This essay was written for my English class. If you read a couple of some older posts, I talked about an inquiry project. It did not come out completely as I had planned, and it is (in terms of radfem perspective) watered down, but I enjoyed writing it and even got an A! So, enjoy. It reads like a research paper written for school. Comments from my teacher are at the bottom. Also, I do plan ongoing even deeper into the topics I covered. Eventually.
On the State of Western-world Women and Feminism
In the late 18th century, the feminist movement, also known as the women’s rights movement, began. The first gathering for women in the movement was in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention (history.house.gov). From there was the start of the first large goal of feminism, during which women such as Alice Paul and Lucy Burns worked with the Suffragettes and gained a woman’s right to vote after seventy years of avid protest (history.house.gov). This was a part of the first wave of feminism, lasting until the 1920’s. Since that time, there have been a second and third wave of feminism, with the third wave still going on today (history.house.gov). The women of the cause have accomplished much, however, most feminists agree that the fight is far from over. We have had success, but have females gained enough?
Female is woman’s biological identity. Woman is the category females are placed in within society. Both the terms ‘female’ and ‘woman’ hold negative connotations that have been present for centuries. These connotations are burdens upon female shoulders and serve as justifications for our oppression. Some may disagree, believing that the female population has overcome their oppression, their unequal rights, and gained full autonomy over themselves, but what no one can deny is that our history, our female history, has been tainted with being seen as less than human, as second-class citizens, and as inferior to male-bodied persons. Therefore, my question is this: After all achieved by the feminist movement in the last two centuries, are Western-world women of the 21st century truly liberated? Did feminism work? And is their work done?
To begin answering this question, it is best to start on the surface prior to diving in deeper. When observing what women do and what they may or may not deal with on a daily basis, oftentimes one can see parallels with the ways in which females lived many years ago to how they do in the present day. More specifically, the ideals that a woman must always keep up her appearance and be aesthetically pleasing continues to be upheld in Western society. Shelia Jeffereys, prominent feminist from the 1960’s to the present, says that “Some `new’ feminists argue that beauty practices are no longer oppressive now that women can ‘choose’ them.” There is a lack of agreement between the ideas of old and young feminists on beauty mandates and the choices women have today. In her book, Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West, Jeffreys argues that beauty practices may be a part of women’s subordination rather than their agency (Jeffreys 14). Whether in the media or in one’s own life, women and girls of all ages can be seen wearing makeup, seemingly or obviously painful shoe wear, and much tighter clothing than those worn by men. It is more so ingrained into our daily routine than an active choice we make after thought. Using myself as an example, I cannot go out in public without wearing earrings or else I will feel like I am not dressed at all. My ears were pierced while I was still in infancy, and having pierced ears has been all I have ever known. It was seen as a requirement to my mother that her daughter—but not her son—have pierced ears and where earrings every day because that is what she herself had learned in childhood/girlhood.
If someone is groomed from an early age to engage in daily practices that have been done for centuries as a part of tradition and sex roles, then how much choice goes into doing those practices? How much of what women do is a matter of what has been socially acceptable for decades upon decades? As liberal feminists claim, any female can choose to go through beauty practices and is empowered to do so. But in most of the Western-world, if a woman is to forgo traditionally female beauty mandates assigned to the gender of women, then she can possibly face discrimination and be deemed odd or an outcast. In recent times, radical and liberal feminists have argued over how much choice women have even today.
Shelia Jeffreys said that “Feminists who continued to argue that women’s choices were severely constrained and made within a context of women’s relative powerlessness and male dominance were criticized…” (Jeffreys 15). Feminists who agree with her analysis would say that women live under the male gaze. Worldwide, women are subconsciously seen as the “sex class”, as many feminists declare, while men are the consumers (Jeffreys 50). This phenomenon can be seen anywhere; in television, movies, adult entertainment, music, fashion, magazines, or going so far as one’s local Hooter’s restaurant. Within first-world societies, where sexuality has become a major aspect of media and entertainment, women have taken on the role as the half who “puts-out” and sell their bodies far more than men do. From this, one could say that females can choose all they want in modern times, but our choices are not of a broad range. Women are expected to be sexually available at all times, living in a culture in which women still exist to serve men sexually and domestically (Hajdin). Often bombarded with negative, insecurity-causing ideologies and images, “we appease because we fear being shut out, excluded, and called ugly, or losing validation through male attention and approval” (Hajdin).
