Two things make me want to write this post: #TellAFeministThankYou, which is happening on Twitter right now, and Suzanne Venker’s latest assertion that “Feminism didn’t result in equality between the sexes, it resulted in mass confusion.”
I’m a big fan of injecting historical perspective into proceedings, so I’m just going to list all the changes that were wrought due to feminist activism in the U.S. and elsewhere, over the past 150 or so years. There’s still lots of work to be done in the U.S. and across the globe, and poverty, race, religion, and sexuality significantly complicate the picture. But broadly and legally speaking, if you are a female citizen of the United States:
You are now considered a legal person. You are not the property of your father or your husband, you do not become subsumed under your husband’s identity when you marry, and you are not obligated to remain under male authority for your entire lifespan.
You can own property. You can represent yourself and your own interests in court. You can enter into legal contracts without your husband’s or father’s approval. Your property isn’t handed over to your husband when you marry.
You have the right to equal pay for equal work. You own your own labor and control your own wages, rather than handing them over to your father or husband for his use. You can have a bank account or a credit card in your name, without your father’s or husband’s approval.
You can vote. You can run for elected office, and you can have a reasonable expectation that voters will be willing to elect a woman.
You can speak in public, in front of men. You can do so with a reasonable expectation that people will respect your First Amendment right to free speech, and won’t haul you off the stage for the audacity of speaking in public.
You can publish work under your own name. You don’t have to pretend to be a man or to write under a pseudonym. (No guarantee against harassment, though…)
Rape is now considered a violent crime against the individual victim, not a property crime against her father or husband, or a crime against family honor or societal morality. This change in definition also allows for the existence of male victims, too.
Since you’re no longer considered the property of your husband, he doesn’t get to rape and beat you with near impunity. (Not that there weren’t punishments for spousal abuse, but marital rape only become a defined crime in some states in the 1990s.)
Homophobia is still rampant in some quarters, but being openly gay is now far more socially acceptable than in the past. I also recognize that some branches of feminism have been hostile toward or ignorant of transgender people, and I hope that will change.
You now have an equal right to access education.
You have a right to bodily autonomy. You can decide how many children to have, or whether to have children at all. Although there are significant access problems, contraception and abortion are legal.
You have the ability to travel and move freely in society, although there are still people who will try to harass you out of certain spaces.
If you are sexually harassed at work, you have legal recourse.
You have custody of your own children, and a say in their lives. They’re no longer considered the literal property of their father.
No-fault divorce exists, and you have an equal ability to initiate divorce. You no longer have to prove an extraordinarily high burden of adultery and extreme cruelty.
We take so much of this for granted. I think it’s a good exercise to step back and reflect on how far we’ve come, and appreciate everyone who campaigned for changes in the legal and cultural structure of our society, and those who continue to do so. I love studying history, but I feel immensely fortunate to have been born during this time. If you ever feel tempted toward nostalgia for the past, remember this list.
Venker says that people today are in “mass confusion.” If people in the past were less confused, it’s only because they were acting out pre-ordained roles based on where they fell in a profoundly unequal system of gender, race, and class. And if those people had been happy, we wouldn’t have had feminism, or abolitionism, or labor organizing, or the civil rights movement. Those movements happened for a reason. They didn’t just spring out of the blue because a few people felt like stirring things up. They happened because people were angry about inequality, and they wanted to do something about it.
If that comes with a bit of confusion, I think that’s just fine. But honestly, that confusion seems to mostly exist in the pages of conservative publications.
What would you add to the list?