A Case for Feminism: Gender Inequality and the Feminist Definition

While looking through the State of the Academy Survey of 2022, I read that 70.4 percent of students surveyed considered themselves feminists. Although this percentage may seem like a decent majority of students, it took me by surprise that a sizable portion of students, most of whom were men, did not believe in basic equality between men and women. Moreover, a national survey conducted by the Washington Post found that 50 percent of men and 30 percent of women don’t consider themselves feminists. With Women’s History Month coming to an end, it’s important to acknowledge what women have achieved to promote their rights, but also to think about what can still be done to promote true feminism.  

A feminist, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women.” More simply, being a feminist means believing that men and women, in the context of work, education, sports, and more, are equal and should be treated equally. Seeing as equality should be a social norm, why do so many not support feminism? The only reasons I can muster are either that people believe we have achieved gender equality already or that they believe women genuinely do not deserve equality.

Contrary to the former assumption, instances of inequality still exist — or example, take Afghanistan today. According to CNN News, Taliban officials have suspended education for female students in Afghanistan. Preceding this suspension, women have also been completely restricted from working in certain sectors and traveling long distances without a male guardian. This ban was devastating to many, erasing 20 years of progress in women’s rights. Although many have spoken up and protested about this issue, there still haven’t been any recent developments to reverse this ban. 

As a student at Andover, this news felt unreal when I first heard it,  and I couldn’t even begin to imagine the reality that women in Afghanistan face every day. What was even more surprising is that the motivation behind this ban was the failure of women to adhere to specific rules enforced earlier that year, such as a strict dress code. These rules themselves are already forms of suppressing women’s freedom, and it’s also evident that these stern rules leave men to have more control over society. 

It may be easy to assume that Western countries like the U.S. don’t have as dire cases of gender inequality, but that, too, is disputed. One key example is the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022, which resulted in abortion being banned to varying degrees in 13 different states. This ban is a clear dismissal of women’s agency over themselves and their bodies. Many argue how insensitive abortion is, explaining that abortion means killing a baby or fetus, but this in turn implies that the woman’s life, which will be affected forever, is less significant because she does not deserve a choice. There is also a chance of injury for those who are giving birth due to medical conditions, and if abortion is banned fully knowing that this could be the case, this is another display of how trivial a woman’s agency is in the U.S. 

Furthermore, there are subtler but still widespread instances in both the workplace and schools, in which women are not treated equally. Some examples include unequal pay, a preference towards men when it comes to promotions, and unsafe environments which could potentially lead to sexual harassment. The wage gap is still a serious problem in the U.S. today, as a woman gets paid 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes. This disparity in income dates back to times when women were starting to acquire the right to work, and there was a belief that women could not perform tasks as skillfully as men, which justified lower pay. All of these problems have been prevalent for a long time, and not enough has been done to ease them. Thus, the claim that gender equality has already been established is completely incorrect, not just globally but also domestically.

Because gender inequality is still so rampant across many areas of the world, acknowledging the problem and informing others is important –– a task that feminism tackles. However, in addition to the reasons mentioned earlier, another reason one may hesitate in calling themselves a feminist is the negative but untrue connotations that the word carries. Feminism is often misunderstood as the concept that women are somewhat superior, or that all of the blame for gender inequality falls on men, who must now be punished for the patriarchy. This perception of feminism does not demonstrate its true definition, which is simply fighting for equality between men and women. It’s essential to educate people about these untrue and exaggerated facets of feminism. 

Women’s History Month is a great time to appreciate the contributions that women have made to society. Although we have come a long way already, in order to bridge the gap between men and women, we must reevaluate the definition of a feminist, and take steps towards achieving the goals which actually correspond with feminist beliefs.