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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Surprise! Feminism isn’t dead

    Sarah Devlin columnist
    Sarah Devlin

    I’m a feminist, and I bet you are too. I know, it sounds a little presumptuous.

    Most people who find out that I enjoy feminist literature and subscribe to the NARAL newsletter are also mildly shocked to learn that I don’t advocate bra burning, that I wear mascara and that I’m not a lesbian. Despite the gains made in women’s rights, the perception of feminists as radicals on the fringe of society persists even in liberal college environments. It’s easy in 2007 to feel that women’s rights aren’t under attack, and that feminists have already won. More women than men attend universities, after all – we’re practically taking over!

    Why do so many young women (and men) who lead feminist lives refuse to identify as such? Part of it seems to be contemporary images of feminists as a bunch of humorless, man-hating lesbians who hate sex almost as much as they hate shaving their legs. While I’m sure they exist, they are not emblematic of feminism. In a 2007 study by the University of Vermont, college-age women who read a paragraph featuring positive stereotypes of feminists were twice as likely to self-identify as feminists than women who read a paragraph containing negative stereotypes. I bet that, when asked, most students would say that they favor protection against sexual harassment and rape, equal pay for equal work and the right of both genders to an education. For many, however, feminist stereotypes are powerful enough to keep them from openly supporting the movement. This hesitance is wrong, and what’s more, it’s dangerous.

    Most college-age women haven’t yet had to contend with workplace discrimination and societal expectations of marriage and motherhood, two arenas where women’s gains haven’t really made much of a difference. In April, a study demonstrated that one year after college graduation, a pay gap already exists between male and female full-time employees.

    Even accounting for factors like number of hours worked, difference in occupation and parenthood, the gap only grows with time. Women who actively seek raises risk damage to their reputations and even their work environment, as men are less willing to work with women who attempt to negotiate for higher salaries. Is this cause for hating men? Certainly not. The problem isn’t really about individual prejudice anymore. Nonetheless, women and men must recognize that instutionalized gender discrimination is not a thing of the past. We have to re-examine the ways that we socialize boys and girls to behave at work, and we have to stop casting assertive women as uppity, unpleasant battle axes.

    It’s easy to feel like feminism has won when you’re on a college campus, but just wait a few years, when you’re getting married and starting families. While modern society has few objections to women working, study after dubious study is quick to condemn working mothers as neglectful. In the late 1980s, researchers categorically disproved the myth that children in day care suffer from less contact with their mothers, yet the media persists today with stories characterizing children of working mothers as more disobedient, more disruptive and even more prone to obesity. Working fathers are viewed as providers, but working mothers are the first step in a child’s slide into delinquency. If a man wants to stay home and take care of the children, there are movies and sitcom plots aplenty about the zany antics that ensue. God forbid men who want to support their working wives be taken seriously – or that their working wives let them play mom in the first place. You can forget about state support of egalitarian marriages, as marriage license applications don’t include an option for either men or women to change their last names. In California, if a man chooses to take his wife’s name, he must pay court fees upwards of $300 and advertise his name change in the newspaper – probably while being mocked by his friends. Why, in an age when women and men are nominally equal, is the issue of name change still a woman’s dilemma?

    Is the point of this column that everyone must be feminist? While it would be nice, the answer is no. But if you are going to say that you are not a feminist, be very clear about what that means. It is a tacit approval of a system in which women are told that they may do the same jobs as men, but earn far less money. It is approval of a system in which a woman cannot ask for a raise without being perceived by her colleagues as a ball-buster. It means agreeing that women can work, but that they are bad mothers if they do. It is an affirmation of laws that assume that all married women want to give up their names and that no married men are interested in doing the same. Does any of this sound wrong to you? Then, male or female, you are a feminist.

    If you don’t learn now to confidently and vocally advocate for equality, very real obstacles in work, love and family lie ahead. So stand up and be counted. There’s no reason to accept anything less.

    Sarah Devlin is a sophomore majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at

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