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The language of equality

A recent survey conducted by The Talon asked freshmen, sophomore and junior boys and girls what they thought about what feminism meant to them and about gender-related inequality issues seen today. The results show that as a whole, the school agrees that equality is key for men and women, but that opinions differ greatly on what exactly the word feminism is supposed to mean.

Historically there has been a wide gap in equality for men and women.

Overall, when looking at all occupations and ages, women are paid  80 percent of what men make, according to the Census Bureau and Reach Advisors. According to the American Association of University Women’s recent study on the gender pay gap, the gap increases by age, state and ethnicity.

It doesn’t stop there either. Fact: women hold 52 percent of all professional level jobs. Fact: of Fortune 500 companies (largest 500 U.S. companies) only 4.6 percent of CEOs and 16.9 percent of board members are women.

See the difference? Women fall behind when it comes to the top job, and full equality between men and women has still not been reached.

Not everything is negative, however, especially for younger women. Women now earn 60 percent of all undergraduate and master’s degrees, and though only 30 percent of U.S. physicians are women, about half of current medical school graduates are women.

Research from the Census Bureau also shows that specifically, younger women between the ages of 22 and 30 are paid 8 percent more than men. What this shows is that overall, while the scale is uneven between men and women, there is hope for equality in the younger generation.

In the Minnehaha survey taken between April 27 and May 7 by 218 students, roughly half took a multiple-choice survey focused on inequalities seen currently while the other half took a short-answer survey on what actually the language of being a feminist means. The survey was split as equally as possible between boys and girls in the three grades.

In the multiple choice survey, the majority of students agreed that women and men should have equal opportunity, be paid equally and have equal ability in academics and leadership. But in the short-answer survey, practically every student defined the word “feminism” differently.

As a result, although there is a foundation of agreement on many issues, talking about these issues proves to be complicated.

The dictionary definition of feminism points out that it is the advocacy of women’s rights for political, social and economic equality of men. When there is any inequality, there is advocacy for the situation. As in any situation, people split in different levels of advocacy, such as radicalists, mainstream supporters, and those who react to the radicalists.

“I think that [the definition of feminism] is commonly misunderstood,” senior Andrew Wintz said. “People think that feminism is just equality for women. Really, I think of it as equality for everyone, the idea that everyone deserves to be treated equally. When you ask for equality for one group of people based on the fact that they deserve it because they shouldn’t be treated differently, you have to ask for equality for everyone. If you say you want equality for women because they deserve to be treated equally as people, then you’re also going to say it goes the same for men, too.”

While men and women are separate genders with separate abilities, the true fight of feminism is to have equal opportunities and equal voice. 100 percent of 109 students believe that women deserve equal pay for equal work, but only 44 percent of 109 students believe that women have the same opportunities as men. “It goes without saying that men and women can do things just as well as the other gender can,” sophomore John Goth said. “Our past has held us back and that needs to change.”

“I just talked to one of my students who views feminism as women trying to be men because it’s messing with gender norms, like if a woman fights in the war it’s not feminine,” social studies teacher Elizabeth Van Pilsum said. “That’s not what it is to me. A lot of people think feminism means women are angry and don’t want to bake pies and raise kids anymore,” she said laughing. “It’s way more complicated than that. They still want to be good mothers, they may not even be working mothers, but it’s all about having a voice, equality and basic human rights.”

A radical in any situation, and that each opinion a person has makes it even harder to identify what being a feminist means. “Women don’t want to get rid of men and take over the world,” sophomore Kate Ali said. “We just want to be able to get paid the same when we work hard.”

In the survey results, 23 percent of the 96 students made sure to include that while they agree with the ideals, they do not identify themselves with the radical stereotyped feminists that represent the movement today.

Sophomore Alex Jordan explained that he’s all for equality, but rejected the label of a feminist.

“I wouldn’t consider myself a feminist, but rather someone who’s just fed up with all the wrongdoing,” Jordan said. “I agree that women should have equal pay and equal rights, but I’m not really out there enough to be a feminist. I don’t go out and try to sway people into believing [that what I’m arguing for is true].”

Battling stereotypes

Throughout the world’s cultural history, artists and writers have mainly been men, which has deeply influenced the way women have been depicted and described.

