To what extent have the goals of feminism been achieved?
In simple terms feminism can be defined as the belief in equality between the sexes, based on the idea that gender should not affect a persons social identity, or socio-political or economic rights, and complete equality regardless of actual or perceived sexual orientation or identity.(Wikipedia, 2006) Complete equality between the men and women can be further broken down into three main categories; social, economic and political equality.In my essay I will assess the extent that the goals of each individual category have been accomplished.
However as feminism is a very broad doctrine, and some feminists are much more hard line than others, deciding to what extent goals have been achieved is dependent on whose definition of the goals you use.
The first area I would like to discuss is that of social equality between men and women. One of feminists’ main social aims is to eliminate the double standards that occur between men and women in all aspects of life, varying from women being expected to take maternity leave instead of men, to sexual equality between intimate partners. Ward Crowe 1981)
This idea is at the heart of the whole feminist ideology and so is very important, however like almost all-feminist goals, the extent to which it is complete depends on which feminist you speak to. Although this is the case there is little argument between feminists that double standards between the sexes have been reduced dramatically in the last one hundred years, and most would say that this goal has almost been achieved. Another major social goal for the feminist movement is the equal treatment of women in the media, including an end to media and advertising exploitation of women’s bodies.
This has always been seen as a crucial area by feminists, as sex-role theory states that men and women will mirror the characters they see in the media, meaning that they will continue with sexist stereotypes that are being shown to them. (Craig 1994) As the media is an area that has traditionally been totally dominated by males, they stereotypes used often to be prejudice against women, and even when they weren’t, the mere fact that no women read news or did any other presenting jobs left its own sub-conscious message in the populous.
Although the feminist movement has been successful in wrestling some of the power away from the predominantly male industry, the media is an area where there is still plenty of work to be done before there goals are complete. Although in the modern world female presenters are considered the norm, and women are not just portrayed as doting mothers, the issue of the media, especially advertising exploiting women’s bodies is still huge. In my opinion feminists will find it very hard to change this fact simply because there will always be women willing to do it and it will always increase sales.
As I said, I think the feminist movement has managed to improve the treatment of women in the media, but will never be able to find complete equality with men in this arena. Getting rid of the acceptance of misogynist language and derogatory terms for women is another of the feminists’ main social goals. This is a difficult area for the feminist movement to make progress because terms that are considered derogatory for women such as, ‘the missus’ to refer to ones wife are massively widespread and not considered to be sexist by most of those who use them.
Therefore the only way that feminists can try and prevent these terms remaining in everyday language forever is through educational policies. As many of the people who accept this misogynistic language are not interested in being educated against it, it becomes very hard to find a way to change the situation. Having said this, slowly as time goes on and people become more understanding, the situation has been slowly improving although I think only the most liberal feminist would claim that linguistic equality has been anywhere near achieved.
The last important social goal that I want to look at is the acceptance of women in history. This is an interesting area, as some feminists don’t see it as a major issue, while others reckon it is crucial to establishing total equality between the sexes. As historically the world was based on a much more patriarchal system and men controlled almost all the power, there are few examples of women playing significant roles in history. Whether this is because they didn’t have the chance to or because their deeds weren’t recorded is the focus of much debate, but most feminists would say it was the second.
However even if this is the case it is very hard to give women credit for un-recorded deeds and so feminists have been fighting an up-hill battle to try and get these ladies their recognition. The second main aspect of the feminist ideology is the economic equality of men and women in all areas of their lives, this is crucial to feminism as economic equality moves women away from being stereotyped as house-wives. The first economic goal that I want to look at is the idea of equal pay for equal work.
The main thrust of this agenda is the removal off the gap in wages that occurs between men and women doing the same jobs. The removal of this difference, known as the ‘wage-gap’ has been one of the major rallying points for the feminist movements as since women entered the work-place they have been paid significantly less than men for the same work. Although the wage gap still occurs today it has been reduced by up to 15% since 1970 according to some estimates (Wellington 1993) and other say it may well disappear entirely within the next ten to fifteen years.
