Feminist author continues the fight

Bethany English

Speaker discusses the trials of modern feminism, gender

The feminist movement finds itself in front of and behind enemy lines as it struggles to gain true equality, a goal set more than a century ago with the beginning of women’s suffrage.

Susan Faludi spoke Tuesday night in the Kiva as part of the guest of honor university artist/lecture series. The Pulitzer Prize-winner and Harvard graduate told the audience although many think the feminist movement was successful, in fact, it was only a “half-way revolution.”

If students only took away one thing, Faludi wanted it to be about how gender issues dominate society.

“Questions of gender underlie our culture, history and politics,” she said, “as they underlie so much else.”

She said the movement hasn’t been fully realized because of external and internal threats.

Three external threats face modern feminists: the remaining barriers to women, anti-feminist nay-sayers and the marketplace’s “hi-jacking” of feminism.

Faludi conceded that 50 percent of the workforce is now female, but she also pointed out that the top ten jobs for women are the same as they were 30 years ago, which include registered nurses, teachers and receptionists.

The wage gap is also decreasing, she said, but this decrease is largely due to men receiving lower wages rather than women gaining higher wages.

Michael Bowers, sophomore exploratory major, said he found it interesting because “mostly everything she said was spot on.”

Gender issues over wages caught Bowers attention. He said it is clear that women haven’t completely made it because they are still paid wages about 15 percent less than men for doing the same work.

Rather than discussing topics like economic situations, Faludi said debates are over whether feminists can nurture children or if the feminist movement has led to men’s emasculation.

The marketplace offers women the illusion of choices, she said. It lets them “choose between this pair of high heels or that one” and tells women they are “liberated to be girlishly free of wrinkles.”

But feminists are also hindering their own movement through internal threats such as generational conflicts, abstracted academic studies and lack of vision.

The generational conflict has a long history in the feminist movement. In the 20s, women tried to separate themselves from their “humorless, prude” mothers by displaying their bodies, drinking and smoking, Faludi explained.

Feminists of the 70s acted the same way when they made their movement a “daughters only movement” and excluded their mothers, she added.

Faludi questioned the ability for any movement to progress and succeed “when all that’s created must be destroyed every 30 years.”

She also cited academic studies as a threat to feminism. When women’s studies are all about theory rather than focusing on the real lives of real women, it becomes irrelevant and takes some people out of the discussion entirely.

The final internal issue is the lack of vision in the feminist movement. Faludi questions whether women in powerful positions are transforming institutions or restructuring themselves to fit in.

“Women’s issues are society’s issues,” Faludi said.

Heidi Shaffer, member of Kent’s city council, said feminism was treated like a bad word for a while, but the lecture helped convince her feminism is still alive, though struggling in some ways.

Her main concern, she said, is that young women are taking too much for granted when they need to be the ones recognizing the shortcomings of the movement and working to correct them.

Shaffer agreed with Faludi, who said being in college is the time when men and women find themselves most equal, and she offered advice for students to remember.

“You are affected by the world,” Shaffer said, “and you can affect the world, too.”

Contact honors and international affairs reporter Bethany English at [email protected].