“Artists portray the world as they see it, and if you’re used to critiquing what you see in art based on what the artist has done, you realize, back through history, you are constantly looking at it through the male point of view,” art teacher Nathan Stromberg said. “They’re the ones dictating what we see in art. It’s really interesting when you start seeing art made by women that are confronting these issues that we’re seeing.”

Therefore, male artists have seen women as objects, often either being painted as an untouchable saint or a spectacle of beauty.

“A great example of [comparing male and female artwork] is through Mary Cassatt [1844-1926],” Stromberg continued. “She was a female painter in France during the Impressionist movement. Her main thing she does over and over again are[painting] mother and children. The paintings are very intimate and beautiful, and she’s painting this intimate relationship between the women and their babies. It’s very odd to see what she’s painting at this time, because she’s painting a female from a female gaze. A man couldn’t paint that, he couldn’t have the same understanding that a mother and a child do.”

More recently in history, there were women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the revolutionary war, even acting as a spy. These women were gutsy, but they were far from man-hating. The surge for equality then further spiked in the 1970s, where women wanted to work and burned their bras in protest. Now, the fight in modern industrialized societies is all about equal pay and equal opportunity. As time passes, the issues change.

The Talon survey asked students to what extent they agreed with the following statement: the sterotype that women are often viewed as object is old-fashioned; today, a woman’s status and respect is based mainly on her abilities, accomplishments and behavior, regardless of the way she looks or dresses. There was so strong agreement, but girls tended to be less positive about the situation that boys were.

Changing boys’ behavior

John Krakauer’s newest book, Missoula, focuses on recent sexual assaults at the University of Montana. He points out that the injustice of rape is sadly “commonplace” and writes: “Rape, it turns out, occurs with appalling frequency throughout the United States.”

Feminists are trying to change the message given about who really is at fault in these “common situations,” as unfortunate as it sounds.

“Rape culture fits in with feminism because a lot of victims are blamed, both men and women,” junior Lucy Awe said. “They are told it was their fault whether it’s because of what they were wearing or alcohol intake or because they were asking for it. That’s obviously not true and you should never blame the victim. [To show my beliefs about this,] I’ve done a protest called ‘Slut Walk.’”

According to “Slut Walk’s” website, the emphasis is that their main goal is to transfer the message from “don’t get raped” to “don’t rape.”

Women around the world

At the same time, the United States isn’t the only place with this problem. Countries all over the world encounter inequality to an extreme, to the point where women are not allowed to work, drive or even walk on the street unsupervised.

“Women are objectified [in the United States], and in a way that’s not progress,” said Van Pilsum, who teaches American and AP World History. “If you look at a Muslim nation like Saudi Arabia where so many things are limited and they’re covered and veiled, they’d look at us and feel sorry for how our girls look. It depends on your perspective and how they grew up. You might feel sorry for them, but they’re the ones feeling sorry for you. The [United States] is such an enigma, I think. As far as education and opportunity, we’re so lucky compared to a lot of places. However, they have had female presidents in places like Indonesia, a Muslim nation and India, a Hindu nation, which is fairly patriarchal. But, we haven’t had a female president yet, which is interesting. It’s odd it hasn’t happened here yet.”

Ninety percent of the students surveyed seem to agree with this statement and claim that they would vote for a woman to be a U.S. President if they agreed with her positions on issues. “I think gender shouldn’t matter,” Goth said. “Whoever best represents the United States should be voted in.”

For high school students, however, it may in fact be all about the individual who does the job better and who makes the most money.

“American business is driven by the bottom line, and if a female CEO is going to make you enough money, then go for it,” Hoffner said. “On the whole, our economy is of utmost importance, and the bottom line of making dollars is going to win.”

Minnehaha students all seem to agree that women are as capable as men and deserve equal treatment, but everything splinters out when the question about opportunity and stereotype is asked. What’s stopping the progress if students all agree that equality is key? The only answer lies in what the optimism the younger generation brings.

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About Meena Morar

[email protected] Meena is the online editor and junior staff writer whose interests are in english and history studies. Meena enjoys to delve into intelligent conversations with a deeper understanding as the goal. She is also the captain of the Debate team.

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