The feminist movement is so 1970s — tired and completely unnecessary for women of today. This was seemingly the takeaway from February news stories of social gaffes by Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright while campaigning for Hillary Clinton: Women have choices and equal rights, and so there is no need for feminism anymore.
How I wish that were true.
Though policy has changed, many of those changes have yet to bear out in more mundane occurrences. Women can now work in a broader spectrum of fields and positions, which only means the struggles they encounter are different, not gone. According to the Department of Labor, women still earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns for the exact same job. Despite having been illegal since 1964, workplace sexual harassment is still a major problem for women, both underreported and not believed. Women in supervisory roles experience this at higher rates, according to a study by the American Sociological Association. Very few women have paid maternity leave and so face a unique struggle for work-life balance. The feminist movement, however, is uniquely poised to advocate for the betterment of women if we let it.
Domestic violence was made illegal in 1920, but it wasn’t actually treated as a crime until 50 years later. Yet nearly 100 years after it was made illegal, it is still vastly underreported. A look at the Twitter hashtag and account #YesAllWomen reminds people that, yes, all women still go through daily harassment and threats. Not all are victims, but all are catcalled and have to handle it a specific way. According to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, one in six women have survived either attempted or completed rape. The feminist movement can help lower those numbers.
With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and an open seat on the Supreme Court, there is heightened awareness of the vulnerability of the 1973 Roe v. Wade court decision that protects a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. This decision has already been whittled away and undercut, particularly since the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision allowed states to regulate the procedures. There are many states where access to abortion is effectively denied, thanks to waiting requirements and a dearth of actual clinics. Since 2011, more than 200 restrictions to abortion have been enacted. This is especially the purview of feminism.
Yet the Steinem and Albright blunders exposed the greatest weakness of the feminist movement: its elitism and exclusivity. It seems to pertain only to white, middle–class, heteronormative women. Why bother supporting a movement that only reinforces the social disadvantages of the dominant culture? It needs to include and represent the experiences and identities of all women: lesbian, transexual, minority, immigrant and low income, just to name a few. These identities should not be relegated to lesser importance.
It is not up to the disenfranchised groups to reach out to the movement but rather necessary for the movement to make room for them. Feminism needs to not only reach out to women in these groups but actually listen to what they identify as problems and solutions. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And injustices to members of these groups are rooted in the same oppressive inequality.
The feminist movement is so 1970s — and yet still so 2016.