Point / counter-point: feminism in the 21st Century


Feminist dialogue as important as ever in modern society

In her concession speech to Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton referred to the gender barrier as the “highest, hardest glass ceiling.” She went on to thank the Americans who supported her for putting 18 million cracks in it, something she hoped would metaphorically light the path for future female candidates.

While Clinton had somewhat shied away from discussing the historic nature of her candidacy during the campaign, her concession speech showed a marked change. She unabashedly discussed at length the role the suffragette movement played in allowing her to vote and eventually run for the highest office in the land and how she hoped her candidacy would show American girls that they could aspire to be anything they wanted to be.

Clinton’s message reflects the fact that feminism is as relevant today as it was when women were fighting for equal political rights — not just because full political equality has not yet been achieved for women but also because having a discourse that isolates and exposes inequalities between genders is of paramount importance.

Some would argue that feminism is not necessary in the modern world. Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics. In his opinion “modern feminism is unnecessary […] The fact that men and women are fundamentally different and want different things makes it difficult to compare their welfare directly, to assess which sex is better off.”

Kanazawa’s point seems to exist in a state of academic unreality. Earlier in December, the U.S. Census Bureau released indicators on economic performance based on sex. It found that in any single occupation, median pay for men almost always exceeds that of women. On average, female physicians/surgeons make 66 per cent of what men make and female lawyers earn 78 per cent of their male counterparts. These are only a few examples.

Kanazawa, though, falls into the same trap that a lot of anti-feminists do: that political and economic equality has gone “far enough” and that feminism has become irrelevant. In his article, a man with a PhD who can supposedly interpret numeric data in a simple table says that, “Now women make as much as, sometimes even more than, men do.” This is not universally substantiated nor is it factual.

There were those who argued — along the same lines — that Hillary Clinton getting closer to a presidential nomination than any woman in history and how Sarah Palin had become the first female Republican vice-presidential nominee, a discourse based entirely on the differences between the sexes was moot. Some argued that equality had arrived.

Again, this fails to acknowledge the reality of women in today’s society. In Canada, women make up only 22 per cent of the House of Commons and 35 per cent of the Senate, not to mention the fact that 100 per cent of the political party leaders with representation in the House are male. In America, only 17 per cent of both the House of Representatives and Senate is female.

The advancements made by women in the last half-century are vast and varied. But the fact that the differences between the sexes are subtler now than they have ever been underscores the importance of maintaining a prominent and sustained feminist dialogue.

A new frontier of feminism must continue to emerge: one that focuses on the continued demeaning of women in popular culture, the challenges for women in insubordinate positions across the globe and how to erase the numerical gap between male and female politicians and shatter the glass ceiling once and for all.

– Joseph McNinch-Pazzano


Feminist movement of the present trapped in irrelevance

Feminism has lost relevance in the modern day — it is no longer clear what feminists are fighting for or, in all honesty, why. Decades ago, the suffrage movement made sense; women faced a time when their most basic rights were not acknowledged.

Since then much has changed; female enrolment in schools at all levels is significantly higher, women may pursue a variety of employment opportunities and the disparity between male and female salaries has decreased significantly. In some cases, we may even expect a reversal in the gender gap in post-secondary institutions where female enrolment in law and medical schools is nearing or has already surpassed fifty per cent.

Radical feminists are too quick to paint all women with the same brush — in other words, they demonstrate a clear disregard for the diverse interests among women.

Radical feminists condemn women that want to stay at home with their kids instead of committing to a career, divide women more than unite them. They ignore the reality that biological differences exist among men and women that will inevitably lead to a degree of lifestyle differences. If made as a free choice, there is no need to sneer at this lifestyle.

These different lifestyles are reflected in the pay differences between men and women. Analyses of income disparities among men and women fail to consider a number of factors that paint a very different picture of reality. Depending on the profession, some women will work on average fewer hours in a week than men, possess less work experience and opt for part-time employment as opposed to full-time — all of which are often overlooked among those who are quick to assume that women are continuously disadvantaged.

Thus, once these factors are accounted for the adjusted ratio looks something more like women earning 93 cents to every dollar a man makes — according to Statistics Canada’s 2008 findings compared to the 70 cents per dollar claimed by the Canadian Labour Congress.

Modern feminist ideology can also sometimes harm the very cause they support. Some feminists have gone so far as to advocate for improving prostitutes’ rights, arguing that as in the case of other occupations prostitutes choose their own line of work and as such, are entitled to dignity, safety and respect.

Yet, instead of empowering these women by encouraging them to pursue fruitful lives with other means, they argue that prostitution is not any more oppressive than other lines of work in the capitalist system. Additionally, one can argue that prostitution fosters a chauvinistic attitude among men to see women as sex objects.

In addition to backwards ideals, their rhetoric can also be harmful for gender equality. Call me crazy, but I have a hard time understanding why the University of Windsor, among other institutions, opted to spell its “Womyn’s Centre” with a “y.”

The theory is that referring to women as “womyn” raises awareness or support for women’s rights. If anything, it only makes it all too easy for anti-feminists to cling to the perception that feminists are “man-bashers.”

Instead of worrying about how the name of a university women’s centre is spelled or whether it is the opportune time to stage a mass bra burning, feminists would find their efforts better suited in areas of the world where women are actually oppressed.

They also need to encourage whatever life path women desire, instead of simply condemning attachment to family norms. Only when the feminist movement begins to refocus their priorities and accept the diversity of the hopes and aspirations of all women will they be able to move into the mainstream of political thought in Western society.

-Barbara Ciochon

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