BY CESCA WATERFIELD
Those who speak loudest against feminism usually offer an opinion festering in ignorance and oozing misinformation. Feminism does not demand special rights. Feminism demands equal political, economic, and social rights.
1. You and I need feminism because women still earn 79 cents for each dollar men earn, even taking into account education level, even when they’re in the same job, and across industries. In pink collar jobs traditionally dominated by women, women earn less than men. In jobs traditionally held by men, women earn less there too. That is a pay gap of 21 percent. Considering that women are more likely to be single parents, it’s clear that implications of such a pay gap are exponentially harmful to society and especially to the poor and working classes. Equal employment opportunities are meaningless if women can’t fairly earn for their labor. The pay gap is an injustice that hits women in daily, practical, hand-to-mouth ways, and because of the pay gap, you and I need feminism.
2. In Britain in 1918, women were granted the right to vote, but many stipulations were placed on them to ensure that women voters never outnumbered male voters. In that country, it took a decade longer for equitable voting rights. In the U.S., women were granted the vote in 1920. Currently, women comprise more than half the population, and in all demographics, women vote at higher rates than men. We need feminism because in spite of these facts, women still hold fewer than 20 percent of seats in Congress. Not surprisingly, then …
3. We need feminism because women’s bodies are still legislated and controlled. From long before the force-feeding of suffragettes; to the ease with which we pass judgment on or confront a pregnant woman drinking coffee or smoking a cigarette; to 2012 when Virginia Republican leaders sought a law that required a “transvaginal” ultrasound in abortion procedures; to Donald Trump’s avowal to “punish” women seeking abortion; to sweeping closures of health clinics in wide swaths of the country that already rank as the poorest and least educated, women do not have bodily autonomy, or equitable access to reasonable health care. President-elect Trump plans to appoint activist judges to the Supreme Court, and said last year, “I’m pro-life, the judges will be pro-life.” This plan defies the Constitutionally endowed “right to privacy” protected by the 14th Amendment on which Roe v. Wade was decided 44 years ago. It also invokes a strategy that conservatives have long decried as wrong, that of appointing judges who will bring their politics to the bench instead of interpreting the Constitution with traditional intent and public value. Growing obstacles to reasonable care impact all women, but most perniciously, the poor and working classes. And it follows …
4. You and I need feminism because the frequency of assault and murder of women in this nation alone does not elicit an equivocal movement to address it. In the United States since 9/11, more women have been murdered by domestic partners than all the Americans who were killed on 9/11, and Afghanistan and Iraq combined. That statistic has been analyzed, accounted for, and shown as statistically sound. Where is the outrage? There is more controversy over a football player who chooses to sit during the national anthem than there is interest in why the cultural trend of the murder of female American citizens is acceptable. Moreover, when women are assaulted, they are often blamed. In sexual assault, it often results in “slut shaming.” Anecdotal evidence: In 2005, when the man from whom I briefly rented a room in Richmond murdered a teen girl and dumped her body in rural Virginia, people approached me repeatedly to ask, “Why was she there with him? What was wrong with her?” In related news …
5. We still need feminism because our culture places the onus of blame on women who are attacked, raped, catcalled, etc., instead of brokering discussions about such ingrained aggression and the objectification inherent in these behaviors. Indifference to these behaviors exists on a continuum of violent acts and we need feminism. Need evidence? Here are a few examples.
6. We need feminism because Female Genital Mutilation is practiced in 29 countries. More than 200,000 million women now living in 30 countries have survived FGM, which is the barbaric act of cutting off a girl’s external genitals. It has no health benefits to her, it has numerous dangers, it complicates childbirth, and it is done solely to control her sexuality. Specifically, it is done to deny her any sexual pleasure in her life. It is practiced on girls as young as five months old.
7. We need feminism because heterosexual male pleasure is still presented pervasively across media as “universal sexuality.” Mainstream film ratings can receive a higher explicit rating simply for a scene that depicts a woman taking “excessive pleasure” in sex. Women are generally placed in an impossible role that demands she enjoy this limited and exclusionary “universal sexuality,” but not too much, lest she be shamed outright and in pernicious and insidious judgment. We need feminism to empower women to create their own sexual identity and make their own discoveries.
8. We need feminism because more than 120 countries have not passed laws against spousal rape. As of 2014, the most recent data I found, eight states in the U.S. offer exemptions in certain cases of spousal rape.
9. We need feminism because child marriage is still practiced in many countries. Even in countries that outlaw child marriage in their civic code, when the state recognizes Sharia law, it overrides civic law, and those nations comprise the world’s top five practitioners of child marriage. Child brides are not likely to receive education and they are at greater risk of partner violence and sexual abuse. The leading cause worldwide of deaths of girls 15-19 is pregnancy complications and childbirth. Child brides are at greater risk of contracting HIV. In sub-saharan Africa, girls ages 15 - 19 are 2 to 6 times more likely to contract HIV than boys their age.
10. We need feminism because in several countries, including but not limited to Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iran, Pakistan, and Colombia, acid attacks are on the rise resulting in a woman’s permanent disfigurement, usually for “crimes” like going to college or seeking divorce. We need feminism because female infanticide is still practiced in some countries worldwide because of the “low status” of females, and it results in millions of fewer girls than males. (You must have a strong constitution to view these images. If you have a strong constitution, Google “breast ironing,” “honor killing,” “dowry death,” and more.).
11. This is only a partial list. We need feminism because women’s rights are human rights. Anyone who professes to caring about human rights should have clear understanding of the need for feminism, regardless of whether he has a sister, wife, daughter, etc. to relate the cause to him. Women are human.
Cesca Waterfield is a third-year candidate in the MFA/MA program at McNeese State University. She is a vocalist and songwriter with two EPs and one full length recording available on iTunes. Her graphic memoir, “The First Time She Strayed” is forthcoming in the spring of 2017 from Vulgar Marsala Press. She loves classical ballet and the Radical Brownies.