The Changing Face of Feminism

Sunday, September 20, 2015

What Is It

Reactions to the word ‘feminist’ today range from staunch rejection or ambivalence to fervent endorsement and activism. While many young women claim not to need feminism in their lives, others believe these women are simply confused about the meaning of the term. So is feminism as we knew it dead? Have women already achieved equal rights? What are the basic tenets of the most recent wave of feminism, and how does it differ from the previous waves? And given current reactions to the term ‘feminism,’ how can we create greater unity in defending women’s rights? John and Ken peer through the glass ceiling with Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Freedom Feminism: Its Surprising History and Why It Matters Today.

Listening Notes

The show opens with John stating that feminism is a complex set of ideas, theories, and movements, but at its most basic level it is all about equal rights for women. Ken finds it surprising that so many young women want to distance themselves from feminism, an action which John equates to the ignorance of one saying he does not need democracy because he already has the vote. Without the first or second waves of the feminist movement, women today would most likely not be able to exercise their rights as they currently do. Ken takes issue with John making it sound like the battle is won when the truth is that choices that some privileged women have are not available to all women in all countries. John believes that that is because there are many sources of political and social inequality, not just sex and gender. Feminism can’t solve all problems. But, counters Ken, who really cares about feminism when the benefits of the movement only impact a few? If feminism is to thrive, it needs to stand up for all women in the world, not just a select few. The topic of intersectionality is brought up, as are the current attacks on Planned Parenthood and the movement to overthrow Rowe v. Wade, and Ken concludes that feminism is a movement that has to evolve.

John and Ken welcome guest Christina Hoff Sommers, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Freedom Feminism: Its Surprising History and Why it Matters Today. John asks Christina what got her interested in researching the seemingly non-practical field that is feminism. Christina explains that she was teaching Philosophy at Clark University, and she was asked to teach a course on feminist theory. She was shocked when the course’s textbooks arrived, for these anthologies were completely unlike the material she had been teaching; only one side of the argument was developed in philosophical feminist scholarship, and thus she began to write on the topic. John asks Christina for her opinion on whether the contemporary feminist movement is in crisis because of the amount of women who currently say they do not need feminism, to which Christina responds that these women probably are feminist in that they believe in gender equality, but they reject the spectacle and infantilizing attached to the cause. Ken agrees the rejection is not of the theory but of alternative aspects.

Ken asks Christina to explain what she means by liberal feminism. This type of feminism affirms for women what it affirms for everyone; today, most women are in fact on par with men, if not more successful in many areas, but there is no account of this. Instead, Christina notices persistent debilitating statements and claims about the current socio-political position of women. Is patriarchy over, asks Ken? American society is not patriarchal, argues Christina. Women and men have problems; in some domains, men are better off, in some, women are. Isn’t it odd, John asks, that since women now are better educated, we have few women CEO’s, few women running for candidacy, few women leaders as a whole? Christina explains that much of it has to do with what women are majoring in; there is an invisible army of men doing hard, dirty work, and women are choosing to pursue alternative paths.  

John and Ken welcome questions from the audience. One of the topics discussed is inclusivity when it comes to bringing men into the feminist movement. Ken explains his belief that feminism has undertheorized the image of the male. Questions like to what extent does culture matter in women not wanting to partake in certain fields of work are brought up, as is the role of women in different fields and whether women’s job choices are related to patriarchy or capitalism. Trigger warnings and ‘safe spaces’ are explained – concepts which Christina rejects, with the question at large being: what should be the role of feminism in modern society?

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 6:22): Shuka Kalantari explores the current status of women in comedy and how jokes made by female comedians stretch the boundaries of feminism. In 1695, the playwright William Congreve wrote that women just aren’t funny. Have perceptions of women comedians changed over time? Jill Anderson, law professor at the University of Connecticut and former comedian, states that female comedians are not only funny but also evolving, playing new roles; women like Amy Schumer or Tig Notaro are unafraid to break out of cookie-cutter comedic roles.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 45:53): Ian Shoales speeds through his position on male privilege, pop culture and feminism, the gamergate controversy, and the misguided hatred towards abortion.