What modern feminism does for equality

Jeongin Kim, web editor

As a self-proclaimed feminist, I find that when engaged in feminist discourse, the core principle—that the sexes should be equal—isn’t the subject of disagreement. Instead, it’s whether the movement of modern, third-wave feminism is necessary.

I believe it is. The status quo has still failed to bring equality for many demographics. We see the identities of transwomen undermined as they’re victim to rampant hate crimes; black women are disproportionally denied the healthcare amenities available to white women; pregnant women have their parental rights threatened by rapists legally allowed to sue for custody.

This is partly due to the notion that feminism is just about women’s freedom to live how they choose. While I believe that feminism should celebrate female autonomy, the flaw of the “choice argument” is that it assumes unrestrained freedom for all women. But there isn’t. Our choices are shaped by the conditions surrounding us, which are not all equitable. This idea can result in victim-blaming women for their dissatisfaction and, in extreme cases, violence: “It’s not misogyny’s fault, it’s yours because you haven’t done enough for yourself, you put yourself in that situation.”

Then there are opponents of third-wave feminism (though they still advocate for gender equality) because it has prioritized the “wrong things.” Unfortunately, many disingenuous by-products have been born out of feminism: corporations have capitalized on the movement, outrage politics have been amplified and celebrities have used their individual success stories (that benefit them singularly) as parables of female equality everywhere. But it would wrong to merely attribute these products to feminism. Every movement has its distractions and we must take it upon ourselves to filter out the nonsense. It’s our duty to not be susceptible to diversions that want to turn our attention away.

So, what exactly does equality look like?

The modern woman is often encouraged to be more assertive like men and reject “girly” things. I understand this sentiment is just supposed to empower women to take charge, however, this tactic sounds similar to the advice misogynistic men were told: “Don’t take no for an answer. The world is at your feet.” If we want to redirect society positively forward, this cannot be an ideal for anyone. This resentment of femininity and push for women to present themselves like men illuminate a misogynistic strain that still remains in feminism.

And what about men? Statistics concerning men’s suicide rates and gun violence are often mentioned to illuminate the vulnerability of men. Paternity fraud and false rape accusations (which are actually less than 1% of rape cases because up to 90% of rape goes unreported either because women don’t speak up or are dismissed) while always condemnable, aren’t systemic issues that affect most men. The subject of men’s rights is taboo as it is frequently only mentioned to undermine feminism, rather than to actually address their woes, but the question of what gender equality means for men is completely valid.

In the modern age, men, to a degree, have also been failed. Men are told to forget the toxic and restrictive gender role older generations created, without a new ideal to strive for. In public settings, men are often perceived as either invisible or dangerous by women. They’re of little value, and therefore ignored, or are a threat. That’s not to say that women shouldn’t cross the road if they feel unsafe, but we must understand how this binary can potentially be debilitating. Additionally, racial dynamics go undiscussed, but the state of gender equality varies across ethnicity. A black man perceived as a threat is much more at risk of hate crimes than a white man. Gender equality is more complex than just men vs. women.

But any dialogue concerning “who has it worse” is utterly futile and is nothing but “Oppression Olympics” that furthers the gulf between the sexes. Issues are issues regardless of comparison, though some require more urgency than others. Despite good intentions, I believe that there has been a bit of disillusionment from feminism’s original objective to equalize the playing field for a more equitable society. Feminism and gender equality aren’t isolated issues–it encompasses race, sexuality and class too. One solution will not fit all. So, ultimately, we must remind ourselves to have empathy, to look beyond our own experiences and listen.