It was during my very first college admissions interview that I started questioning one of my strong held beliefs and assumptions.
At the beginning of summer, I started touring east coast colleges, and at one, which shall remain nameless, I had my very first college interview. The school’s representative and I had a pleasant conversation about my academics, hobbies, and interests. As we talked, I told her about my recent research project on Cold War era toys, specifically the Barbie doll, and my summer reading book, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimension by Edwin A. Abbott (which I highly recommend), and its interesting portrayal of the caste system and women in Victorian England. However, what she said next caught me completely off guard.
“So, you’ve talked a bit about women’s issues. Would you say you’re a feminist?”
It’s a loaded question. What does it even mean to be a feminist? In my very limited experience with the idea of feminism, I found a very harsh, negative connotation, so never had I even considered myself a feminist. According to the Huffington Post, a study by the University of Toronto suggested that the most common words associated with “typical feminist” are “man-hating” and “unhygienic” which doesn’t lend itself well to a positive connotation. Throughout history, it’s been a major social issue.
Personally when I thought of feminism, I thought of 1940’s Rosie the Riveter showing off her guns, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, and the 1960’s “Burn the Bra” movement. While Rosie the Riveter was technically government propaganda, nothing else has so timelessly encouraged women to roll up their sleeves and get down to business like Rosie. She stands as a reminder of the past and encouragement for the future to women who channel her power through the pose. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique brought about a changing view of women’s roles. Friedan explored the dissatisfaction of the common housewife who lived up to the “ideal”. The book ignited a revolutionary perspective on women and is often thought to be the reason for the second wave of feminism. The “Burn the Bra” movement, as a result, had very different implications in society. Although women weren’t constantly burning bras, the feminist movement became a very serious, even threatening, movement which was unlike anything the feminist movement had seen before.
While the prominence of feminism moderately died down since the 60s and 70s, social media users will notice the increasing presence of feminism, blatant or not, through news articles, viral videos, and trending hashtags. Hilary Clinton, thought to be a possible presidential candidate, expressed at the beginning of summer that she is a feminist, redefining the idea from “man-hating,” as many now see it, to supporting equal rights for men and women, specifically in regard to the gender wage gap. Another woman, Emma Watson, stepped into the political limelight this summer at the United Nations, launching the UN’s “HeForShe” campaign. The movement, encouraging men and inadvertent feminists to band together, strives to bring gender equality to the world with equal pay, education, and opportunity. Watson presents it as a social issue affecting not only women and girls, but also men and boys. She implores listeners not classify an idea simply by a name, but rather by the idea itself.
Clearly, while the idea of feminism hasn’t necessarily changed drastically since the 1940s, or even the 1840’s and the Seneca Falls Convention, the way women have approached inequality has. From the dissatisfaction of women, to pyrotechnics, to the empowerment of men and women, feminism has evolved as a social issue.
Looking back, I wish that at my interview, I understood feminism as I do now. The innocence of my answer is nothing in which I will ever take pride, and now, I do consider myself a feminist. However, the big question is, what does this have to do with politics – it’s a social issue, right? In the end, perhaps, but now I know it’s about how women and men treat each other. While the equal rights movement has come a fair distance from 70 years ago, there is still a lot of work ahead. Still, social reform is a high hurdle, so perhaps, in order to change the social climate, we need people like Hilary Clinton and Emma Watson to help change the political climate as well. While feminism hasn’t always been widespread political issue, perhaps it should be.