Feminine vs. Feminist Part 2: Stanton and Steinem and Stereotypes, Oh My!

“Feminist” was considered the “f word” when I was younger. It represented pushy, overbearing, screaming bra-burners who demanded to be treated better than everyone else. They had single-handedly destroyed the very fiber of American society by pushing to open the doors for women not only to enter the professional arena in droves but also to be paid the same as their male counterparts. This meant that fewer women were at home raising their children, which of course led to a rise in things like poor academic performance, promiscuity, and abortion. With women’s lib came the sexual revolution and the diminishing of the traditional American housewife who wanted to stay at home and raise a family. That’s what most women at that time wanted.

I had a history teacher in high school who said that he definitely thinks women should have the right to vote, but that even since women were given that right, the country has become way too liberal.

Does this sound like complete drivel to you? If anything, what feminism (combined with the Civil Rights movement) helped to accomplish was to lift the lid on the stereotypes that had kept too many things boiling in secret for so long. For instance, people have been having sex outside of wedlock for millenia. As much as certain people like to say that abstinence is the most foolproof method for unwanted pregnancy, that’s an unreasonable thing to expect. Tell someone he or she can’t do something (that’s not illegal, of course) and they’ll figure out a way to do it. Feminism helped make birth control more readily available so that people could be more responsible with sex.

Not only did feminism pave the way for promoting more responsible choices, it also provided “outlets” from housework and childcare. When I hear that most women enjoyed staying at home, I want to laugh. Not because I think staying at home with a family is not as important as a paid job (which, by the way, I don’t; I think being a stay-at-home mother is just as important and honorable as any other type of honest work). But because if most women wanted to stay at home, how come so many revolted and took to the streets to demonstrate? Why would there have been a need for the Equal Pay Act, which, let’s face it, we’re still waiting to come into full effect over forty years later? And even if the majority of women wanted to be housewives, why does that have to be the predetermined path for all women?

I was taught that a woman who doesn’t put her husband and children ahead of her own wants and needs is selfish. Essentially, women with children who wanted careers were only self-serving. If your husband made enough money to support the family, the only reason a woman would work is because she’s selfish. A man who works deserves respect because he is giving his family stability. A woman who works is a scourge on family values.

So let me get this straight. A man can have his career, his family, and the respect of those around him….but a woman can’t?

I understand that today things are better than they were around the time the women’s movement began, but have you asked yourself why the movement is still going strong? Perhaps because there is still so much more to accomplish. There is still a strong need for the women’s movement because we haven’t met our goal yet: equality.

An article in Nature, “Inequality quantified: Mind the gender gap” by Helen Shen, cites a 2010 survey conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in which 52% of the women reported being the subject of gender bias at some point in their careers.

But what about the men? Don’t they encounter gender bias?

Sure they do. That’s what 2% of the men reported.

The article also references an experiment conducted by Jo Handelsman, a microbiologist and director of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery who also decided to delve into researching gender biases. She sent CVs (Curriculum Vitae – an academic version of a resume) of two fictitious people, one named John and the other Jennifer, to 127 faculty members. The CVs were identical; the only difference was the name. The result: the professors wanted to offer John almost $4000 more than Jennifer to do the same job.

Sexism doesn’t exist anymore? This study was conducted five years ago.

According to the National Academy, in 2010 the percentage of full-time female senior faculty in engineering was 9.6% nationwide. Some people might argue and say, “Well, so what? Women aren’t as interested in engineering as men. Don’t try to force them to do something they don’t want to do.”

What a crock of bull!

There are plenty of women who want to pursue careers in STEM but are discouraged from it because of the sexism that is still inherent in our society. I just recently spoke to a friend, a rather brilliant friend at that who finished her Ph.D. at Cornell around the time I finished my master’s degree, and she is currently doing really impressive work with Exxon Mobil as a chemical engineer. I spoke with her about maybe getting involved in helping young girls become involved in STEM. Her response: “I would hate to encourage girls to come into this; it’s such a terrible field.”

Why?! Because of the science?!

No, of course not. Because of the MEN.

Currently, my friend is the only woman at the meetings she attends where she has to deal with arrogant misogynists who look down on her work. People might say, “Well, tough bricks, lady. Everyone has to deal with those types of people.”

That’s true. But women seem to have to deal with it waaaay more often.

As I discussed in my previous post, “That’s So Unladylike!,” femininity is defined in a way that keeps girls “under control.” They’re supposed to be meek and quiet and are warned of being too pushy or overbearing. This type of attitude doesn’t exactly breed confidence, does it?

Boys are encouraged to be daring and take risks; are expected to be loud and obnoxious; and aren’t reprimanded for interrupting or being a show off. This type of approach with boys encourages them to continue along the risk-taking path and makes them develop more confidence. However, it develops to the point of being completely arrogant and unteachable.

One of my brothers is in the military; when we were younger, I got caught up in the military bug with him and we both joined a Junior Rifle and Pistol team. I was one of a handful of girls, and some days I was the only girl that showed up. All the instructors were men. You know what I was told?

“Girls are better shots than boys.”


Yep. Girls are better at shooting than boys. The reason? The boys think it’s somehow embedded in their DNA to be able to shoot a gun and hit the bullseye. The girls are more willing to admit they don’t know what they’re doing and actually listen to the advice the experts are giving them.

And how true it was. For a while, I was a better shot than my military-bound brother (until he actually joined the military and had way more practice time than I did).

One night in particular, I was on a hot streak. I must have advanced three ranks in two hours. All the kids’ fathers were there watching and saw the marks I was receiving and how impressed the instructors were. One father stood up and yelled at the boys, “This girl is kicking your a**es!”

My father looked over at me with a smile that said, “That’s my girl!”

Girls can excel at things for which they are given the same amount of positive attention that the boys are given. They have the ability, but, like most aspects of life, if the proper encouragement isn’t given early in life, the deep-seated misconception of not being good enough or smart enough or “born with it” takes hold and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We need to start teaching both boys and girls that they are capable of being daring and nurturing; of conquering new feats and being content with their lives (but not complacent); and of pursuing any dream that comes their way. We need to invest equally in the mindsets of both genders sooner rather than later. Feminism has helped put us on that track. It has helped improve society, not tear it down.

Isn’t it amazing what a group of women can accomplish?

Peace, Prosperity, and Organic Photovoltaics,

Chic Geek and Chemistry Freak

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