The Modern Feminist: A Balancing Act

STORY BY: GIOIA MCGUIRE

PHOTOS BY: GIOVANNI CARDENAS

It is no secret or myth that women find themselves pigeonholed into feminist stereotypes. Society has recently grown tremendously in favor of strong and empowered women. However, in a post-election Trump nation, some find it difficult to balance empowerment with stigma. Women are finding strength within themselves and each other more than ever. Women everywhere are stepping up to the plate and are ready to bat. To understand the complexity of feminism and gender equity in the present, it’s critical we understand parts of the past and to look to the future and find balance individually as well as a modern society.

Pam Rayburn, M.S. Coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Equity Center on campus shared her insight, advice and personal experience with feminism and gender inequality.

She says, “We don’t always see women in charge or CEO’s or CFO’s and when I was growing up I didn’t see that. I didn’t see women in strong places; they were teachers, they were librarians, they were homemakers.”

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Rayburn’s reflection on the past puts today’s stance into perspective. Today, we have strong women leaders to look up to, mothers working in business, science and the medical fields. Mass media has opened up to the idea of strong leading women, an important step forward for an industry of gatekeepers who mold the ways women are portrayed and in turn treated.

Recently, it’s the men in entertainment that have been the focus of attention. The Harvey Weinstein scandal sparked several women to come forward and further encouraged women everywhere to announce their personal experiences in similar situations. Social media blew up with stories and confessions, the media began to investigate and more men fell under scrutiny. Kevin Spacey headlined under assault, Matt Lauer was fired from NBC, Charlie Rose, a world renowned journalist was dropped from CBS and PBS after accusations of sexual misconduct from multiple women.

However, at which point does it go from women seeking justice to an influx of allegations, misrepresentation and a flooding of accusing men in power? How, as women, do we maintain strength and dignity without being pigeonholed as cry-baby feminists who are bringing up past injustices.

“I hope that it doesn’t lose its power by maybe some women bringing forward claims that may not be legitimate,” says Rayburn, “I also know that when women usually report these type of things it’s a very small percentage of women who even lie about it, so I tend to say we need to believe these women because it probably happened. I think those doors to those skeletons in the closet have been opened and I think men will think twice before they engage in this type of behavior but I also know that we have to attack it on a social justice platform and bring men into the conversation.”

Is it really the election of Donald Trump that has spurred such renaissance in the community of Women’s rights? Or was it a boiling pot waiting to be tipped? Arguments are flying in every direction.

Somewhere during the second wave feminist movement, between the 1960s and 1980s, women lost the empowerment and strength and gained a side of feminism that tarnished years of hard work. Suddenly, the word “feminist” was being associated with women who were brash and independent, didn’t shave their legs, and above everything, hated men. The term “feminazi” smeared women who had worked hard to make the feminist movement open, and inclusive to all, including men.

Gender equity intersects with feminism and relates in many ways. There’s so much intersecting of rights with equality and feminist ideals and empowerment - all lacing together to create this complex societal view on women. It’s just as important to understand the past and how it relates to our present. Rayburn offered a bit of her own personal experience as a child recalling, “I can remember just before I was going into junior high I was told the school policy is that you have to wear a skirt or a dress; I walked to school in the wintertime, I told my mom, ‘Absolutely not’ and I wasn’t going to do it. Luckily for my mom, the policy changed right before I started junior high and we didn’t have that fight. She was a teacher in the same school district and she was probably just pulling her hair out because she had to wear dresses too. I do remember distinctly one summer before that policy changed, she was sewing up a storm to make pant suits so that she could wear pants to work as a school teacher. And you don’t think about that now because that’s a privilege you have and nobody can tell you you cannot wear pants to work.”

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Gender equity includes more than the way men and women dress. More recently it’s about closing the wage gap between men and women in the same positions. The focus on whether it exists should be turned to why it exists. Why is this happening and what can be done to fix it? Rayburn discussed the relation to the wage gap and the importance of including more women in politics. “Having policy changes, then maybe when we go to the next job interview and we’re going out for the same position as a man we aren’t going to be asked about our previous salary. If I go for a position, what I made previously shouldn’t factor in.”

It could be another 100 years before we see the gap close in wages. That’s why having more women in political roles and in seats where they can affect change in areas like this, is so important. It’s part of why women march and stand up to share their voices.

Last year, the Women’s March broke records in attendance in cities all over the country. Millions of men, women and members from the LGBT community came together to march the streets and fiercely support the women’s movement and many rights in response to Trump’s harsh words regarding women during the election. Just as the conservatives found their voice in Trump, women found their voices in each other.

The election proved difficult to swallow for many as they realized the results might impede progress for women.

Rayburn adds, “For me, I think it was a wakeup call. I think if we thought the war on equality was over, I think we became acutely aware that it was not. I think that’s why the Women’s March came about and that’s what it represented; we realized our complacency and we really needed to have our voices heard and we can’t just stand by and let a man represent that.”

Our political climate today continues to rage on with the storm that is Trump. Whether it’s in entertainment, politics, the workforce or within the feminist movement itself, change is happening. Voices are being heard and women are stepping up to share their voices and make changes in these areas of society.

Rayburn sums up, “I think that we still have a lot of work to be done and I don’t think it’ll be easy. You have to put your feet on the ground everyday when you wake up and say ‘What can I do to advance equity.’ Every day we should wake up and think about how to make this place better.”

The balancing act will forever be a part of being a woman. In the workplace, in government, in schools, social media and everyday life. Women will always face the dangers and rewards of calling themselves feminists. Just because we’ve taken five steps forward doesn’t mean it ends here. It’s our determination and strength in each other that will lead millions to a better future, as long as we stay on the path ahead..  
For Rayburn it’s simple, “I remember my grandmother always saying, ‘You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution, which do you want to be?’ We all have that choice.”