Feminism is defined as: "The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men." A lot of folks have come to associate negative -- and often untrue -- things with feminism. Perhaps it is because of this that the word is so rarely used accurately. Sure, I'll concede that some women can be a little intimidating in their quest for equality. I'm not sure I blame them, though. We have come a long way in the last hundred years, with women moving mountains of social change! Do you enjoy voting? Me too. Please don't forget that until 1920, women didn't have that right. What about your body? Like to think of it as your own? Until about 100 years ago, women were considered property. Even today, we see women being killed, raped and sold. In the book Half the Sky, it is estimated that around three million women are currently enslaved in the sex trade. Like I said, we've come a very long way, and yet, we have a long way to go.
Let's talk more about our present time (which ladies on the Internet lately have been assuring me is one not requiring feminism.) The statistics are clear that currently, the majority of domestic violence and sexual violence victims are women. As of 2000, one in four women reported experiencing domestic violence, equating to almost 5.3 million incidents each year in the U.S. While there are certainly many male victims out there -- whose rights and freedom from abuse I pray and advocate for as fiercely as my own -- research suggests that the majority of abuse against boys and men is perpetrated by... boys and men (as of 2000 men perpetrated 70% of rapes and 86% of physical assaults against men.)
In discussing sexual abuse in the United States, I am hard-pressed to find a place more in need of feminism today than the military, where incidents of sexual abuse (and severe, perpetual threats) are so common that there's a nifty, little acronym they use for it: "MSTs" (which stands for Military Sexual Trauma.) According to Veterans Affairs' records, one out of every four women they deal with report having had one or more incidents of MST. How often do men report, you might wonder? The VA says one out of every one hundred. Of course we have to account for the fact that abuse still carries a stigma for many -- quite possibly more so for men -- and so the number of males being victimized may be much higher in reality.
I have to think that women under-report as well though. I was raped at 17 years old by a man twice my age. When my mom found out, she dragged me to the police station, kicking and screaming. I was questioned (harshly and coldly) for at least an hour by three large, intimidating men, before refusing to say anymore or participate in helping to press charges against the perpetrator. That was a privileged, white teenager, in the care of a loving mother, refusing to report. Can you imagine a woman being sexually violated by her boss or coworker? Quite possibly in the middle of nowhere, away from her support system and surrounded by the opposite gender? I'm 0% surprised that in such conditions, an unknown amount of women and men serving our country might feel they have no recourse or become paralyzed by their fear of what might happen to them and/or their careers if they report. Even if the currently reported rates were exactly as stated, I find the numbers to be appalling and unacceptable.
OK, OK, so never mind our pesky desire to not be beaten or raped. What about reproductive issues? As of 2013, 289,000 women a year were dying from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. Additionally, for every woman who dies in childbirth, around 20 more suffer injury, infection or disease (equating to about 10 million women each year.) Is some man directly responsible for the death or injury of each of these women? Of course not. Unfortunately, there are a plethora of reasons our women are suffering (a few of which are: hemorrhage, infection, unsafe abortions and obstructed labor.) BUT! But, But, But. Research is very clear. As the World Health Organization so eloquently put it, "unavailable, inaccessible, unaffordable, or poor quality care is fundamentally responsible." They also go on to state that the majority of these deaths and injuries are preventable! I hate to say it, but I just can't help but think that if this many men were being affected annually via something borne of their genitalia, that there would collectively be a far stronger sense of urgency to figure this out.
Alright, moving on from individual systems to collective systems, let's talk about the federal government. Did you know that only about 20% the U.S. Congress is made of women? I repeat: you know those people who make our laws? The ones who decide how we live our lives, how our collective money is spent, what control we have over our bodies? Yeah, 80% of them are men. Looking to business, did you realize that worldwide, women only account for 3 - 4% of company CEOs? How does this make sense? When you think of who's holdin' it down in most households (i.e. making day-to-day purchases and having a big say in the major ones) which gender comes to mind? In the next decade, women are set to impact two-thirds of consumer wealth. With women having such a profound impact on the economy, why wouldn't companies want leadership which more accurately reflects their consumers? It just makes business sense. So much so, that one recent study showed companies with a higher proportion of women in senior management - on average - are 48% more profitable than their rivals.
So, why don't we have more women leaders out there? One reason could be that as we've been discussing throughout this piece, our movement is still in its infancy when compared to how long men have been running the show. By the way, I don't want equal opportunities just for their sake (although really, you shouldn't need any reason more than that). In many studies, we are finding that women are just plain better at leadership. Specifically, data shows women to be better at: overall effectiveness, taking initiative, being honest, developing and inspiring others, bringing about change, solving problems, communicating and many other skills and traits vital to good leaders. More women leading the way is not only the just choice, it's also the smart one. So, I am sure hoping we're just off to a slow start and that we're going to rapidly increase the amount of women and girls in leadership roles across all industries (but especially government!)
I love talking about what I'd like to see more of in our government (women, people power and advocacy for everyday folks, for starters), but let's touch base about something I'd like to see less of in our government: religion! I'm by no means "anti-religion," however religious practices often confuse me by making allowances to enjoy certain modern comforts while condemning others as being unnatural. Although Pope Francis is really making a dent in what religion could or should be, the Catholic Church currently still continues to almost exclusively discourage birth control use stating that, "it is a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race." Does the Church think that the Pope-mobile was as God intended?!? Or guns? What about Viagra? Do they think God intended for old dudes to have perpetual boners?!? Besides, who are we to know what God intended? I don't think Church or State should be able to dictate something as personal as family planning. Tell me, who knows your body, mind, health and family needs better than you? Nobody, that's who!
Now let's get into something else vital to our livelihood... Makin'. That. Chedduh! I'm talkin' about the current wage gap between men and women. In 2012, female full-time workers made only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. That's a wage gap of 23 percent! As a quick reminder, I'm not saying that women should be given preferential treatment over men, just similar treatment. Do I think I should make more than a man simply because I can bring life into the world? (Maybe... No, I jest.) As hippie, commie, and/or liberal as my frenemies tell me I am... I have a soft spot for some capitalist philosophies. I'm a hard worker and I think extraordinary hard work should be rewarded. So, no, I don't necessarily need to be paid exactly as much as my co-workers who are varying levels of skilled, but if I work my a** off and I'm as good as (or better) than my male counterpart? F*ck yes I want to make as much or more than him. That's what we're talking about: an even playing field.
By the way, Feminism isn't just for women. All the men in my life (that I know of) are feminists. And why shouldn't they be? Societies with educated women -- free to make big moves socially, economically and politically -- are more peaceful and more profitable. Research shows that investment in female education can yield a "growth premium" in GDP trends. More specifically, it shows that when women participate equally in the workforce, the GDP in the U.S. the eurozone and Japan will experience a double-digit spike. Lastly, where women's participation in the labor force grew fastest, the economy experienced the largest reduction in poverty rates. I would think that these are results everyone could get behind.
Alright, you've heard me out (and thanks for that!) I'm a big believer that in order for meaningful change to occur, one of the most critical components is people (of varying views and beliefs) talking and hearing each other out. Which I did, by the way, I've viewed many "I don't need feminism because..." photos and articles. To me, it seems these women are mostly feminists who are confused about what feminism entails. Again... it doesn't mean you have to become a lesbian, shave your head or hate men; it simply means that you think women should have the same opportunities as men. If after considering all these things, you still feel that genders are either already equal or they don't need to be, I suppose you're entitled to your opinion. But the women's movement has a lot more work to do, so please kindly lead, follow, or get out of the way.