by Zoe Mowl
If you asked me about two years ago, I would never have identified as a feminist. Now I consider it an integral part of who I am- I am a feminist and extremely proud of it. Yet, it seems that too often when I mention this in front of polite company who do not already know me, they look at me with bemused expressions and sometimes stop to ask why? Why do I identify as a feminist when women in this country already have equal rights to men? Why do I want to bring a dead fight back to life? Why do I wish that more politicians would identify as feminists and support more legislation that empowers women? The short and simple answer to all of these questions is because I believe in equality, and I think that any representative of this country should as well.
I will be the first to admit that extraordinary progress has been made for women in the past one hundred years. They have gained the right to vote (shout out for the nineteenth amendment), seen the passage of Title IX, and achieved the right to purchase birth control pills within their home state (yay for Griswold vs. Connecticut). In more recent years, have seen the passage of Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Violence Against Women Act (although the latter’s renewal is currently being stalled by House Republicans). Yet, there is still so much work that needs to be done before equality between men and women is fully realized, and I believe that our lawmakers have a duty to fight for it.
Overall, women in the United States workforce are estimated to only earn 77 cents for every male counterpart’s dollar. This statistic is abysmal and it only gets worse if a female professional chooses to become a mother. Then, she will earn an estimated 59 cents per male dollar and she will be 100% more likely to not be promoted because of perceived outside duties. Additionally, only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Numerous studies will point to the advantages of having a larger and more powerful presence of women in the workforce, yet all of the aforementioned numbers point to the inherent patriarchal setup of the United States workplace, one that is in desperate need of reform. Clearly, the past thirty years have shown that the reform is not going to come from inside the market, but rather has to be forced onto the market by the government.
Lawmakers also have the duty to uphold women’s rights to their own bodies and the decisions they might make with them. That’s right, I am talking about birth control and abortion. The landmark Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade just recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary; yet, across state legislatures and indeed in the halls of federal government, certain lawmakers seem intent on limiting this choice for women. I do not wish to start a debate over the morality of abortion but just wish to point out that maybe instead of fighting for those who are not yet born (or even conceived), lawmakers should fight to help women who can barely afford to care for the children they already have (an estimated 20% of women and their children live in poverty in the United States). Or politicians can help women obtain easier and cheaper access to contraceptives through their health insurance policies through the Affordable Care Act, instead of arguing whether a woman should be forcibly held hostage to her employer’s personal beliefs- after all, studies show that women who have access to contraceptives are less likely to be faced with considering an abortion.
A final argument for why I am still a feminist and why I believe that all lawmakers should continue to fight for women is because the United States is still a relatively violent place for women. Domestically, one in four college women will be sexually assaulted, and one in six women will be raped. The Center for Disease Control and the Department of Justice estimate that 22% of women will be physically assaulted by an intimate partner during their lifetime. In fact the costs of the consequences of these violent acts, the US economy loses $1.8 billion in lost earning and productivity. These numbers are too high and frankly, as a country we should be ashamed.
Clearly, as a country, women have a long ways to go until actual gender equity is achieved, and that is why I am a feminist and why our politicians should continue to care about women.