll see the struggle for gender equality everywhere. For example, there’s been a number of stories about leading atheists being misogynists. Or the vile, repugnant views of some computer gamers in GamerGate.  Just watch Anita Sarkeesian video series on how women are portrayed in video games. Then search out articles and videos attacking her. The hate she received represents a psychological deep resentment of women by a younger generation of men that grew up with a more enlightened generation of women. Why did they miss out their generation’s gains? GamerGate is the tip of the iceberg because we don’t know how most males really feel inside their heads. GamerGate allowed anonymous males to vent, and it was tremendously ugly.

Another documentary I watched recently was Brave Miss World, about Miss Israel Linor Abargil, who was raped competing for the Miss World contest, and now travels the globe promoting rape awareness. One clip in the documentary had a Yale fraternity chanting, “No means yes, yes means anal.” If the modern well-educated young men at Yale don’t know any better, then I’m not sure how far we’ve actually come.

After I saw one of the Anita Sarkeesian videos, which everyone should watch, I saw an ad on CBS for Two Broke Girls. Is it freedom of expression for women to play up to male stereotypes, or is it still oppression? I highly recommend watching the two seasons of Makers. You can watch online, and season one is on Netflix streaming, and some episodes are on the Roku PBS Channel. Season one is on Amazon Prime, and season two available to rent an many sites.

I hope PBS Frontline, and other major news magazine shows like CBS 60 Minutes cover the GamerGate, because it deserves all the air time that Ebola has been getting. I also think it deserves as much attention as the NFL scandal, but so far I’ve never seen anything about it on TV. In fact, I have to wonder if video games do lead to violence, especially against women. Studies claim to show no relationship between game violence and real violence, but the GamerGate attacks on women seem to indicate otherwise.

And I’m only talking about events in the United States. When you think as a global citizen, understanding equality for women becomes exceedingly complicated. Like I said, you don’t have to read books or be a feminist scholar, just pay attention to your television or computer. Watch how women are portrayed in fictional stories, and how they appear in documentaries and in news stories. Apply the Bechdel test to everything you watch.

[I wish I could link to “Cassandra Among the Creeps” by Rebecca Solnit in the latest issue of Harper’s Magazine, October, 2014. On the cover, the essay is called “Silencing Women,” and that’s a more precise description of the essay. GamerGate, and so many other current attacks on women show a distinct desire to silence women. There is something deeply disturbing about individuals who protect themselves by shutting up others.]

JWH

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