The Rights of Women and Feminism
Women have been discriminated because of their gender since before we can even remember. Luckily, women have been acquiring the rights they deserve as human beings since the first world war. But, due to the history of discrimination against women and the role they used to play in society, there are still people that believe women are inferior and are here to provide for men. Not only men feel this way towards women, but also some women find that is the way women are supposed to behave and that is our role in society still. This way of thought created governments and continues to maintain traditions around the world that make women follow specific rules that men are not required to follow. For example, in the Islamic culture, women are not allowed to travel, work, study or leave their houses without the permission of a man. According to their laws, women are not allowed to choose their mate, and they are not allowed to get a divorce. Men can replace their wives whenever they want. Typically, men also win custody of the children. A woman can sue for divorce only in a few cases, violence not being one of them. Only impotence of her husband, non-payment of maintenance or his sanity are reasons why women could get a divorce. If the husband is not willing to repudiate her, the process can be very long and pointless.
Not only women become an object in the Islamic culture, but they also have to remain anonymous by using the hijab, which is meant to separate men and women. The hijab is used to controls women’s sexuality by reminding them that “they belong to the inferior sex and they are sex objects for men to use”. It limits their physical movements and free behaviour. These are a few of the many misogynistic rules that the Islamic culture makes women follow and a culture where many women are raised with, believing that this is the way women deserve to be treated. Some of the quotes written in the Koran are extremely disturbing and objectify women to an extreme. But those are the words the Islamic people live by. This type of behaviour does not only happen in Islam. Many other cultures follow some similar rules and similarly treat women. Luckily, most of the countries around the world have followed the steps of the United States; it mostly everything and arranged them to their own beliefs and history. But, that does not mean that sexism is not present in western culture. We may have the same rights, but in reality, women are still seen as inferior. Categorised as weak and not given equal opportunities as men in most areas. Women have to constantly prove themselves in the eyes of close-minded men that feel superior just because of their gender.
Feminism is seen as a group of women seeking equal pay when it is really about the sexual harassment, and the objectifying comments men continue to do, sometimes without realising the misogyny behind their comments or in most cases, without really caring. Feminism is about spreading female empowerment, and being equal to men, not superior. One of the main problems feminist have is the difference in payment between men and women. This only proves the way we are still being treated differently because of our gender. In 2017, female full-time, year-round workers made only 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by men. That is a 20% gap between genders. “According to our research, if change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past fifty years, it will take 40 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity. For women of colour, the rate of change is even slower: Hispanic women will have to wait until 2224, and black women will wait until 2119 for equal pay.” Only if there is no change and we maintain at the same pace. This is not only because of gender anymore; this includes ethnicity as well. Even though there has been improved throughout the years, society continues to discriminate women, and even more so, women of colour.
Sexism is not only reflected in the gender pay gap, but also the way women are treated. Sexual harassment has been around for decades, and even though there are rules that prohibit this, laws do not stop men from making subtle comments with some double meaning behind them, or staring a little too long, or even touching women in a way that may seem innocent for the rest, but it feels wrong. In some cases, men do not even try to be subtle about their intentions; they are brutal. They use force to get what they want and continue to treat women like objects. In 2017, women around the world took to Twitter to share their stories involving sexual harassment. The “MeToo” movement went viral, and people finally started discussing this common issue that affects all of us. Not only females with regular lives have told their stories, but many actresses and celebrities have talked about the abuse they have been through in their lives or careers. Telling stories about how powerful men threatened their careers by forcing them to have sexual intercourse with them. These naive young women wanted to save their jobs and not be completely ruined.
An online survey showed that 81% of women and 43% of men had experienced some form of sexual harassment. It also showed that 3 out of 4 women have been verbally harassed, by being catcalled or whistled at. That is 77% of women being verbally sexually harassed. Another study showed that 66% of the women have been harassed in a public space, 38% have been harassed in the workplace. The respondents reported that after being sexually harassed or assaulted, 31% felt anxious and depressed, 23% changed their route or routine. Sexual harassment has been around for as long as we can remember and, even though there has been an improvement in our society and the boundaries of what is appropriate and what is not have been set, there are still many occasions happening around us, situations we normalize or do not pay a lot of attention to, where women are put in a position of fear. And when they speak out about the times they have been harassed; some people blame them because “they wore short dresses” or “they were showing too much”. As a society, we need to stop this kind of behaviour that normalises sexual harassment. No one deserves to be objectified or even dehumanised. It is not okay.
