Not too long ago I was driving on the freeway with a close male friend in the passenger’s seat. The conversation inevitably turned to politics and the recent election, which then quickly morphed into an argument about Hillary Clinton.
My friend, who is one of the most intelligent and compassionate people I know, became exasperated rather quickly. According to him, my refusal to ‘let things go’ and insistence on discussing what I felt was the election’s reawakening of the sexism that lies dormant in our society, was misguided. He then proceeded to make the most frustrating of arguments, not because of the content, but because of the implied intent.
Countering my complaints of the continued trivialization, inequality, oppression and objectification of women in society, my friend simply pointed to ‘how far things have come.’
How could I say sexism still existed and that feminism is needed now more than ever when we have a female Secretary of State and Speaker of the House? Rather easily.
What makes modern day sexism so insidious is in most cases it is not the overtly obvious display of it. Instead, everywhere we look, women are constantly being told how ‘far’ we’ve really come. What we are being told, essentially, is to be happy with the pathetically slow progression and any woman who points this fact out is labeled ‘radical.’ When did demanding equal rights for women, also known as humanism, become a radical idea? And most critically, when did our generation of women and men become so complacent with the idea that some progress is enough progress?
Here at CSUN, all of the candidates for Associated Students (A.S.) president and vice president are male, which is sadly endemic of local, state, national and international politics.
The candidacy of Hillary Clinton revealed a lot about our society and the role of women in politics. It unearthed some disturbing truths, from young men yelling ‘Iron my shirt’ at her rallies to ‘distinguished’ men commenting on television about her hair and clothes.
It also began a national dialogue on the state of the women’s movement. During the heightened interest in women’s voices and experts, it was no longer novel to see multiple female participants on news shows and in newspapers across the country. Unfortunately, that dialogue often included only the mainstream, upper class, white and heterosexual voices. But at least there was a conversation being had.
Now that the mainstream media no longer has an interest in this, the dialogue has become stagnant. Therein lies the irony and frustration that I feel. Many would argue that with our country in economic collapse and at war there are more ‘important’ issues to address than women’s continued struggle for equality. The exact opposite is true.
Women make up more than half the population, yet continue to have the highest unemployment numbers and are more likely to live in poverty. If we spend time and concentrated effort at addressing these problems, we increase the productivity and efficiency of our economy and ultimately of our society. The question then becomes how to go about addressing this issue in a coherent and intelligent way.
WomenCount, a political action committee focused on the advancement of women’s issues, has launched a campaign to support a presidential commission on women during the first 100 days of Obama’s presidency.
They want to reintroduce the conversation about the role of women in society and how to improve the conditions in which they exist. Their slogan sums it up, ‘WomenCount, It’s Our Time!’
As great as a commission would be, it is not enough and more must be asked of everyday men and women. We must also demand more from our elected officials. At her senate confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Clinton spoke at length about her plans to address the national and international issues women face. We have yet to see her incorporate that into her diplomatic agenda. First Lady Michelle Obama, a highly accomplished and intelligent individual in her own right, must also use her public platform to help advocate for women.
Most importantly, however, young women and men must be unafraid to challenge what they see as unacceptable and be able to find their respective voices. That voice might often be hard to vocalize, since the backlash in society remains palpable, but it must be heard.