No country has reached gender equality. I say this with great regret. For centuries women have been battling to achieve equality. It has taken hard work and perseverance from women to achieve even a slight change in the social construction of gender. These women, who campaign for gender equality, are called feminists. Feminists believe in feminism, which is the advocacy for the rights of women to be socially, economically, and politically equal to men.
There are three waves of feminism. The first wave began in the 19th and 20th century. In the early 1900’s, women were not to work; they were to give birth and care for their children. Men were the workers; men were the only people who had social mobility. Social mobility is the ability for an individual to “move from one position of a society’s stratification system to another” (Witt 241). Women were not to be anything other than housewives; they could not experience mobility because they had limited involvement in the workforce.
In this case, men were the instrumental leaders of the household; they handled all of the outside obligations of the family and had certain goals outside of the home. Women were the expressive leaders of the house, where they were responsible for handling the internal affairs of the family. Harriet Martineau, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Ida B. Wells, formed this theory about instrumental and expressive leaders. In their theory they recognize that the woman’s job as being an expressive leader, gives way for men to complete their instrumental tasks (307). In my understanding this is saying that, while women are at home taking care of the family, men are progressing in society because they have time to do so. This means that women cannot progress through society on their own, but merely in their husband’s shadow. Feminists are the kind of people who aspire to show other women that they too, can have goals. Feminists view themselves and other women to have the ability to be instrumental leaders. So, from a feminist point of view, not only can the man be the one who is allowed to have goals outside of the home, but women can too. Women can express themselves in whatever way they would like, and they have the ambition, will power, and intelligence to be more than just housewives.
Even in the political world in this time, women were not equal to men. Not only were not working outside of the home in large numbers, but they also could not vote. This wave of feminism is noticeable because it was in the time that there was a significant move towards gender equality. Up until 1919, women were not granted suffrage. Women were not granted the right to vote, to work, or to be a part of governmental decisions. Feminists in this time fought for their right to suffrage; they marched, they rallied, and they campaigned for equal rights. These women were tired of being oppressed; they wanted to be involved in the world around them. In 1920, feminists won one of their many battles for equality; they were granted suffrage.
In the second wave, many journalists stepped forward to pronounce their understanding of gender equality, and advocated for change in the workforce. Betty Freidan, the author of The Feminine Mystique,used both her writing and her verbal language to communicate to the public her beliefs on feminism (300). From Freidan’s understanding, women were isolated from society and did not have the social, economic or political resources to be successful. As a feminist, Friedan suggested that women should contest the thought that their goal in life is to have children and be a wife. Women needed to strive to achieve more in life and fight for the kind of life they wanted and occupation they wanted. Feminist organizations, such as the National Organization for Women, started to arise. These organizations helped to fight for women’s equality politically, while women individually fought for their social freedom.
Feminists strive to be equal to men and aim for the dollar they make to be the same dollar that men make. Today, women make about 77 cents to the dollar that a man makes. The amount of money a woman receives for the same work as a man is significantly less than what he makes, this is called the gender pay gap.
Even though the pay gap is not completely closed, there has been some success in closing it. Women in 2014, are able to work in the government, along with men. Even though they are not paid equally to men, they can achieve similar, though not equal, social statuses to them. Along with that, there are also some men who earn less than women since women have taken over a large portion of the workforce in America. Although these success stories are enticing, they also reveal the problem with the social statuses of women in the United States. Women can only go so far in the workplace; they cannot succeed men in their standing of prestige. Where men are doctors, women are nurses, if that brings upon a better understanding of the matter. There is an invisible barrier between how much a woman can achieve in relation to what a man can achieve this is called the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling stops qualified women from moving upward in the workforce. Feminists have worked hard to break this glass ceiling. But it is important to note that without feminist actions bringing women to the workforce in the first place, there would not only be a glass ceiling, there would be no work.
There is always another step to take when attempting to achieve gender equality. There are some women who have guided the way to prove that the ceiling can be broken. For example, Sheryl Sandberg has become the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, which is a highly appraised position that would normally be held by a man. The fact that a woman has taken charge of such a large corporation proves that even though society has attempted to stop strong women from achieving their goals, they do not always succeed. Feminists are the people who believe that women can be just as strong and predominant as Sandberg, Hilary Clinton, or even Michelle Obama. Feminists advocate for women to aspire to achieve the highest social status they could possibly imagine. This is because feminists do not fear such a thing as the glass ceiling, but rather see it as a challenge that they are ready to face head on.
