Nope, it’s not a throwback. It’s not a funny story where we wax nostalgic and laugh our asses off at those quaint times when men (and women) didn’t treat women equally.
It turns out, as evidenced by the tooth and nail battle for control over our own bodies, by the lashing reaction to a refusal to be defined by pregnancy right here on what is supposed to be a happy liberal place, by countless subtle and not-so-subtle references to the body (oooh, boobies) before the brains of a female, it turns out that feminism is still necessary.
Oh, don’t get your boxers in a bunch. This isn’t an accusation or a guilt trip. There will be no epic pronouncements about fish and bicycles. This is not about hating men. We’re not trying to start a gender war; we’re trying to end one.
Feminism is one of those icky ism words that send conservatives into anaphylactic shock, leaving them shaking and sputtering in fear of dinner and combat boots and women with short hair. Feminism is one of those icky ism words that liberals nod to from a distance but can’t seem to recognize up close, like a Monet.
Maybe the “F” word makes you uncomfortable. Maybe Lakoff and every session at every Democratic event all across this great country on “framing” and how words have meaning so we should choose them carefully (indicative of the state of the party that we needed a book and a training on that) argue against all isms. So forget the word, let’s talk about the substance.
We no longer need to demand entry to previously male domains. Sure, women can vote, own property, go to college, work for a living, wear heels with a pantsuit, command respect in certain circles and do all those things that we didn’t used to be able to do. Equality. Wahoo.
But the double standard is alive and well. It is still understood if not spoken that all other things being equal, the man’s accomplishments in any given endeavor are better and more impressive than the woman’s. Women still receive a heightened level of scrutiny and criticism rarely applied to a man. The superwoman expectation of the careerist who keeps spotless house lives alongside the condescending approval of being “just” a mom. The Madonna and the whore compete for attention, but neither address the assumption that a woman cannot be both pretty and smart.
There is no escaping the physical. You know a woman who’s been raped or sexually abused. It happens all the time. And it happens because there are still men who wield power and entitlement over women’s bodies. That sense of entitlement and covetous appropriation extends to the gauntlet of lectures that pass for advice and informed consent on the way to get birth control or an abortion.
Forgive me if I am less than tolerant of the self-congratulatory man who has the audacity to point out that the real difference between the sexes is that only women can get pregnant so we should recognize that. Thanks. Because in fourteen years of taking a pill every single day and for the past few years of paying the pharmacy $40 each month for uncovered birth control, nevermind the actual monthly bleeding, after all that I had somehow blocked out the fact that only women can get pregnant. Good thing that guy was here to remind me. Phew.
It is precisely because only women can get pregnant that anti-discrimination laws and insurance coverage for contraception and access to safe abortions are, at root, not about economics or prejudice or the ever-changing philosophy of when life begins, but about women’s autonomy and right to control their own bodies. Because when women control their own bodies and can determine access on their own terms and pregnancy and motherhood on their own terms, then women can be defined as more than just bodies.
Feminism is still necessary because women are still being attacked and dismissed for wanting the basic right to self-determination that men take for granted. Feminism is still necessary because women still have to work harder to prove their worth. And feminism will continue to be necessary until women have full and unquestioned control of their bodies and definition of their lives.