Is Feminism Dead?

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Is Feminism Dead? What is feminism? There are many different interpretations of the word "feminism". However, most people agree that feminism is the theory that men and women should be equal politically, economically and socially. The feminist movement is a group of men and women who believe in feminism and are trying to eliminate the inequality between men and women. Feminism, as it was first known, has almost died out completely. Feminist groups today are integrating many more issues into feminism. This seems to be a good thing at first. However, it is driving women away from feminism and many women are insulted or embarrassed to be called feminists because of the negative connotation feminism has adopted. There are many different types of feminism. The theory that there are fundamental personality differences between men and women, and that women's differences are special and should be celebrated is called cultural feminism. This theory of feminism supports the notion that there are biological differences between men and women, for example, "women are kinder and more gentle then men", leading to the mentality that if women ruled the world there would be no wars. Cultural feminism is the theory that wants to overcome sexism by celebrating women's special qualities, women's ways, and women's experiences, often believing that the "woman's way" is the better way. Another type, individualist feminism, is based upon individualist or libertarian (minimum government or anarchocapitalist) philosophies. The primary focus is individual autonomy, rights, liberty, independence and diversity. Moderate feminism is a branch of feminism that tends to be populated mostly by younger women or women who have not directly experienced discrimination. They tend to question the need for further effort, and do not think that radical feminism is any longer viable and in fact rather embarrassing. Radical feminism is the breeding ground for many of the ideas arising from feminism. This type of feminism was the cutting edge of feminist theory from approximately 1967-1975. It is no longer as universally accepted as it was then and no longer serves to solely define the term, "feminism". This group views the oppression of women as the most fundamental form of oppression, one that cuts across boundaries of race, culture, and economic class. This is a movement intent on social change, change of rather revolutionary proportions, in fact. Radical feminism questions why women must adopt certain roles based on their biology, just as it questions why men adopt certain other roles based on theirs (Colleen's Feminist Home page). Feminism is not a very old concept. For most of history women have been viewed as the lesser sex and did not argue this point. However, there have been some very powerful and influential women in history. Cleopatra the powerful but, ill-fated queen of Egypt (51-30 BC) came to rule with her brother at age 17 and alone at age 20. Another female ruler, Elizabeth I was the most successful monarch ever to sit on the English throne. Her reign, known in English history as the Elizabethan period, was an era of great accomplishment in England. She transformed the poverty-stricken England into a great military power. Nancy Witcher Langhorne Astor who in 1910, became involved in her husband's work in Parliament. In 1919 her husband was elevated to the House of Lords. Nancy ran for the seat vacated by her husband in the House of Commons and was elected by a substantial majority. She was the first woman to be a member of Parliament in Britain. Geraldine Ferraro, who gained influence with the Democratic party after being elected to the House of Representatives was chosen by Walter Mondale in 1984 to be his vice president. Ferraro was the first female vice-president nominee. In 1988, Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as Prime Minister and became the first woman to head the government of an Islamic state. As a result of her leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party she has spent a total of 6 years in prison. Since being sworn in she has emphasized the need to reduce sexual discrimination, institute programs for health and the underprivileged, and make education reforms. (Distinguished Women Past and Present) These women have shown feminists and nonfeminists alike that women can do anything they put their minds to. These women have also shown men that women are capable of doing what was traditionally thought of as "men's work". These women and their achievements helped to stimulate the women's movement and the powerful women of the late twentieth century have helped to keep a dying feminist movement alive. The beginning of feminism in the United States cannot be traced back to any specific event. Olive Banks, a professor of sociology at the University of Leicester, finds it best to talk about the history of feminism with "the main unit of analysis [as] the cohort or generation, based on year of birth". She identifies four cohorts with the first consisting of those born before 1828 representing the first generation of the women's movement. The first cohort is active although unorganized. It includes women like Caroline Norton who "successfully stage-managed the first piece of feminist legislation in 1839". Other prominent members of the first cohort "include some of the earliest pioneers in the education of girls, like Anne Jemima Clough, Frances Mary Buss and the two Shirreff sisters, as well as most of the Owenite socialist feminists like Anna Wheeler and Frances Wright". The second cohort were born between 1828 and 1848. It includes Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake, "who between them pioneered the opening of the medical profession to women, Emily Davies who opened higher education to women, several nineteenth-century suffrage leaders such as Helen Blackburn, Ursula Bright, and Millicent Garrent Fawcett, and Josephine Butler, a feminist who is best known for fight against the Contagious Diseases Acts. The third cohort were born within the years 1849 and 1871. At this time, "the suffrage issue had begun to take precedence over all else and it is this cohort...that provided the leadership of the suffrage movement as it moved into the twentieth century". Prominent women in this group included Emmeline Pankhurst and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, both militant leaders, Constance Lytton "who became one of the movement's martyrs, and on the "constitutional side" were Helena Swanwick, Isabella