Not Post-Gender Yet

For many people, the term “feminist” brings to mind the image of an overbearing woman who is ill tempered, unattractive and probably a lesbian. Not a very flattering image, if I do say so myself.

Feminism is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as, “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men.” The key word here is equality. A feminist is not a person who hates men. A feminist is also not a person who believes the rights of women should exceed those of men. These are the misconceptions that have become associated with the term.

It is our job as a generation to change that.

A feminist is a person who has the audacity to identify and challenge the laws, stereotypes and cultural mindsets that put women at a disadvantage. A feminist can be a male or female of any race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political affiliation or religion. And they do not necessarily view men as the “enemy.” Simply, a feminist is a person who is willing to fight for gender equality.

Although enormous strides have been made in recent decades, female oppression is an issue society still deals with today. Head of School John Palfrey reminded us on Wednesday that “we don’t live in a post-gender…world.” As Facebook COO and author of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” Sheryl Sandberg explained on The Daily Show last week, “we’re held back by sexism, discrimination and terrible public policy…but we’re also held back by the stereotypes… go to a playground this weekend and you’ll hear little girls called “bossy.” You won’t hear little boys called bossy because we expect boys to be assertive.”

Ms. Sandberg went on to describe how much of this prejudice is influenced by various societal factors, citing a controversy that occurred two years ago when iconic children’s clothing retailer Gymboree released onesies for infants that sported the phrases, “Smart like daddy” and “Pretty like mommy.”

Examples such as this are not supposed to suggest that the entire population views women in a certain way. They are also not meant to imply that similar objectification is not sometimes applied to men, or that any one issue is more important than another. But a woman should be able to protest the use of such stereotyping without the rest of the population rolling their eyes at her “feminist rant.”

As a feminist myself, I do feel that women are still constricted by society in many ways. I feel that the general practice of silencing women throughout history has resulted in a very negative stereotype for women in positions of leadership or power. From my observations, a boy who frequently challenges the opinions of others and is vocal about his own opinions is typically perceived as astute and confident. A girl who speaks up too often is a bitch.

Sexual objectification presents another enormous problem in terms of modern feminism. Author and journalist Rebecca West once said, “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.” I am afraid this statement is in many ways true.

It is important to remember that sexual objectification itself is in no way restricted to women. Nor are men necessarily responsible for such objectification. Nevertheless, we live in a culture where self-loathing is rampant in women: a compulsive, socially induced fear of being disregarded or ignored results in many girls and women allowing themselves to be sexualized, objectified and ultimately used. Such a culture needs to be changed.

Here at Andover, the term “feminist” is too often used in a derogatory fashion. When questions were first raised regarding sexism in the most recent student presidential elections, the backlash that followed was almost stunning in magnitude. The implications of this are troublesome. I agree that gender alone should not be the deciding factor in any election; however, I was disturbed by the resentment some students displayed. Many of my classmates refused to consider that gender inequity might have been a component in the lack of female presidents in Andover history. There was a vehement disdain for the people who raised these questions in the first place. I believe that this immediate and overly defensive stance was taken mostly as a result of a latent fear that the empowerment of women will result in the disempowerment of men.

In this regard, equal status and lesser status have been once again confused. True feminism in no way infringes upon or compromises the rights or standing of men in our society. It puts women on an equal platform both legally and socially. It is a separate issue from male objectification and discrimination, which deserves its own attention and full consideration. No one should view the rights of women as a subset or deduction from the rights of men. Female liberation is an issue entirely unto itself, and it is imperative that we begin treating it as such. The fight for gender equality should not be limited to any specific orientation, political party, culture, religion or sex. It is an incontestably human fight that should encompass us all.

Grace Tully is a two-year Lower from Reading, Mass.