Just Another Raging Feminist…Because It’s Women’s Her-story Month
by Elise Swanson | UW-Madison
It’s Women’s History Month, which means that everyone is talking about women. I read an article the other day, written for Women’s History Month, talking about how far women have progressed because they can now wear pantsuits on the floor of the Senate, when in the 1960s they were kicked out if they weren’t wearing miniskirts, because then all the men in the room couldn’t check them out. The article also argued that because 17 Senators are women, we’ve made huge strides.
First of all, I don’t want men dictating what I wear, be it a pantsuit or a skirt. If I want to wear a miniskirt, then the men in the room should be able to keep themselves from staring at me. Not being able to wear something because another person can’t keep their reactions in check is just as bad as being thrown out of somewhere just for wearing something less revealing.
And honestly, 17 out of 100 really isn’t all that huge. Women make up 51% of the population. So, if women had really made huge strides in terms of equal representation in government, then there would a lot more women Senators. I’m not saying there should necessarily be 51 women Senators, but there should definitely be more than 17.
It’s not just in politics that women are underrepresented. There are fewer women CEOs or in other central leadership roles in businesses than men in the United States; according to CNN, only 12 Fortune 500 companies were run by women in 2011 . But according to Forbes, in 2010 161,145 women graduated with business degrees, as did 166,386 men. So, if women are earning 49% of the business degrees in college, but then not making it to management positions, what’s happening?
We may have moved past the days when women were expelled from the Senate floor for not allowing themselves to be despicably objectified by men, but we have not addressed the toxic and pervasive culture of patriarchal attitudes that continues to hurt women. In a very interesting TED talk, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook discusses the negative perceptions of women in leadership positions, and how that affects girls and women in our society. The recent documentary Miss Representation also addresses the question of how we can expect women to get and maintain leadership positions when society seems so bent on portraying women in such positions as “bitches.” Examples? Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, attitude surveys taken in real life…the list goes on.
There’s really no easy way to change this. We need a complete overhaul of the way we, as a society, think about and treat women. And it’s not just about pushing more women to go to college or pursue ambitious career goals. It’s about getting everyone to respect women a little more. Because one of the biggest challenges facing women today is that when we try to talk about how, while things may be better than they were a couple decades ago, there’s still a long way to go, we’re attacked personally. We’re “angry, ugly, bra-burning sluts who are only shouting because we couldn’t get a man.” (I’ll acknowledge a slight dramatization in language). We need to change that attitude. We need to be able to talk about how we, as a society, view women.
It’s also about recognizing that women are actually capable of making decisions. We can decide on our own whether or not to wear that skirt or pantsuit, thank you very much. And when it comes to making decisions about abortion, contraception, and sex education, we’re definitely capable of being part of that discussion as well. A male-dominated government may not have the best perspective in deciding what choices women should and shouldn’t have when it comes to their bodies.
In Wisconsin, there’s been a lot of this in recent legislation. Governor Walker is expected to quickly sign two measures passed by the Assembly this past Tuesday, one of which prevents private insurers from covering abortions if they participate in the state-wide insurance exchange created by the Patient Protection and Affordability Act, the other of which mandates that schools focus their sex education classes on abstinence and stress the importance of marriage. Number of women in the Wisconsin legislature right now? 29 of 132. I’m not saying that these are exclusively women’s issues, or that women all have the same views on these issues. I’m just saying that women should have at least an equal voice when debating these issues. And if we don’t have that voice in government, then maybe government shouldn’t take that choice away.
So go ahead, call me a raging feminist, a slut, a bra-burner, or whatever. Just don’t stare at me the next time I wear a sundress just because the weather’s nice for once.Elise Swanson is a NGJ Voices Contributor. She is majoring in Political Science and English, and hopes to join the Foreign Service one day. A native of northern Wisconsin, she hopes one day to retire to Switzerland, and pursue various, yet-unknown ambitions.