F-words: Feminism and Falsehoods
What does it mean to be a feminist?
According to CosmoGirl magazine, it means perpetuating the myths that women cannot think for themselves, that they are simply victims, and that women who stay home to raise their children are "playing Russian roulette with their future."
Leslie Bennetts, author of The Feminine Mistake, believes "feminism is suffering from a major image crisis." Her column in the current issue of CosmoGirl tries to rally young women back to the feminist movement.
CosmoGirl, the little sister of the raunchy Cosmopolitan magazine, reportedly reaches 1.35 million readers. Its target audience is 16- to 20-year-old young women.
Bennetts is appalled that many of today's young women prefer the mommy track to the corporate ladder: "Instead of continuing to fight for equality and their own careers, many want to stay home and raise kids. In fact, a 2005 survey of female students at Yale University found that the majority planned to give up their careers and stay home after they had kids."
Nobody would expect a balanced piece from someone who refers to a woman's choice to stay home and focus on her family as a "mistake," but the article should have been better argued. It's full of tired, easily debunked claims.
For example, Bennetts cites Jacquelyn White, a gender psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who says, "Many girls today don't know there are still barriers for women; for instance, we only make 75 cents to the man's dollar."
Liz Funk, a 19-year-old college junior, gets a mention in the piece for her "Equal Pay Bake Sale" where men were charged $1 for cookies while women only had to pay 75 cents. She says, "Young women were like, ‘Wait, I make that much less than a guy does for the same job?' We educated a lot of people that day." What's a piece on feminism without playing up the "women as victims" angle?
Sorry, ladies, but your numbers don't add up. In her 2006 book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex and Feminism,Carrie Lukas of the Independent Women's Forum busts the wage-gap discrimination myth by pointing out numerous non-discriminatory influences on women's salaries, including:
• Putting families first. Women on average, spend 10 years outside of the workforce caring for their families.
• Educational attainment. Older women in the workforce tend to have less education that their male peers.
• Different priorities. Women are more likely to want flexible schedules or more time off than higher pay.
Lukas also mentions a study concluding that once all such influences are factored in, women earn 98 cents for every dollar men make.
Example 2: Bennetts insults the intelligence of women by suggesting that the "shift of priorities" to home and hearth is a result of "girls [being] force-fed what [she] call[s] the Princess Myth: the idea that your ultimate goal is to land Prince Charming." Notice that the Yale survey did not say "give up their careers after they got married," but "after they had kids."
Unfortunately for Bennetts, fully 70 percent of parents think the best child-care arrangement was for one parent to stay at home, according to a 2000 Public Agenda report. Is such a strong consensus really the result of little girls' overexposure to Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty?
Example 3: As further "proof" of diminishing support for feminism, Bennetts claims that "many girls' aspirations are spelled out in the mission statement of an online community of young women called the Future Domestic Goddesses of America:
We will be cooking, cleaning, and sex experts, all in addition to maintaining our hotness [sic] till we're pretty old. These things become a full-time job and, just like doctors go to med school and pilots go to flight school, women who want this job need to prepare for it.
Bennetts finds this "troubling" because "these girls are forgetting the whole point of a job, which is to get paid for it. Their views also reflect an alarming ignorance about the realities of women's lives, including the persistence of sex discrimination."
Bennetts' response to the Future Domestic Goddesses of America has three major flaws:
1) By Webster's definition, a job is "a piece of work" and "something that has to be done." Compensation is not mentioned, so according to Webster, cooking and cleaning and even "maintaining hotness" are jobs.
2) Claiming sex discrimination is a double-edged sword. Yes, there are men who believe women do not belong in the workforce and there are men who treat women as second-class citizens. But the same can also be said for the way some women treat men. And in terms of education, sex discrimination is now increasing women's opportunities in the workforce. As Lukas points out, "women earn more than half of all bachelor's and master's degrees." If Bennetts truly believes in "the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes," her definition of feminism, where is the outcry about men not earning the same number of degrees as women?
3) Bennetts' assumption that the majority of American women share the mindset of the "Future Domestic Goddesses of America" is inaccurate. A 2007 Pew survey found that 60 percent of working mothers consider part-time work the ideal situation. While 48 percent of at-home mothers consider not working their ideal situation, part-time work was second at 33 percent.
Funk, the 19-year-old bake sale revolutionary, told Bennetts, "Being a feminist can help girls decode how the media sells them false concepts of what it means to be female-and what it means to be empowered."
But isn't Bennetts selling a false concept of feminism - one that only respects choices endorsed by NOW? It's no wonder feminism is suffering a "major self image crisis."
What thinking young woman wants to label herself as an unthinking victim?
Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.