Ford, and Frances Balfour. Banks's fourth and final cohort were born between 1872 and 1891. They "represent the last generation of first-wave' feminism". Most were swept up into the suffrage campaign as young women like Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst. This generation "saw the partial success of the suffrage campaign in 1918, and its final success in 1928" (Banks 4-5). These women and many countless others are responsible for the nineteenth amendment which was introduced to Congress in 1878 and eventually ratified in 1920 without being changed (Barber). Since the ratification of the nineteenth amendment, our society has changed completely especially for women. Since the 1920s our society has seen many changes for women such as the importance of higher education, namely college, a huge increase in working-class women, a media that caters to women, knowledge about sexuality, birth control, and changes within the family unit (Burke 21). World War II was a turning point for women. Now, instead of being kept out of the work force, women were "welcomed into factories, shops, and just about anywhere they were willing to work". They became "skilled workers in airplane and converted auto parts", taxi drivers, and government workers (Burke 27). The sixties brought about the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the birth control pill, a shifting economy, and a new women's movement (Burke 33-34). During the past twenty or so years, feminism has taken on an entirely different meaning. Paula Kamen interviewed 103 nonactivists and found that the stereotypical feminist is perceived as a "bra-burning, hairy-legged, amazon, castrating, militant-almost-antifeminine, communist, Marxist, separatist, female skinhead, female supremacist, he-woman, [lesbian], [dyke], man-hater, man-basher, wanting-men's-jobs, wanting- to-dominate- men, want-to-be-men, war-short-hair-to-look-unattractive, bizarre-chicks-running-around-doing-kooky-things, I-am-a-woman-hear-me-roar, uptight, angry, white-middle-class radicals". Of the women interviewed, "most didn't identify with feminism or want to be associated with it on a personal or political level. The great irony is that although feminism has generally made a tremendous difference in the perceptions and opportunities in many of these people's lives, it is something that they almost universally shun" (Kamen 23). When asked if women had achieved equality nearly everyone responded "no". The issues which provoked the strongest feelings were "violence against women, secure abortion rights, and...equal pay for equal work". Other issues included "child care and health needs, especially for single mothers, and racism's effects on women. The family was a major issue throughout conversations that called for more tolerance of women's choices and a higher valuation and more support for motherhood". Many women are afraid to call themselves feminists because of the feminist stereotype. In View, a magazine for college women, conducted a poll in September of 1989. Out of 514 female undergraduates, "90% agreed that men and women should earn equal pay for equal work; 93% said that women want equality with men; 84% agreed that women should have access to birth control, regardless of age or marital status; 90% believed that sexism still exists". However, only 16% of them women polled said they were definitely feminists. 33% definitely did not consider themselves feminists (Kamen 33-34). Why don't women like those polled feel that they are feminists even though they are, according to what they say, agreeing with the feminist theory? There are many reasons. First, "many [women] explained that they are not feminists because they prefer the female way of life, not the male one". Many women want and enjoy the privileges that go with being a woman such as having the door opened for them. Second, because of feminism's focus on careers, women without professional ambitions do not see the feminist movement as relating to them and even view it as antimotherhood. Third, others feel that "feminists deny what is feminine", and fourth, "they associate feminism with lesbians". Many women "thought feminism did to gender what communism theoretically does to class: wipe out any distinctions". Fifth, women think feminists "hate men or think that women should be superior to them". Sixth, others didn't feel that the fight for women's rights was personally relevant to them (Kamen 35-36). In general, women seem to have many thoughts on the feminist stereotype and it is turning many women away from fighting for equality. "The media's caricature of feminism, combined with some bad habits in the movement itself, has lead many women to view the weapon of pro-woman politics with distaste. The weapon's own rigidity keeps it from adapting itself to the average woman's hand" and this is causing many people to view feminism as dead (Wolf 59). Today, there are just too many issues being tied in with feminism. Modern feminism has drawn a very unappealing picture of itself. It has become too political involving such controversial issues such as abortion, lesbianism, and pornography. It has become too restricted in ways that lead people to think that its only for middle-class white women, for fighting against men, about not wearing makeup and chopping one's hair off. Who is at fault? The media has played a large role in the death of feminism as it was known it the beginning. However, the radical feminists themselves gave the media just what they were looking for. Radical feminists who believe that women should not give birth, get married even if in love, engage in anything "frivolous", or be even the slightest bit vulnerable have no one to blame but themselves. The media loves to report on eccentric ways and the radical feminists gave them just what they wanted (Wolf 60-62). Christine, a twenty-eight-year-old secretary describes the city in which she lives. She says that it has "a very strong "left" group of feminists. They are a strong group that dominates many organizations...In my opinion, this group is also responsible for sabotaging these organizations... . It has been difficult...to get women to mobilize... Many of the [radical feminists] attend many meetings. They almost never offer solutions or constructive criticism and because of the negative feeling they bring with them, they leave many women feeling alienated or confused" (Wolf 63). Christine is not the only woman who feels this way. From polls, letters, and interviews it can be s

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