Modern feminism is confused. On one end, women who call themselves feminists believe that women derive strength from not dressing in a way that is considered flattering. In their economy, a woman who dresses in this fashion is both weak and controlled by men. This philosophy praises women who deviate from societal norms, such as women who shave their heads, as strong and independent. Some lesbians who share this ideology think they are superior feminists by their sexual orientation, considering they are not dependent on men in this respect and have no need to dress or behave in a way that is pleasing to men. On the other end, women who also claim to be feminists believe that because women have been sexually inhibited and controlled for centuries, women ought to embrace their sexuality by having frequent casual sexual relationships the way that many men do, sexually objectifying men just as men have and continue to with women, and dress in a sexual way without being condemned for behaving immorally.
Those who follow these ideologies believe that women who do not wish to engage in the same practices are not doing so by their own choice, but by a societal programming that inhibits their natural processes. To others, “feminism” is a dirty word and “feminist” is an insulting label analogous to “man-hater.”
Drafting two new scripts for all women to abide by not only repeats the idea that women need to follow a role defined for them (this time, by other women) and causes a division among women who do not agree with one or either of the newly proposed Female Behavior Constitutions, but it also ignores the actual underlying problems obstructing the hope for equality among men and women in modern society. To explore a solution, we must confront the methods in which the subjugation of women is undertaken and identify the core sources fueling them.
Women earn about 77 cents in comparison to the full dollar awarded to males. Some argue it is because women primarily choose low-paying jobs, but female secretaries earn 83.4% as much as their male counterparts. In male-dominated fields, women are paid even less. According to Time Magazine, female truck drivers earn 76.5% as much as male truck drivers.
While there are some men affected by domestic violence, women are disproportionately physically abused in intimate relationships. The Domestic Violence Resource Center states that 85% of victims of partner violence are women, and 15% are men. 1 in 4 women will have experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimated that 91% of victims of rape and sexual assault are women and 9% are men. Surveys have shown that 1 in 4 women will experience rape or sexual assault in their lifetime. RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, contests the myth that the majority of perpetrators are strangers lingering in a back alley through stating that 2/3 of perpetrators are people the victim knows personally. The largest study published, based on 2,643 sexual assault cases, found only 3% of false reports, similar to statistics of false reports of all other crimes. At the same time, rape and sexual assault is considered the most underreported crime.
All of these methods of dominating women are performed through behaviors. Behaviors come about as a consequence of attitudes. To illustrate this point, an individual would vote for a political candidate (behavior), because they agree with the candidates’ policies (attitudes). Attitudes are shaped by the culture we live in. Just as in the United States’ culture a child may learn that while we eat many other animals, we never eat dogs. But in northern Ghana, that same child would learn that dog meat is a delicacy. The culture we live in both presents and normalizes the attitude that women are primarily sexual objects while men are not, and consequently men and women alike adopt this attitude and incorporate it into their behaviors. The traditional script for women is often also perpetuated by our culture, but it is no longer as severely enforced as the dehumanization of women.
It is important to note that feminism is not about hating men. Men are not born with the inherent need to subjugate women. They are bombarded from their early years with cultural messages teaching them how they should view women. At the same time, the majority of men do not adopt every single cultural message and do not develop identical, negative attitudes. Men do not all think that women should be paid less and men are not all abusive. Women are also responsible for contracting these attitudes and harm both themselves through self-objectification and other women through competition over sexual desirability.
In debunking the “feminist” cultural scripts presented through modern feminism, it is important to find a distinction between what is a cultural message and what is a natural behavior. For example, in the first theory of feminism described in the introduction, women are encouraged not to dress or behave in a way that suggests a need to be perceived as attractive by men. The desire to be attractive to the opposite sex is not a product of culture. Procreation and finding a member of the opposite sex to mate with who would most likely produce healthy offspring is a natural process. Physical characteristics are linked with current physical condition, fertility and the probability of healthy offspring.
If a woman wishes to shave her head, she should be allowed to do so without criticism. But that does not make her more “feminist” than a woman with long hair. Men care about being sexually desirable to women too. However this does not mean that self-objectification, or determining ones’ self worth based on sexual desirability, is natural and it is not meant to be encouraged. There is a balance between wanting to dress attractively and feeling as if it is imperative to emphasize physical attractiveness because your physical body is the most significant determinant of your overall value.
The other theory of feminism, described second in the opening paragraph, enforces old negative cultural messages with only a slight edit (to include women) rather than freeing women of constraints. If anything, it works against women, because the cultural message it encourages is the normalization of sexual attitudes involved in sexual abuse. By labeling frequent casual sexual encounters as an act of “feminism,” the men and women who participate perpetuate and empower the idea that sex is about finding a body to use to provide them with sexual release and that sexual activity is devoid of emotional connection. It is the embodiment of human objectification, where the woman dehumanizes the man as just a body and vice versa.
Sexual predators that victimize both men and women operate on the idea that human sexuality is based on objectification. It is a way in which sexual predators eliminate guilt for harming another person – the person was simply a vessel for them to use to act out their fantasies. Through this, people with this ideology legitimize the sexual predators’ definition of sex as what sex is rather than an activity based on affection and sharing between human beings.
The belief that women who do not behave similarly are sexually inhibited takes power away from women because it discourages the right for a woman to choose what she does with her body – saying “no” to sexual activity could be considered analogous to the woman just being misguided rather than a genuine desire not to engage in the activity. If a woman wishes to practice the behaviors in this theory, it is her choice, but it certainly does not make her a feminist.
To sexually objectify women is to reduce half of the population, where each individual woman is complex and multifaceted in her own right, to a thing that can be seen and touched. It does not take a sociopath to treat members of the community of this low status as a less important people-group that do not deserve the same rights or require the same concern in regard to gaining rights politically, economically and socially as those with higher social standing.
Ultimately, feminists should be attacking the constructs that denigrate women to breasts, hips, buttocks and legs created to provide sexual pleasure for other people – pornography, strip clubs, prostitution and television programs, industries (such as music and fashion), advertisements and video games that depict women in a highly sexualized manner. Women should also recognize that there is more to them, their self-worth and each other than their sexual desirability, because women are human.
A sexual object’s main purpose is to serve as a sexual partner, not to make money and not to have control over their lives or bodies. This does not describe a woman. Once we fully recognize and adopt this attitude, the behaviors that follow will remove the lock barring the path of equality between men and women.
Note from Don Cooks: Angela has returned to thr University in NY, so this will be her last article for awhile