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Women's Issues When the Term Feminism WasInterview

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¶ … Women's Issues

When the term feminism was first used in the United States of America, it was largely used to refer to the pursuit of women to get the right to vote. Later, it became synonymous with the attempts of women to be seen as equals of men in all aspects of life, from wages to family responsibilities to legal rights. In today's society, other issues such as reproductive rights and freedom to make autonomous decisions about such things as abortion, along with the attempts to make men responsible for their families in instances of child support and divorce, have come to the forefront of feminism and the women's movement. While all of these issues are important to the overall concept of feminism, there are certain issues that remain the definitive elements of the women's movement and that are absolutely necessary in securing equal status of women in the United States society and culture.

Moreover, when people speak about the feminist movement, it gives the impression that the experience of being a woman in America is a universal one. That is clearly not the case. While women in America have certainly been subject to the same types of legal discrimination, that discrimination has had a different impact on women from different backgrounds. Women that have come from some type of privilege, which has generally meant wealthy white women, have sometimes been able to avail themselves of benefits that they could not have gotten under the law. For example, when abortion was illegal, it was not unusual for wealthy white women to travel abroad for abortions, an option that poor women simply could not afford. However, the differences in the female experience do not belie the fact that some experiences can be said to be universal. For example, domestic and sexual violence know no race, class, or religious boundaries, and women in all groups have been pressured to keep this violence secret.

In order to determine which of these elements remain the most important or debated in American society and culture, I conducted an analysis of two scholarly articles, several feminist and women's rights films, an interview with a close family friend, and my own opinions. For my interview, I chose to speak with Suzanne Neville. Suzanne is a 94-year-old woman who grew up in West Texas, spending the majority of her life in El Paso Texas. Suzanne is a white woman of some privilege. Though she spent her early childhood in a less affluent home, her mother married her stepfather when Suzanne was 12, and Suzanne entered into a comfortable-middle class lifestyle. When she married her husband at the age of 19, Suzanne became a member of the upper-middle class. Suzanne attended two years of college prior to her marriage, but has never held a job nor had the need to have a job. Upon her husband's death, Suzanne became responsible for her finances for the first time in her life, a task she passed on to her son-in-law. From anyone looking at it from the outside, Suzanne had a comfortable life. However, because I am familiar with Suzanne's family, I am aware that two of her daughters were in abusive marriages, one of which ended in divorce, the other in suicide. I am also aware that one of her granddaughters is a lesbian. All of these factors have helped shape Suzanne's view of the women's movement and feminist issues, so that she has far more awareness of those issues than one would expect of a woman of her age and social class.

The Women's Movement

The women's movement has had different importance for women in different times in history. The women's movement refers to the fight to establish equal rights for women in the United States and around the world in all areas of life and society. There are both surface elements that denote a woman's unequal status in the United States and more severe, dangerous elements that continue to make women second-class citizens and practically subservient to men. For example, "women pay more for haircuts, dry cleaning, and cars. More seriously, we also earn less, are less well represented in our political institutions, do more than our fair share of household work, enjoy less personal security on city streets, and have less leisure time than do our male counterparts" (Brennan, 2009, p. 142). One of the continued discrepancies in American culture is the expectation that women will do the bulk of the household chores and child rearing, without regards to their employment status. However, the fact that there has not been a complete shift should not be discouraging. "New social orders are established gradually" (Hooks, 2000, p.161). While the idea of a revolution may bring up images of a violent shift, the reality is that cultural revolutions take more time to accomplish.

Suzanne's take on the women's movement was interesting, because she grew up in an age before the women's movement became a guiding force in society. She did not participate in marches or women's groups promoting women's rights. However, that does not mean that she is ignorant of women's issues, or that women's rights issues do not inform many of her decisions. According to Suzanne, women's issues influence her vote and she donates money to women's issues. Moreover, Suzanne's emphasis on women's rights reflects a woman of her time period. To Suzanne, the most important women's rights are the right to work and the right to own property, "because, without them any other freedom is meaningless. A woman needs to be able to support herself, or else she is dependent on a man. Dependency equals vulnerability" (Neville, 2011). However, Suzanne seemed unwilling to consider the role that she may have played in perpetuating a sexist system. According to Bell Hooks, "women must begin the work of feminist reorganization with the understanding that we have all (irrespective of our race, sex, or class) acted in complicity with the existing oppressive systems. We all need to make a conscious break with the system" (Hooks, 2000, p.164). Suzanne, however, seemed to believe that the feminist movement somehow did not apply to women like her, who happened to marry husbands that would keep them secure. However, examining the losses that Suzanne suffered as a result of gender-bias, it is clear that was not true.

My own experience with the women's movement has been limited, not only because of my gender, but also because I have grown up in a time that many consider post-feminist. However, I do not think that the women's movement is actually finished. In my own opinion, I believe that women are both expected to work and be the same mothers and wives that they were expected to be in 1950 American history. This is impossible. In many ways, in fact, the women's movement, feminism, and establishing equal rights have created a more difficult situation for women in that they are expected to fulfill both the traditional male role as breadwinner (or at least contributor) and the female role of wife and primary caregiver to children and aging parents.

Gender Bias in Schools

While Suzanne showed remarkable alacrity in discussing some women's issues, she seemed almost oblivious about other issues. She acknowledges that there was probably gender bias in schools when she was in school. However, she did not seem to connect the idea of gender bias in education with a broader pattern of sex-based discrimination. Instead, she seemed almost disinterested in the idea of gender bias in education.

Furthermore, in my own personal experience, I have not encountered any type of bias associated with my gender throughout my education, nor have I witnessed it occurring with others. However, the readings on gender bias do make me question those assumptions. The evidence seems to suggest that gender bias in education can be damaging even when it is subtle, and that a casual observer is not likely to notice the gender bias. However, the fact that may be a continuing gender bias in education does not prevent women from achieving in certain fields. For example, the fact that girls are not encouraged to pursue mathematics and science as rigorously as boys does not mean that women are unable to do so. Much of the encouragement may need to come from the home, but this is does not necessarily make it an issue that should be at the forefront of the women's movement. In fact, according to Brennan (2009), "moral philosophers and social activists should give priority to ending evil, rather than to eliminating inequality" (p. 145). This would be one of the situations in which an inequality is occurring rather than an evil. In my opinion, then, it is not a necessity a question of women having equal legal rights, but rather an issue of changing societal attitudes.

Role of the Media in Woman's Self-Image

Another interesting historical factor in Suzanne's interview is that the media impacted her self-image in an almost miniscule way. Suzanne pointed out… [END OF PREVIEW]

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