As Women’s History Month draws to a close, I find myself thinking about the advances women have made over the past several decades. However, one cannot fairly reflect on any evolution without also being mindful of the challenges that were endured and the individuals that were instrumental in overcoming such obstacles.
This week one of the most influential individuals in the women’s liberation movement celebrated her 80th birthday. To women across the globe, Gloria Steinem is a modern-day hero who has tirelessly championed for equality throughout most of her life. From her ground-breaking exposé as an undercover Playboy Bunny in the 1960s to her various testimonies before the U.S. Congress and even her political activism; Steinem’s candor and unconventional perspectives have quite literally changed America and helped it become more inclusive…even though there is still much more on the basis of equality that can be done.
As society has evolved, so too has the perception of feminism. Gone are the days when feminism was the “f-word” that no one dared mention. Nor is it a word that is synonymous with unattractive, angry, man-hating women who don’t want to be married, have children, or do anything else that can be perceived as stereotypical or overtly feminine.
Quite the contrary actually.
Now, feminism is a word that is embraced by millions of women who represent diverse backgrounds and personal and professional experiences. Today’s feminists represent a mosaic of characteristics that are as individually unique as one’s fingerprints. These women are career-minded, goal-oriented and mission-driven. They are single and married. Some are mothers, while others are childless. And modern-day feminists range in age, race, socio-economic status and even sexuality.
Despite the vast differences of these women, they all agree on a core value: equality. And generally, their definition of equality extends to equal rights for everyone, not just women.
I tend to believe that feminism today is a movement for liberation. It goes beyond man vs. woman and at its core; it is really about being fair.
As a woman, I feel I should get paid the same amount as a man whose skill set and experience equal mine. A person should not be perceived superior over another human being simply because of their gender or ethnicity. What Steinem and others committed to equality have done over the years is worked to change a mindset and promote inclusiveness. It’s about putting all cards on the table and being fair. Opponents of feminism need to remove all misconceptions, stereotypes and bias and simply strive to do what’s correct.
While I celebrate Steinem and am a big fan of her counterpart, the late Betty Friedan, I understand the perception some in the minority community have of these women. For instance, noted author and activist Alice Walker felt in her quest toward equality, Steinem forgot about African-American women and our quest for liberation. Therefore, Walker rejects the term feminism and instead prefers to use “womanism.” Steinem has publically disagreed with Walker’s assertion. I understand both perspectives and I also can see how each can be divisive and a bit counter-productive to the all-encompassing work toward female liberation. In matters such as these, it’s most important to stay on course and remember the ultimate goal. This month and always, I celebrate women and the tremendous strides we’re making worldwide. We still have more work to do and additional goals to accomplish, but if history is indeed a teacher, we are well on our way toward true equality.
You can email comments to Shannon Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.