Opinion

Debunking the stigma of feminism

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Last summer, I was subjected to daily sexual harassment at my job as a server. The perpetrators, however, were not grabby customers or oafish managers; they were my co-workers.

Initially, I chalked up the sexual comments to the fact that the kitchen staff was 90 percent male, and I was the shiny new toy. I told myself the explicit banter shrouded in “good fun” was part of the service industry, and perhaps I was being too naive.

The most extreme illustration of the harassment occurred the week before I left. One exceptionally verbal server told the kitchen staff that he and I had sex after work hours, which was a bold-faced lie.

Even though I was not physically harassed, I felt violated. I felt subordinated. I felt objectified and mistreated.

An older female server told me to get used to it; that’s life in the working world.

Today, I refuse to accept that placation. I should not have to deal with sexual harassment as a woman in the working world, food service or otherwise.

I believe in the political, economic and social equality of the sexes. I don’t believe every woman should be a feminist; I believe every person should be. Feminism is not anti-man; it is pro-equality.

A recently released Vox poll conducted by research and communications firm PerryUndem, shows that a strong majority of Americans agree on gender equality. Eighty-five percent say they believe in “equality for women.”

However, only 18 percent of poll respondents consider themselves feminists. Fifty-two percent responded that they are not feminists, 26 percent said they are not sure, and four percent refused to answer the question.

Though feminism seems like an extremist, bra-burning concept a la Gloria Steinem, it is, in fact, a rather practical call for equality in every facet of society. Sexism may not be as evident in the United States as in lesser developed countries, but it can be clearly observed.

The wage gap has increased, with women earning 80.9 percent of what men earn in weekly pay, according to an Institute for Women’s Policy Research study.

In 2014, women accounted for almost 51 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, women will achieve unfair representation in government for nearly 500 years, according to Cynthia Terrell, chair of FairVote’s “Representation 2020” project. Currently, 19 percent of female government officials are representing 51 percent of the population.

Women hold only 14.2 percent of the top five leadership positions at companies in the S&P 500, according to a New York Times article about female CEO’s. Out of 500 companies, there are only 24 female CEO’s.

Anti-feminists argue that the rise of feminism is detrimental to traditional values and push for equality of sexes that aren’t inherently equality. In “Why Modern Feminism is Illogical, Unnecessary, and Evil,” Satoshi Kanazawa argues, “The culpability of modern feminism in making women steadily unhappy, because it is based on false assumptions about male and female human nature, is difficult to deny. Men’s happiness has not declined in the last 35 years, because there has not been masculinism.”

However, the statistics outlined above are not new and can hardly be disputed; they have been repeated over and over by a number of credible sources across the political spectrum. But what are we supposed to do about such a large societal problem on a day-to-day basis?

We can work to solve these large, abstract issues of female representation and equality in the workforce and government with much smaller, equally important actions.

The spirit of competition among females is easily the biggest problem facing women today. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” translates in the modern world to “stop bringing each other down.” I don’t think gender treatment in society is an exclusively female issues; it spans across genders.

I’m guilty of being incredibly harsh to strong, intelligent women around me. It is so easy to pick apart a woman for her appearance, her personality, or even her accomplishments. We should focus on ability, not gender. We should focus on interest, not gender.

“My definition of feminist: a man or a woman who says, “Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it, we must do better,” said Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a 2012 TEDx talk.

Do your part, however small, to do better. Highlight what makes a woman exceptional, rather than magnifying her flaws. Focus on ability, not gender.

My brush with sexual harassment over the summer became a personal call to action. I hope other women won’t need an incident to incite their own change; a move towards feminism values is a move toward equality and, in turn, a more advanced society.

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