Yesterday was the 97th International Women’s Day. On campus, we celebrated by sending flowers to women we admire. It seems fitting to celebrate by looking back at the result of the last 100 years of feminism in the world.
Feminist author Wendy Kaminer once wrote that we live in a post-feminist world without ever having lived in a feminist one. Today we see a backlash against the feminist movement in education, leadership and the English language itself.
The cover article of the Jan. 30, 2006 edition of Newsweek was “The Trouble With Boys,” which argued that the focus on educating girls was leaving young boys behind in the classroom.
After the passage of Title IX in 1972, schools had to devote equal money to girls and boys, both in academics and in sports. Since then, the academic achievement of women has risen steadily in all areas.
Teaching methods have changed to better teach girls, but in the process, the article says, boys are being left behind. Because boys and girls mature at different rates, the new teaching styles are no longer suited to the more active, disorganized young boys.
Is good education really so exclusive? Does the education of one gender mean leaving the other behind? If boys and girls do learn differently, and if we really can’t successfully teach both, then there’s an argument for single-sex education.
But school must be about more than just textbooks. If we support same-sex education because we agree that boys and girls learn differently, then we must also agree that they need to learn about each other, to adapt their styles of interaction and communication to each other. If our schools do not prepare boys and girls to work together and treat each other as equals, then they have failed at preparing our children for real life.
In male leaders we admire aggressiveness, and call it passion. We read stories praising or criticizing President George W. Bush’s incisive questioning style, or lack thereof. But in women, aggressiveness is being pushy and unfeminine. When women try leading like men, they’re criticized for it. When they don’t, they’re seen as not strong enough. Male leadership is the only style we seem able to judge by. Why do Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s exercise program and Sen. Hilary Clinton’s hairstyle matter?
Jokes about political correctness are easy to make. The language of inclusion is often awkward, stilted and inefficient. “Congressman” is easier and faster to say than “congressmember.” “He” is simpler than “he or she” and using “they” will drive any good grammarian batty. The path to ridiculousness is steeply sloped and paved with intentions of equality.
If we acknowledge that when we say men, we mean both men and women, then what’s the point? Language should be beautiful. It should flow smoothly. But language is one of the most powerful forces in human interactions – what we say, and how we say it, matters. If we can train ourselves to speak in neutral or inclusive terms, we shift our frame of mind from woman as an exception to both men and women being normal.
And that’s what it all comes down to. Throughout history, we have taken one type of person as the default and made everything else an exception. Men are the norm – women may be just as good, but different. White vs. non-white, Christian vs. non-Christian, straight vs. other. We pick the powerful and make everything else a case of the norm.
It’s why we need to call our movement feminism, even though what we really want is equality between men and women. There are leaders and women leaders, education and education for girls, “normal” speech and inclusive speech.
We need to change the basis of our understanding and stop thinking of the world as emanating from white men. When we do, we can lose this false weariness with progress and achieve a better world.
Stoll can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.