For centuries, the role of women in society was to bring children into the world and clean the house or cook. Women were not allowed to study, or work outside the house. The goal of a female teenager was to get married, find a man that would give her food in exchange for children. Women were objectified to the point where they did not even get to choose her husband. They did not marry for love. The men would pay the female’s family a certain amount of money, in exchange to be able to marry her. Women became an object to be passed around like some kind of animal that a man could buy and own. Women were considered a second class citizen, behind men. Change only began to form in the 1830s and 40s. On 1848, Susan B. Anthony decided to gather many women and discuss a change. They demanded laws regarding custody on their children, divorce, property rights and the right to vote. Throughout the 1800s, many revolutionary women decided to seek change. Women like; Amelia Bloomer, Jane Austen, and Sarah Margaret Fuller. This authors from the 19th century spoke freely about women’s rights and inspired women to do something about the injustices presented in their society. Then, the first world war came in 1914. Men went to fight in the war and women were left at home, taking care of everything. This was the perfect opportunity for women to step up and get a job since every man had left their jobs and the country needed food. Women became an essential part of society throughout the decade, which helped them after the war claim some rights, such as the right to vote. I would say that the 1920s were the beginning of change for women. It took feminist activists nearly 100 years to win the right to vote, but on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment for the Constitution was ratified. This declared and proved that women deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Women also won workplace fairness, minimum wages and the abolition of child labour. Also, in 1923, the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced. It said that men and women had equal rights in the United States and every place subject of its jurisdiction.
The 1960s and 70s considered the second wave of feminism. The 60s brought change and empowered women to seek change and not to settle for a sexist society. In 1960, women occupied six percent of American doctors, three percent of lawyers and less than one percent of engineers. Women were paid less than man, and the opportunities to advance were denied due to future pregnancies. This decade was focused on dismantling workplace inequality, such as getting better jobs and equal pay, also stop being discriminated by their gender. In 1964, Howard Smith proposed to add a prohibition of gender discrimination into the Civil Rights Act. Members of Congress laughed at him, but with Representative Martha Griffiths, the law passed with the amendment intact. In 1966, women launched the National Organization for Women (NOW), which seeks pro-equality laws and assist women seeking legal aid as they suffered from discrimination. The 1970s are considered controversial, but it also brought women a lot of change. In 1972, Congress passed “Title IX” of the Higher Education Act, which prohibited gender discrimination in any educational program. This forced all-male schools to open their doors to women. Then, in 1973, in its controversial ruling on Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme Court legalised abortion. In January 1977, Indiana became the 35th State to ratify the ERA. The amendment was now only three states shy of becoming law, but the effort was losing momentum.
While all these positive things took place throughout the United States and the feminist movement was gaining popularity, Phyllis Schlafly began doing speeches against the feminist movement. She spoke for every woman who enjoyed their roles as mother and housewives and did not seek more. This conservative anti-ERA woman was known for opening her speeches by thanking her husband for letting her attend because “it irritates the women’s libbers,” rallied the anti-ERA crowd. In Schlafly’s eyes, the ERA would strip away any protections that women had, like child support and not having to go to war. This way of thinking led generations of women to believe that they were inferior and people like her made it so hard for feminists to get equal rights and be seen as equal to men. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, so many women were finally given the recognition they had always deserved. Women like; Sandra Day O’Connor, Dr Sally K., Geraldine Ferraro, Madeleine Albright, Madonna, Oprah, and so many more empowering and influential women that have marked history in so many ways. Not only that, but many laws against sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence, and discrimination were added on the 90s. On January 19th, 2019, women flooded the streets of Washington, D.C. and the cities across the globe in a movement called Women’s March. This inspires hundreds of women to run, millions more to vote, and dozens to win elected office. Women have been marching every year for three years in a row now as an act of resistance to the Trump presidency, three years of building power.
In conclusion, women have been fighting for equal rights since the 1800s, when the first feminists spoke up. Since then, women have been fighting for more and more rights throughout the years and have proven themselves equals when society was not open-minded enough to understand it. After centuries of misogynistic men sexually harassing women and discriminating them by their gender, women have finally been given the place in society they deserve. We have come so far, we have won so many rights throughout the years that men never had to fight for. Now, in 2019, women are praised for being themselves and speaking their mind. Women are celebrated. I’m not saying that we are completely free of any misogynistic behavior or completely free of sexual harassment, we are still fighting against it. But, we have made a lot of progress, and we still are.
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