Most routine practices females are expected and sometimes forced to engage in are physically harmful, timewasting, and detrimental to self-esteem. Woman is supposedly inferior by default and the actions done to us and the actions we must do reflect that sentiment. Andrea Dworkin states in her novel Woman Hating, with regards to female beauty practices and standards, that “They prescribe her mobility, spontaneity, posture, gait, (and) the uses to which she can put her body. They define precisely the dimensions of her physical freedom.”(Jeffreys 20). Some women, participating in discussions on Tumblr, have claimed that the only time men have been attracted to them was when they were at their most “vulnerable”, and least attracted to them when they were feeling the most confident, independent, and sure of self.
A mentionable example of male pleasure through female vulnerability is the custom of female foot binding in China. The tradition was believed to have begun circa 970 AD (Collet). For thousands of years, three-inch long, bound feet were considered highly erotic (Collet), and goes on at a much smaller rate in modern-day Asia. Quite similarly, American and European women in past centuries endured high heels, rib-breaking corsets, and lead makeup (Jeffreys). The fact that females face constant harm is still perpetuated in the 21st century.
Female subordination and use as mere products of beauty and sexuality has been blown to massive proportions, much to feminists’ disdain. Technology has made pornography and all other work within the sex trade easily available and more accepted within society. Males now claim that it is a basis of instinct, need, and biology that they have the right to consume adult entertainment, make use of prostituted or possibly trafficked women, and enjoy strip clubs. Many, but not all, feminists advocate to end female and human exploitation of any kind. These ‘careers’ are often believed to be truly acquired by the choice of women in the sex trade (or men) and that they are so harmful that consumers should be penalized. However, glamorous is not often a way to describe life as an adult film actor or a prostitute. Their work is directly dangerous and upholds the view of women as sexual commodities in society, a view that has yet to be fully eradicated.
With regards to the millions of women in the sex trade, prostitution as an institution has been around the longest. People, usually of the liberal political group, are beginning to advocate for the legalization of prostitution all over the United States, but what they see as allowing females to choose whatever line of work they desire cannot help all of the of women working in this circuit become free from its exploitive, fatal, harmful reality. Julie Bindel, feminist activist from The Guardian, was told by Roger Matthews, professor of criminology at London’s South Bank University, that prostitution “is abuse and a life of hell” for her similarly titled article. He recalled instances in which most of these women were beaten, raped, sexually assaulted, asked to perform crude acts, and murdered by customers and pimps (Bindel). These women were often only in the trade as a means of supporting their children or harboring a drug and/or alcohol addiction (Bindel). Matthews firmly believes that “You can’t remove the abuse and coercion from prostitution, whether legal or not,” and that “the punters should be deterred from buying sex, women in prostitution should be decriminalized, and a radical welfare strategy should be put in place to help them out of the trade”(Bindel).
One question for reasoning for supporting the upkeep of prostitution globally, and especially in first-world countries, is one on which we ask “What was the cause of women going into sex work many centuries ago?” Did the women thousands of years ago happily enter such a ‘career’, and do they now? Most would never actively or enthusiastically choose to be used and exploited by means of other people’s pleasure, majority of those other people being married men (Gannon). The fact that it is predominantly women in the lines of sex work and sexualized media—and have been in those roles for thousands of years—proves that females are seen as the sex class, not a sexually liberated, free, autonomous population.
Prostitution, as well as pornography—an equally harmful industry for females—perpetuates views that females are meant for either motherhood/being a wife or sexual usage just as beauty mandates and the media do.
Another large scale issue in the Western-world, and worldwide, is the common trend that is male-on-female violence, typically of sexual or sex-based motivations. Of course, crime happens everywhere and could happen to anyone, but it is not simple coincidence that violence against females gets ignored and victims are directly or indirectly blamed for said violence. For a problem much closer to home, universities are coming under ridicule for lack of response to rape and sexual assault on campus. An article, written by Callie Beusman, explores the lack of response to cases of rape and sexual assault on university campuses. One would think, in these modern times, that such violence would no longer be looked over, especially on a campus where students feel safe. Beusman summarizes the issue seven women, some college students, have chosen to find a solution to by saying that universities are having inadequate and unhelpful responses to female students facing violence at the hands of fellow students, all male. Of these seven women, a few recall their experiences with rape and the lack of support by campus authorities before a council in which the women have filed a Title IX complaint of the University of Connecticut (Beusman).
