The Workplace Needs More Feminists
Do We Still Need Feminism?
Do we need feminism today? Women vote. The majority of college graduates are women. Women serve in the military. There are more women in the workplace now than ever before. Affirmative action and sexual harassment legislation have helped to provide equal opportunity and legal protection for women in the workplace. Isn’t this what the feminist movement aimed to achieve?
I am a feminist. Critics of feminism believe we are now in a post-feminist era and there is no longer a need for the feminist movement. They would say, “mission accomplished.” This seems familiar. When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, many claimed his election was evidence that America had entered into a post-racial era. They were wrong and those who believe the feminist movement is no longer necessary are equally wrong. In fact, I offer, we need more feminists.
Here are some facts:
- Women make up the majority of our nation’s poor
- Every 9 seconds in the U.S., a woman is assaulted or beaten
- Women’s healthcare and women’s control over their reproductive rights are constantly being debated and decided upon in a room comprised mostly of men, or in a recent meeting of men only
- Though women are the majority of college graduates, the rise to management is slower for women than for men with comparable career investments
- Women earn at least 20% less than their male counterparts and some studies indicate women are not expected to reach parity with men until 2059
- Of the nation’s top 500 companies, only 20 have women CEOs
- Less than 20% of corporate boards of directors have women on them
- Women are still experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace despite the laws in place
- Misogyny would not get rewarded in our elections
Reasons Why Some Americans Resist Feminism
As much as some would like to proclaim we’ve reached gender equality, it just is not true. Sexism is still ingrained within many of our systems (i.e., education, workplace, healthcare) such that male privilege and oppression of women remain intact. So why is there such resistance to a resurging feminism? I believe there are two main reasons. One, there are some men and women who do not know what feminism is so they accept the stereotypes associated with feminism and feminists. Another reason for the resistance is a lack of understanding regarding the benefits of feminism – not just for women, but for all.
“A movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” ~ bell hooks
Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no opponents. It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practiced no cruelties. Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions for women and children; for property rights for women, for divorce, for custody rights, for the right to safety on the streets. Feminists have fought for childcare, for social welfare, for greater visibility for people with disabilities. ~ Dale Spencer
(excerpt from Kristin Anderson’s Modern Misogyny: Anti-Feminism in a Post-Feminist Era)
One of the reasons feminism is so heavily critiqued is because there is a lack of understanding about what it means today. For all the positive social change gained through feminism, it is difficult to understand why this word evokes such strong and often negative emotion. For some, feminism is the other “F-word.” It is a word riddled with stereotypes and negative baggage. Let’s define feminism. One of the best definitions I have come across is by bell hooks. Author and scholar on issues of race, gender and class, hooks defines feminism as “A movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” In the introduction to her book, Feminism is for Everybody, hooks says, of the definition:
I love it because it so clearly states that the movement is not about being anti-male. It makes it clear that the problem is sexism. And that clarity helps us remember that all of us, female and male, have been socialized from birth on to accept sexist thought and action. As a consequence, females can be just as sexist as men. And while that does not excuse or justify male domination, it does mean that it would be naive and wrongminded for feminist thinkers to see the movement as simplistically being for women against men.
Hooks’ definition confronts one of the longest held beliefs about feminism – that feminists are man-haters. In reality, the object of feminists’ loathing is not men, but sexism and oppression. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer and author of We Should All Be Feminists, defines a feminist as “a man or a woman who says ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.’” Hooks’ and Adichie’s definitions make it clear that men and women can be feminist. In fact, often in hooks’ writings she emphasizes that the work of ending sexism must be work that men and women do together.
This notion that men and women should work together to bring about gender equality dispels another stereotype attributed to feminists. That is, the misbelief that feminists have a deep desire to control men. Contrary to what some may think of feminists, not all feminists have had bad relationships with men, not all are lesbians, not all are angry or hostile, not all are attempting to deny the differences between men and women. And, not all feminists are women.
In her book, Kristin Anderson rightfully distinguishes hatred for male dominance and patriarchal hegemony from actually hating men. She said, “…people tend to mistake the righteous anger directed toward injustice with individual-level personal anger and resentment.” Feminists simply insist on a fair and equitable society in which oppression of any person – women in particular, but also men, children, gay, immigrant, young or old – is called out and resisted and where deliberate actions are taken to bring about social justice, equity and equality.
Benefits to Feminism
There are benefits to feminism. Hooks states:
Feminist movement has created profound positive changes in the lives of girls and boys, women and men, living in our society…everyone has benefitted from the cultural revolutions put in place by contemporary feminist movement. It has changed how we see work, how we work, and how we love.
Countering the Fiction of Feminism
According to Anderson, most women endorse feminist attitudes, even if they do not call themselves feminists. Women who identify with feminism also tend to have more positive psychological wellbeing and relationships. Feminist women tend to have higher scores on autonomy in life, personal growth and sense of purpose than women who hold more traditional female role values. Anderson states, “research finds a link between feminist attitudes and a generativity identity – having a conscious concern for the welfare of others – and higher self- and life satisfaction.” Feminists are more positive about their bodies, resist media messages defining female beauty and place a premium on equity in relationships. Anderson concludes by questioning the “fiction of feminism” that continues to stigmatize women who hold feminist attitudes or who identify themselves as feminists.
The Workplace Needs More Feminists
I started this post by dispelling the myth that feminism is no longer needed or is somehow bad for women and for our society. I challenged the stereotypes by offering modern definitions of feminism that would be difficult for anyone to cast as negative. I shared the benefits of having a feminist attitude or identifying as a feminist. I also made the point that men can also be feminists – and many are. So, let’s look at the workplace. We spend most of our waking hours at work. We work with people representing so many dimensions of diversity (gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity, age, regionalism, nationalism, etc.). Men and women work in close proximity with one another. Knowing what I know about feminism, I believe the workplace could benefit from having more feminists.
Feminism is Good for Business
A workplace where more men and women identify as feminists would be a workplace where equality and equity are deeply held values in the culture. Gender pay equity – check. More women in management – check. A work environment free of sexual harassment and oppression of women and others – check. Women confidently lifting their voices – check. And, women and men hearing women’s voices as equal partners – check.
Workplaces that have a strategic focus on creating more inclusive work environments are more likely to accomplish that goal if more of its leaders have feminist attitudes or identify as feminists. In a feminist work environment, there would be more concern for the generation of workers to follow. The relationship experience between managers and their employees would be different – a shared vision, participative environment where every person is valued and every voice is heard.
I’m not saying these things cannot occur in an environment where there are few feminists. However, I am saying that in an environment where feminist values of equity and equality replace patriarchy, dominance and oppression, more of the workplace qualities we desire can become a reality. Feminism roots out oppression of any kind wherever it is found. That is good for women and men. That is good for business.
Tonya Harris Cornileus, Ph.D.
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