If you were to ask the average U.S. citizen what they think our country’s stance is on feminism, many would probably say that we are beginning to support it more and more. Much of what is shown on news and social media platforms revolves around the modern-day push for women’s rights, and if people were asked to name a trend or current movement, feminism would most likely enter their minds to some extent.
Over the past few weeks, I have come into contact with the topic of feminism. From hearing the extreme feminists’ opinion to watching a documentary that clearly swung the opinions in the opposite direction, I honestly began to question the beliefs I had about America’s opinion on feminism. As one who very much opposes extreme feminism and its ideas of female superiority, I had taken what I’d seen on the news, recognized that it seemed to be in the woman’s favor, and, although I disagreed with the overall opinion, I assumed it was the progressive trend among Americans.
It is no doubt that there has been a huge push for women’s rights and for feminism in the United States within recent years. In recent survey results produced by The Washington Post , “6 in 10 women and one-third of men call themselves a feminist or strong feminist, with roughly 7 in 10 of each saying the movement is empowering.” In addition to a growing support among how people define themselves, the topic and amount of time feminism was discussed rapidly increased in the last year as well. In fact, the word feminism was ranked #1 on the Merriam-Webster’s 2017 Words of the Year , claiming that “the word was a top lookup throughout the year, with several spikes that corresponded to various news reports and events.” Some of these events included the news coverage of the Women’s March on Washington, DC in January, an interview with Kellyanne Conway, and the recent accusations of sexual assault shown in media. While each of these events may have spiked interest in the feminism movement throughout the past year, many events and statistics that I have recently discovered carry feminism in a very different light, or completely disregard the movement in the first place.
With recent news coverage of frequent sexual assault charges, many viewers may see the accounts either as justice for a crime committed, or a plug for feminists and sexual assault victims everywhere. However, while many of the well-known incidents of sexual assault seem to point in favor of the victim, the more secretive and less-advertised cases show quite the opposite results.
When watching a documentary titled The Hunting Ground, it became very evident to me that the majority of these undercover sexual assault cases take place on college campuses. The documentary states that “women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.” This statistic comes to a reality when the United States Department of Justice, states that “one out of every four female undergraduates will be victim to some form of sexual assault before graduation.” However, with all of these incidents of sexual assault, there are actually very few cases that get reported, are addressed by the college campus, or taken to authorities and police. In The Hunting Ground, Claire Bond Potter, the former associate professor at Wesleyan University spoke on the reason behind this. “When a student comes to an administrator with a problem, it’s not as if the administrator wants that student to be harmed, it’s not as if the administrator wants the harm to be perpetuated, but their adverse job is to protect the institution from harm, not the student from harm.” The documentary also showed several victims of sexual assault who had gone to their school’s administration regarding the incident, and the majority found that the school encouraged them to keep the issue quiet, and to consider the harm that may come to the offender. “The school’s response always seemed like they were more concerned about him and his needs,” stated a student of Tufts University when talking about her offender. Hope Brinn, a student of Swarthmore College, commented that her administrator told her, “you don’t know what he’s going through right now, neither do I, he might be having a really hard time.”
While most of these comments would infuriate someone who identifies as a feminist, these college campus incidents typically go unreported or are never dealt with even after being reported. Based on the documentary, the average response time from campus administration was seven months, and even after this evaluation, the most severe punishment most offenders received was a three day suspension. This leniency, as one might call it, continued even as some cases were reported to local police. One case, in particular, occurred in Tallahassee, FL, where police were given enough evidence to identify and question the suspect presented to them, scan through video surveillance footage at the bar where the victim had stated she was taken, and locate the cab driver that they victim claimed had driven her and the suspect to an apartment. However, the police department did not take any action on the case for nearly ten months, and the documentary implied that this may have been because of the offender’s status as “a top 20 leading team quarterback.” After undergoing much ridicule and shame for the entire situation, the victim stated that she wished she would not have come forward; she wished she would have been one of the 95% who never reported sexual assault. In a country that is supposedly pushing female superiority and perhaps favoritism on behalf of the victim, it seems surprising that only 5% of sexual assault victims would feel comfortable reporting their case.
In addition to cases like this being brushed under the metaphorical rug, and hidden from our nation that may or may not be moving towards a feminist culture, the majority of the population as a whole does not necessarily classify itself as feminists. While this percentage would vary depending on the true definition of a feminist, a 2015 Vox poll conducted by PerryUndem, showed that “85 percent of Americans believe in ‘equality for women.’ Yet, only 18 percent of respondents identified as a feminist.” Does this mean that people are confused on what the definition of a feminist is, or is feminism really not something that most American’s believe in? Also, if feminism was truly becoming part of our identity, wouldn’t more individuals proudly state themselves as a feminist?
I think the answer to this question lies in two different aspects. The first is that the definition of feminism is uncertain, broad, and variant based upon the individual. Many people would define feminism as simply supporting the basic rights of women, while more radical feminists may see the term entirely differently. Because this definition is so uncertain, people are more inclined to stay clear of a label and avoid putting themselves in a box. If they state that they are feminist, then they may have admitted to being something that they don’t completely understand and something that others do not understand as well.
Second, I do not think that our country is moving solely in a feminist direction. I think that the feminist movement, just like the current Black Lives Matter Campaign, the changes in marriage definitions within the last several years, and the current debate over abortion, immigrants, and medical marijuana, is something new, different, and over-combined. Oftentimes, when multiple issues arise at once, they are intertwined with each other, and that prevents them from ever being completely solved. For example, the current feminist movement is not just about fixing a wage gap or breaking gender role stereotypes. This movement also contains the issues of pro-choice and pro-life, immigrants in the United State’s workforce, and the Black Lives Matter Campaign as it relates to the human rights of, yet, another group that has managed to become segregated based upon opinion. With movements like this being combined as they are, it becomes difficult for individuals to take a side because they must decide and have a set opinion about several varying topics. While many might say that a simple vote would put an end to one or more of these issues, when Americans build a set of beliefs and turn them into a worldview it becomes less about an individual issue, and more about a lifestyle and a culture.
So, do I think that the United States is becoming a feminist-driven country? Honestly, I think our country is a contradictory jumble of opinions that is expressing itself through multiple movements, debates, and campaigns. I think, right now, that America is striving for an impossible state of ultimate acceptance, and I do fear that our end may be in granting rights to some at the expense of others who will lose their previous privileges. The fantasy of a utopia where everyone feels they have equal rights, equal privilege, and equal benefits is exactly that- a utopia. The United States has always emphasized freedom, yet too much freedom may eventually be the downfall of all forms of control and social order; too much much acknowledgement of every rising movement and too many attempts at total equality may ruin the current benefits Americans expect everyday.
Cai, Weiyi, and Scott Clement. “Poll: Feminism in the U.S.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 Jan. 2016.
Papenfus, Abby, et al. “85% Of Americans Believe In Women’s Equality, But Only 18% Identify As Feminist.” The Lala, 12 Aug. 2016.
Press, The Associated. “List of Men in Media Accused of Sexual Misconduct.” WTOP.
“Home.” The Hunting Ground, 2017.
Wagner, John. “Kellyanne Conway: Feminism Associated with Being ‘Anti-Male’ and ‘pro-Abortion’.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 23 Feb. 2017.
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