Although feminists have not at this point in time eliminated the wage gap, they have managed to reduce it massively and it looks to keep getting smaller, so most feminists would say that this goal is on it way to being completed.Coupled with this idea of equal pay for equal work is another of feminism’s main economic goals; equality between the sexes in the hiring promotion and treatment of employees. There are employees who are less willing to hire women as they risk losing them after they have children, and will have to pay for maternity leave.
The feminist movement had tried to address this through a series of legislation, which to a certain extent has helped although the problem definitely still occurs. They have encountered similar problems with promotions as although at lower levels promotions of men and women have become a lot less bias than they were in the past at higher levels a ‘glass ceiling’ still seems to remain in place. This term refers mainly to the business world where although women can gain promotion up through the company they still seem to find it very hard to reach the very highest levels, and men still massively dominate the boardroom.
Although this problem has started being addressed by companies in recent times, removing it further is still one of feminism’s main goals. The goal of equal treatment of employees ties in with the idea of lookism, once again especially in the business world. Lookism is the discrimination against people based on the way they look or dress, and although it does occur to men in is mostly a female problem. Although the situation has improved it is still the case that it is much easier for a woman to find employment in the business sector if she is comely.
Feminists have been working hard to try and stop this discrimination for example, by eliminating dress codes which could exploit women’s bodies. However it is very hard as there are many other factors which could effect employees decision on who to hire, making it almost impossible for feminists to confirm when it has taken place. The third area that feminists have focused on trying to obtain equality is politically, as without this equality in the other two sectors will not make the difference it should.
One of the main things that they strive to achieve in this area is that men and women should have equal rights under the law. Although it seems amazing now up until 1918 women were not allowed to vote in Britain, and not until 1928 was the voting age lowered to twenty-one in line with men. (Holten 1986, p134) Since then many more improvements have been made in making the sexes more politically equal, with women allowed to represent in the House of Commons, however hard-line feminists would say that even now we are not politically equal in Britain, as men still dominate the House of Lords.
Although in Britain women have succeeded in gaining almost equal political rights, in other parts of the world women are still much more oppressed. In Kuwait for example, the parliament just rejected a bill that would have given women the right to vote and stand in parliament, and so the feminists’ have not nearly achieved their worldwide goals. Another major political goal for the feminist movement is that abortions should be legal, accessible and affordable, without parental or spousal consent laws. Feminists feel this is important as they feel all women should have the right to their individual choice whatever the circumstances.
In Britain feminists have come some way to achieving these goals, although abortion is still not technically legal, the abortions act of 1967 has made it legally defensible to have an abortion in certain circumstances, and there is much less stigma against abortions than there used to be. However feminists would say much more should be done, feeling that re-cooperation services should be available and that more open law should be put in place. Feminists also believe that women should be allowed to serve in the military as well as men, and that men should not be drafted ahead of women in times of war.
Once again in Britain they have come some way to achieving these aims with women now allowed to work in all sectors of the military except the front line. Although feminists try to campaign for this to furthered to include women being allowed to serve in the front-line I do not think this will occur for some time, if ever, as women and men cannot serve in the same units. In other parts of the world, again the political system is less relaxed on this issue, and women are not allowed o hold any positions in the military establishment, so as a goal of feminism it has not come close to being achieved.
Overall I think that socially and politically many of the goals of feminism have been achieved, at least to a large extent, whereas economically women are still disadvantaged compared to men, especially in the business sector where many things work against them. However I feel that in Britain, all three areas that feminists are fighting for equality in are improving, and there is no area where the levels of inequality are rising.
On a global scale on the other hand the scene is not nearly so positive, with many nations still giving their women no political or economic power and forcing them through social customs to leave education early and follow their mothers into early marriages and house-keeping. In my opinion the feminist movement would be well advised to stop worrying so much about supposed inequality in the West and instead focus their attention on the very real problems faced by women in the third world.