Sorry that it took me so long to respond to this post. I received it when I was visiting my parents and didn’t have enough time to sit down and write the thoughtful response it deserved.
I will link many resources here because I think the statistics do validate feminism in today’s society, but I think it’s important to start off by saying that for me, feminism started as a feeling, not as a scholarly or political endeavor. Ever since I was young, I recognized that men (and boys) were treated differently, preferentially. I remember when my brother and I used to get in fights, he used to tell me that guys were smarter than girls, citing Einstein, da Vinci, and so many other famous historical men as examples. I remember feeling so frustrated and hopeless, because I knew he wasn’t smarter than I, but I didn’t have the resources to argue with him. The legacy of men as scientists, inventors, writers, and artists is certainly much more impressive than that of women. It’s a legacy that will take centuries for women to equal, which is why I think women (and men who are allied with feminism) must remain aware of the fact that throughout history, and even in contemporary times, men held overwhelming power and privilege, and women were excluded from science, education, and other tools that enabled them from becoming powerful.
As I got older, I was introduced to more feminist terminology, including the word “feminist” itself (I didn’t start out as a “feminist” – just a Spice Girls fan). I also became more aware of glaringly obvious differences in men’s rights compared to women’s. Take for instance men’s healthcare. Men have always unquestioningly been given access to the things they need, e.g. Viagra. Women still have to battle for access to birth control, abortion, and other tools to improve their health and standards of living. Melinda Gates, who is Catholic (and incidentally graduated from my high school) , talks about the politicization of birth control, which has not always been a bipartisan discussion. The problem is the Republican Party and religious organizations are seeking to turn back the clock on women’s rights and women’s power, and hacking away at their health care is the single-most effective way to do that.
Furthermore, the language that exists specifically to describe women is still considerably more vitriolic. There is no male equivalent for the word “slut,” “bitch,” or “whore.” Although on the surface this seems like a small, almost insignificant issue, these words enable the rape epidemic among women around the world. (Yes I’m citing Wikipedia, but only because the citation is in PDF format. These are still verified facts.) Notice how 99% of rapists are male, and 91% of people raped are female. To act like rape isn’t an issue of gender or sex is willful ignorance (not saying you do this personally, just that many people do fall into this habit.) And on the note of violence, more women in the US have died from domestic abuse since September 11th than all of the victims of 9/11 and the American troops in the Afghan and Iraq wars combined.
In terms of visibility, women still only hold 17% of the seats in Congress. They make up 3% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. The number of women in high, decision-making positions is 3% in telecommunications, publishing, entertainment, and advertising. In the media, only 16% of women are writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, and editors. And again, these numbers drop even more dramatically when you factor in race and sexuality. The fact is that women make up the MAJORITY of the US population – 51%. Yet the people who speak for us, the people who advertise to us, the people who claim to know us, are men by an overwhelming majority. Women have never had a chance to define themselves, to speak for themselves, to make decisions for themselves – certainly not at a societal level. And women who are not upper-middle class, not white, and not cisgendered suffer from even more invisibility.
I linked it above, but I highly suggest watching the Miss Representation trailer on Youtube. If it is the one link you click, click this one! Obviously it doesn’t encapsulate everything there is about feminism, but it focuses on politics and the media, which are where all of the decisions are made and opinions are formed. Most of these sources also focus on statistics, but there is so much anecdotal evidence in the form of news articles, books, and more that verify these statistics on an individual level. It would take me forever to hunt them down but if anyone has any good feminist blogs to which I could link anon, I would be happy to post them.
Honestly I don’t expect everyone to identify as feminist. In fact, I don’t think everyone even should! I have many friends who feel slighted by the movement because they feel as if feminism doesn’t fight equally for everyone. I call myself a “feminist” because it’s a good catch-all descriptor for my beliefs, but I realize it’s a totally imperfect movement and I don’t expect everyone to identify as one.
If you don’t feel discriminated against as a girl, I seriously envy you! It’s something I feel the weight of every single day – when I’m walking to class and men shout out at me from their cars, when dudes at bars won’t leave my friends and I alone because we weren’t escorted out by men, when I was sexually assaulted at a bus station because it was dark outside and according to my roommate, I was asking for it because I was wearing a tight dress. Yes, women have the right to vote; yes, women can go to college now and have careers. But in terms of respecting women, we have a LONG way to go.
P.S. I know that there are some better introductory links/resources posts out there, so if you have a good one, please link me so I can post it here!
P.P.S. Sorry that this is probably equally an “overwhelming” response (I didn’t intend for it to be so long) but the questions you’ve asked have a lot packed in them that simply can’t be answered sufficiently in a few words. If you are genuinely interested in feminism, there is a lot of reading and learning to be done!