November 12, 2014

MUÑOZ | Feminism: What’s in it for Me

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Guys, I have a confession: I’ve been in the closet for a while now. I have to get this right off my chest before it consumes me. I think it’s time to finally come out: I am a feminist. Wanting to identify with a terminology derived on its pursuit for equality, and not domination, truly became “uncomplicated,” as Emma Watson mentioned within her United Nations speech. I’ve been sitting in this dark dusty closet of denial for so long partly because of the way that the word “feminism” and any of its implications are seemingly stigmatized within American society. Issues with regards to women’s rights, feminine pride and queer rights were never as salient to me before as they are now. I also refuse to identify myself with anything that I have not done extensive research upon — but all that has changed. Feminism, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” Well, I genuinely care about gender and sex equality, and I am aware that women not only in the United States — but even more so around the world — have been, and are still, disproportionately disadvantaged compared to their male counterpart. Check and check. So yeah, according to this, I guess I am a feminist; Taylor Swift and I would also like to give kudos to Emma Watson for converting us — her speech truly nailed it.

Feminism is the active emancipation of femininity from the historically heavy shackles it never consented to wear; instead, these manacles have worn us all — men, women and queer — like some cheap accessory around our bodies, but most importantly, around our identities.

Then why not call us humanist? Well, the human individual, as much as they are independent, is also largely societal. We cannot homogenize the experiences disproportionately faced by women. On the other hand, we also cannot ignore the psychological effects faced by men who are deemed “not masculine enough” by their environment, including individuals who identify themselves as queer (wherever in the spectrum they may lie). Humanism is literally too far fetched of a term, wishful thinking if you will — trivializing and over simplifying deeply complex issues that have oppressed women for centuries; a tale as old as time (I won’t even go into how this further applies to the oversimplification of the idea of a post-racial America that accepts individuals who identify as queer with open arms, all because there was a Civil Rights Movement and a Gay Rights Movement).

“But, what is there in store for ME?” It says a lot when an entire branch of academia — feminist, gender and sexuality studies at Cornell — is dedicated to these very issues. When we don’t care to look into these things through research, they appear seemingly trivial to us.

Does it matter that when a man is called a “pussy” or anything derogatory that threatens masculinity, it happens to fall within a spectrum of femininity? The less feminine you are, the better you are treated; the more feminine you are, the more likely you’ll be taken as a joke.

Does it matter when thousands of women are having their private photos leaked in order to humiliate and/or have others derive pleasure from them?  Feminism addresses why there is a clear difference between having people leak your nudes online, and you deciding to post a picture of yourself wearing a bikini on Instagram: You have a choice. From politics down to the career force, other individuals, typically white males, have more of a say with what a woman should do with her body than the women herself.

The way you portray yourself, especially on the Internet, is your story and only yours to tell. It is your autobiography. Other people violating the privacy of women online is, essentially, the exposure of the female diary — something that is meant for her eyes and her eyes alone. Women have little choice in the story they choose to tell, because it has often been overwritten by others.

The questions that we ask others shouldn’t be “what was she wearing” or “she asked for it by representing herself in that way.” We should be asking why the president of a university doubts rape allegations and why women are disproportionately sold into sex trafficking in, but especially outside of, the United States. The problem begins to solve itself once we stop asking “what does this have in store for me” and instead we ask “why has society addressed the victim and not the perpetrator?”

These issues are further exacerbated when you are a woman of color. It is literally the double whammy hybrid of two historically marginalized groups: women and people of color. Adding queer into the equations makes it even more difficult.

We are privileged, so much so that we have the luxury to invalidate an entire movement pushing for equality, just because it doesn’t seem to have anything in store for us. But, it does — so very much. We literally have the luxury of scrolling down our newsfeed, article after article telling the stories of child brides, prostitution, sex trafficking, rape, disadvantages and underrepresentation within careers, depression amongst young teenage boys, male victims of rape not being taken seriously, lack of attention with regards to veterans with PTSD, lack of attention with regards to male soldiers who are raped within the military (and the irony of an individual serving our country through his life, but us doing absolutely nothing to serve his peace of mind), acid thrown at faces of young women as a punishment for rejection, street harassment, domestic violence, the sexualization and objectification of the female body (not by her standards, but the standards that are chosen for her), #BringBackOurGirls, women not being allowed to vote in several countries and underrepresentation of women in political leadership positions. But most importantly:

There are hundreds of thousands of girls being denied an education, right as we speak, because this would be there way out, the golden ticket —  and we wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we? Thank you, Malala, for doing it anyways.

Vulnerability isn’t weakness. Empathy isn’t emasculating. Dare to research at the expense of your dissonance.

I’ll bring this up one last time: Why should this matter to you? Because while we can scroll past these things and go on with our lives, others can’t. Their stories, while they are not ours to write, are our stories as well. I will not turn a blind eye away from reality; I am a feminist.

Paola Muñoz is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at [email protected]. Midas’ Crumbs appears alternate Thursdays this semester.