The third wave of feminism involved advocacy for cultural freedom for women. There was this idea that women were to be uptight, clean, polite, and obedient. Women were sanctioned negatively if they broke their gender role. This idea that women were supposed to behave and dress how men wanted them to, is where the term sexism originated. Sexism is, as Jon Witt has explained it, “the ideology that claims one sex is superior to the other” (308). Men were under the impression that women dressed and behaved for them, and that everything they did, was to be for the pleasure of men. This was because women were inferior to men, and were to be submissive to their ideals. Sexism is what really started off the third wave of feminism.
Kathleen Hanna was a feminist who pushed for another wave of feminism to begin. This part of the third wave was mostly viewed and understood by millennials of the era. This is because Kathleen was in an all-girl punk band titled Bikini Kill. Many people ranging from pre-teens to those in their early twenties were deep into the punk scene. This is why this part of the wave is not found in history or sociology books, because it was sort of an underground station of feminism. Instead of soft, soothing singing and harmonious sounds, Kathleen screamed into the microphone and wore only her underwear and a t-shirt to gigs. Occasionally she would write “slut” across her stomach or some sort of label that men had given her in the past. She shouted about how men treated women like they were some sort of material good, and how women deserved just as much as what men have. Her words struck the hearts and minds of women who had been abused, neglected, and even oppressed by men. She not only played for women, but for men also. She talked about the hardships of men and how she hoped to see the day when men could be seen as sensitive creatures without being oppressed because of it. This band was a powerhouse for a large feminist movement called Riot Grrrl.
Riot Grrrl was focused on bringing women together and having them recognize their oppression. It was all about GIRL POWER. Hanna had an unladylike persona and outright opinion that turned men away from her, and brought more girls to her shows. Girls began to relate to Hanna since she sang about rape, sexism, and the oppression of women in society. When men became disgusted by Hanna’s performance and attitude, it was obvious that gender equality in this time was less about sex and more about gender. Sex is the biological difference between a man and a woman. Gender is the social and cultural differences between a man and a woman. In this case, a woman was acting out of the ordinance that society thinks that a person of the female gender should act. The female gender is supposed to be petite, clean, and quiet. The male gender can be vile, gross, and loud. So when Hanna broke the socially constructed norm for the female gender, she was deemed as deviant. Even though Hanna was deviant, that did not stop her feminist movement. Riot Grrrl expanded, and even more women started to break their gender roles. This opened up an entirely new world of feminism, one where it was a culture, rather than just a movement. Still today Riot Grrrl exists, along with many other feminist organizations. The purpose of the Riot Grrrl movement and of Bikini Kill was to allow women to express themselves however they wanted. If a woman wanted to dress like a man at a Bikini Kill show, that was accepted, she was accepted no matter how she looked or acted. Eventually, this movement of the 1990’s encouraged women to express themselves freely. Obviously, women are still pressured through gender roles, but there are more women acting freely now than there were many years ago.
Still, today, women are advocating feminism. Why, might you ask? Well, because gender inequality is still an immense problem in not only the United States, but all around the world. One of the main dilemmas with feminism is that, not everyone truly understands what it means. The definition can be disoriented, because there are so many pop stars that are skewing the understanding of the word. There are famous people who are making it seem as if feminism is hatred towards men, and that feminists should rally against men. This understanding of feminism is far from correct. Like I said before, feminism is the advocacy for women to be equal to men. That is taking into consideration that men have been oppressed also, and there are gender norms for men, just like there are for women. So, instead of fighting against men, it is better for us to inspire men to fight with us. An actress that campaigned for feminism brilliantly was Emma Watson. Emma began a campaign called He for She, which asks men to promote equality for women through social media. This helped to invite men to express themselves as feminists, because before it was as if they were not allowed to be part of the movement. Women like Emma Watson are changing the future of our women. It is important that females, look to people like Emma and Kathleen, and never give up on fighting for equality. Equality is what we have been fighting for, for years. After centuries, we still have not achieved gender equality. There is still a gender pay gap, sexism still exists, and so do the norms for men and women in society.
Gender equality needs to be the objective for our children, our grandchildren, and even our grandchildren’s children. Feminism must not die out like it did after its second wave, and it needs to be understood for what it really means; men and women deserve to be equal to one another.
Works Cited: Witt, Jon. SOC 2014. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2015. Print.