The term “feminism” has strong connotations in our society. The Merriam-Webster definition seems simple enough: The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, socially, politically and economically.
But, dogma is associated with all “isms,” and feminism is no exception, being most recently associated in history with the turbulent 1960s — during which breaking with tradition was very disconcerting.
Think about this, though: The first women’s rights convention was held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, where 68 women and 32 men signed a Declaration of Sentiments, which set an agenda that is relevant even today. Twelve resolutions were adopted calling for equal treatment of women and men under the law, and voting rights for women.
Contrary to popular belief, the goal of gender equality included both women and men — together — from the start.
A new brand of feminism
Tasnim Ahmed (“The Evolution of Feminism,” Harvard Political Review, 3/7/15) contends that the term “feminism” is outdated, conjuring up visions of bra burning from the 1960s movement. But make no mistake, people like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem were necessary and courageous leaders who helped make big strides in gender equality.
Ahmed believes modern feminism (the third wave) doesn’t have the same rallying points as the first wave (suffrage) and the ‘60s second wave (institutionalized sexism). She says that today “feminist thought has now become more nuanced and variable to account for the broader spectrum of personal experiences women face.”
Today’s brand of feminism hopes to do away with artificial generalizations and contrived classifications we create for women — and men; feminism should be a movement for all people — “not because one is a husband or a brother or a woman — but a human being.”
In the Washington Post article “Betty Friedan to Beyoncé: Today’s Generation Embraces Feminism on Its Own Terms” (1/27/16), Dave Sheinin and his co-authors agree that the “New Wave feminism is shaped less by a shared struggle against oppression than by a collective embrace of individual freedoms” that is concerned with broadening feminism’s reach through inclusiveness.
Moreover, conversations about feminism are less about politics, and more about cultural change, continuing a struggle against more subtle forms of discrimination.
Stop the games
Women’s leadership organizations are engaging men in branded strategies to overcome gender inequality in the workplace and in boardrooms across the country. However, these strategies may be selling women short (so to speak) by suggesting that women must still rely on men — that in order to achieve success women must enlist some men who are willing to be seen helping women.
Perhaps the Harvard Undergraduate Council’s “Side by Side” campaign (Harvard Crimson, 3/3/15) is more in line with what we really want to achieve — equality and inclusivity for both genders as we stand side-by-side in all our various forms as people, not as one gender benevolently helping the other one “move up.”
Here’s an idea: Let’s dump the stereotyping and gamesmanship related to gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age and sexual orientation, and the politicization of our workplaces. Instead, let’s compete for success on our professional acumen, emotional intelligence and the results we achieve — now that’s smart business!
Becky S. Cornett is a member, WELD Impact Committee, and Barb Smoot is the President and CEO of WELD, Women for Economic and Leadership Development, which desires to increase the number of women in business and government leadership in Central Ohio.