Monday, June 6, 2011

The "F" Word

A couple weeks ago I decided to pick up a copy of Gail Collins' When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. This is a somewhat unusual choice for me, as I tend to stay away from nonfiction for the most part. I was inspired to grab this one, though, after reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Being just barely 22, I was shocked to find the racist and sexist attitudes that were so prevalent in the United States only fifty years ago. While The Help is a work of fiction, it is set in a world that was very much real not too long ago. There is so much that I, and my entire generation, take for granted that our forefathers (and foremothers) have paved the way for.

This brings me to the big fat F word. That's right: FEMINIST. Growing up, my mother taught me to see feminism as a good thing, even giving my sister and me non-gender specific names in order to avoid preconceived notions about our sex. This was why I was so shocked recently to hear a co-worker (from a different job-- no one from the bookstore!) say "I HATE feminists." This did not compute. How could a civilized person possibly hate feminists? Didn't everyone support equality? When did "feminist" become a dirty word?

Somehow, many people (including my co-worker) have begun to see feminism as an extremist idea where men are inferior to women. While there are some feminist movements like this (they're called Radical Feminists-- and covered in Gail Collins' book,) they DO NOT make up the majority of feminists. Many people also see feminism as a finished battle. When I questioned the feminist-hater's motives, he claimed: "Feminism is done. You can wear pants and get equal pay, what else do you want?" Well, first of all, pay isn't all that equal yet, but I'll spare you that rant. And second, I acknowledge that feminism has come a long way. That's what When Everything Changed is all about. The book begins with the backlash from Rosie the Riveter, in a time when women needed their husbands' permission to get a credit card. It ends with Hillary Rodham Clinton running for president. This massive change should not be taken for granted, and reading When Everything Changed has connected me with the sacrifices made before my lifetime that have allowed me so many opportunities.

Gail Collins' book is about studying and appreciating those who have come before us, yet it never claims that the battle has been won. Pay is still not quite equal, small minded people exist all over the world, and inequalities still run rampant. Social equality is a generational process; it cannot happen overnight. If we so soon forget the steps taken by those who fought for us before, we fail in the pursuit of a more accepting future.

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