Even discrimination against females because of their sex persists. Women working 41 to 44 hours per week earn 84.6% of what men working similar hours earn; women working more than 60 hours per week earn only 78.3% of what men in the same time category earn (City Vision College). Women have to work for a longer period of time to receive the promotions that provide access to higher pay (City Vision College). And for one last fact, women typically face challenges breaking into male-dominated fields (City Vision College).
It seems plausible that male view, and internalized female view, of women in society has consistently, across time and space, been one in which females are inferior, irrational, emotional, and only useful for sex. This sentiment appears to apply to females of all ages and demographics. The stigma that women who report violence and sexism against them ‘are making it up’ still silences those who did face such tragedies.
Women were silenced in the past and we are silenced in the present as well. Our rights to vote, own property, divorce, and choose abortion or not choose it (of which is being threatened), have marital rape be considered illegal, enter the work force, choose how we dress, etc. have allowed freedoms of women in the countries that provide such rights no other generation of females have ever known. But the work is far from over, as proven above.
However, are groups of men and women who believe that feminism has become unnecessary and harmful. Men’s rights activists, or MRAs, actively believe that feminism is harmful to society and directly hurts men (A Voice for Men). Rather than seeing feminism as a resistance, they see feminism as a direct attack on the male species. They have voiced such opinions saying, “The concept of rape has a lot of utility for women. One, it feeds their narcissistic need to feel irresistible” (Elam), putting blame on female rape victims as if sexual violence benefits women. Paul Elam, founder of the website A Voice for Men, claimed that it was natural for men to be rough, dominant, and speak of crude things because
“Most all of them [women], want to be sexually dominated”. Also, MRA’s have denounced feminism by saying that “Feminism has [led] to the oppression of men” (A Voice for Men). However, feminism is a defense system against the patriarchal, male-run world we live in and have lived in for thousands of years, never has it been a movement towards male oppression. Female liberation and speaking the truth has been the main goal this entire time, not to do unto others what they have done to us.
Some have accepted institutions and practices that have harmed females in the past as a possible choice for us now, but perhaps it is to denounce them for now, until a female can do whatever she pleases without facing objectification, being sexualized, discrimination, misogyny, and/or ridicule. According to the feminists group I personally agree with, selling our bodies should never be an actual option, nor should striving for warped ideals of ‘perfection’, or feeling less because we are female-bodied persons. An option or choice should not be one met with ambivalence, without thought, or one out of desperation and/or a lack of other choices. This is the reality of women and girls, even if they are of privileged societies, and that reality is not as sweet as it could or should be. It has become so desensitized within and around us, that many do not see it surrounding us every day.
Feminism, females joining together for a cause, is the solution, and that solution has yet come full circle.
Teacher’s comments (thanks Mrs. R!):
- “More specifically, the ideals that a woman must always keep up her appearance and be aesthetically pleasing continues to be upheld in Western society.”
I’m interested in hearing more of your thoughts on this—I know what you’re trying to say here, but you haven’t yet established that historically women’s appearance has been a contested issue. There are a lot of historical examples that prove this, but you’re skipping over that part. Just something to think about.
- “Using myself as an example, I cannot go out in public without wearing earrings or else I will feel like I am not dressed at all. My ears were pierced while I was still in infancy, and having pierced ears has been all I have ever known. It was seen as a requirement to my mother that her daughter—but not her son—have pierced ears and where earrings every day because that is what she herself had learned in childhood/girlhood.”
Good discussion here!
- “A mentionable example of male pleasure through female vulnerability is the custom of female foot binding in China. The tradition was believed to have begun circa 970 AD (Collet). For thousands of years, three-inch long, bound feet were considered highly erotic (Collet), and goes on at a much smaller rate in modern-day Asia. Quite similarly, American and European women in past centuries endured high heels, rib-breaking corsets, and lead makeup (Jeffreys). The fact that females face constant harm is still perpetuated in the 21st century.”
True…but to what extent? These cultural practices are no longer happening, but I suppose you could say that other practices (ex. platform heeled shoes) have been substituted for these. What do you think?
I’ll even share my grade! Cause hey! It’s anonymous!
Making a clear argument (30 points): 26
Structure and organization (20 points): 18
Voice (10 points): 10
Readability (10 points): 10
Originality (10 points): 10
Citing (in-text and works cited) (20 points): 16
Total: 90 /100
Please share thoughts below!