Common Speaking: The Newsletter of the Alice Paul Women's Center Vol. 1 no. 1, 1981

Rethinking Feminism

In recent years, feminist theory has been increasingly integrated into mainstream American culture. However, hostile attitudes toward the feminist movement and toward feminists themselves have continued to exist, even in the Swarthmore community. Feminists are stereotyped as hysterical man-hating fanatics, yet in reality it would be difficult to find any feminist who fits this description. The issues which are so sensitive that many people instinctively attempt to dismiss the women's movement by invoking this popular stereotype. Many of the original reasons why feminism is important and many of the important values which feminism represents have been forgotten in the controversy which surrounds the issue.

Most people understand why feminism was needed in the past although there is continuing controversy about its validity in the present. Few people would argue that society should take away women's suffrage or prevent women from being educated, yet in the not-too-distant past these issues were extremely controversial. We now look back on these days with great indulgence toward their blindness; however, today we remain just as blind to many modern-day iniquities. Despite affirmative action, women are still systematically excluded from powerful and influential positions. On the average, women who work full time still only earn 59 cents for every dollar a man makes; in fact, female college graduates statistically earn less than males with only an eighth-grade education. Outside of the economic sphere, our society is still plagued by the mistreatment of women such as wife abuse, incest, and rape. The odds are frightening; one in four women can expect to be raped and virtually all women will be subjected to sexual harassment. These are but a few of the battles which have yet to be won.

Feminism is not just a movement for the liberation of women, but a broad social movement striving for the equality of each individual. Feminism emphasizes the importance of such values as co-operation, tolerance, nurturance, and the freedom for each person to achieve her or his potential. Feminists are not against men as individuals. What they are against is the oppressive and outdated social structure which forces both men and women into positions which are false and antagonistic. Thus, everyone has an important role to play in the feminist movement. It is ironic that feminism has been characterized as anti-male, when in fact it seeks to liberate men from macho stereotypic roles such as the need to suppress feelings, act aggressively , and be deprived of contact with children.

Some of the most intense opposition to the women's movement comes from women themselves, many whom feel that feminism stands for things that they don't want, such as the weakening of the family unit. But feminists are not opponents of the family: In fact feminism seeks to recognize the long-denied fact that women's traditional work is as important to society as the traditional work of men. This does not mean, however, that individual women should be forced into roles they have not chosen, however valuable these roles may be. Every individual should be free to integrate achievements at home and in the workplace in a manner that is personally satisfying, rather than determined by society.

Feminism affects everybody; it is an issue on which it is impossible not to take a stand. Most of the hostility toward feminism comes from misunderstanding of feminist values and from fear of change. It is our hope that people will take the time to recognize how the women's movement has changed their lives and to re-think their position on feminism.

We hope that COMMON SPEAKING will stimulate this re-thinking of feminism. In succeeding issues, we will be printing a series of Perspectives on Feminism; contributions are welcome from all member s of the community.