I'm afraid I may have caused a disturbance in Betty Friedan's grave recently. I let ignorance run rampant in my classroom. I left at the break, claiming I couldn't stand listening to it anymore. Although that was true, the larger reason for my departure was the fact that I was ashamed.
I was ashamed that I let a 20-something man say America needed a "men's movement" without saying anything in response. A woman in her late 30s said the women's movement had splintered because feminists were too unwilling to concede anything in their fight; I let that pass, too.
I sat there while more 20-something men spoke with apparent authority that the movement failed because its leaders had been unable to deny their biological clocks.
And I sat there as a young woman asked, "Well, what is there left to fight for?"
I was speechless. I didn't know where to start or whom to start with. The verbal volleys just kept coming, and I couldn't formulate anything in the moment but an emotional, sputtering response. What I wanted to say is: There is much left to fight for, and yes, we can do something about it. If indeed the women's movement is over, then why are women still treated as objects in our society? We are inundated with images of perfection at every turn: from the check-out line of the grocery store to the movie theater to the billboards along the highway.
We're informed how to slim our thighs. We're made the object of ridicule and rescue in most films. Then there's the overwhelming presence of pornography. A simple Google search for "porn" elicits more than 85 million hits.
What this leads to is the most sweeping social issues of our society: eating disorders, poor self-esteem, sexual harassment, violence and abuse. Every two minutes, a woman is sexually assaulted in America. And women still make 74 cents for every $1 a man makes, according to news reports. How's that for "women's lib"?
The question then becomes: Why? Why did the young people in my classroom speak so glibly regarding feminism? The answer lies in the way the term "feminism" is treated. Much like the term "liberal," it has been vulgarized, turned into a dirty word - something of which no self-respecting woman (or man) would want to be accused.
The truth, if anyone cares to go back and study the matter, is that feminism is a women's movement brought on by the inability to have a say in who our chosen elected leaders should be, whether women should have property rights, the ability to divorce, the right to make reproductive choices - quite simply, whether women should have a voice.
How can anyone claim that the women's movement is over? True, we are about to welcome the first female speaker of the House. Perhaps this means we finally will have the chance to ensure that all women in this country have equal opportunity to become a senator, or a corporate executive, or the president of the United States. A good first step would be standing up and demanding that Congress pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which was first introduced in 1923 and has yet to pass. Why the fuss? Because the ERA plainly states: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
The women's movement will always be needed because ignorance does not disappear. We will forever fight for equality in our society; and should there come a time when we are truly equals, then we will fight to maintain that status. Until there is equal pay for equal work; until a woman can walk down a street alone without fear of being targeted solely because of her sex; until it is not headline news that a woman is to be speaker of the House - until such a time, the struggle will be far from over.
Jenny Dombrowski is a writer in Washington, D.C., and a student at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2006 Baltimore Sun