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Feminism and the Women's Rights Movement in America

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For most of human history, throughout cultures and across the world, women had a single story that determined them inferior to men. The female half of the world, as a whole, was frequently seen as physically and emotionally weaker, unstable, less intelligent, less practical, and basically inadequate in every quality. The degree to which women were treated in relation to men varied and still varies across cultures and religions. While, especially now, the extremes in equality or lack of are extremely far apart, there was a time when, no matter which country one was born in, no woman could vote, divorce, or own property. In modern times, most of developed society has accustomed to the idea that women have the right to vote based on their intelligence and contributions to society. Everyone knows a woman who holds a leadership position in business, academia, or activism.

Women are generally respected, whether married, widowed, divorced, or childless. The single story has vanished. In its place, millions of stories of strong, independent women have been told, giving perspective on all kinds of individuals, so that no person could possibly know only one story about the female kind on which to base their assumptions. However, this does not apply to the lower extremes. Far less progress has been made in isolated tribes, who mutilate women, or in centers of religious extremism, where a woman could still be stoned to death. The single story of women has not just changed, but has become many stories that validate the female experience and support equality, at least in developed countries such as America; however, in developing countries, the single story has progressed, but is still not to the point it should be.

While women were still largely oppressed up until very recently in American history, the women’s rights movement has progressed disproportionately quickly in past years, pushing us even farther toward equality and away from the culture of inequality in poorer countries. In her 1916 play, Trifles, Susan Glaspell portrays a few oppressive marriages through men bringing their wives to a crime scene, indirectly commenting on the treatment of women during her time. Throughout the play, the single story of women in 1916 is demonstrated through the single story the men have of their wives. They dismiss everything the women say as irrelevant and unimportant, and laugh at their silly conversations about homemaking even though they actually were unraveling the murder.

For example, the county attorney asks the wives, almost jokingly, “Well, ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?”, although the answer to that joke was actually a very serious nod to the murder motive, but he did not think the ladies could actually have anything helpful to say (Glaspell 725). This single story has changed over the years, as first evidenced only four years later by the validation of women’s opinions through suffrage. This was the first time society believed that what women had to say mattered and was a dramatic change from the view of men in the play. Times have changed rapidly even more since then, with women having major influence on important decisions, taking the roles of judges, congressmen, and even presidential nominees- the person with, arguably, the most impactful choices in the country.

This evidence, while perhaps not pointing to full equality in proportions and numbers, proves the destruction of the single story of unimportant women. With this progress, it should be noted that in many poverty-stricken countries, women may still be seen as nothing more than caretakers and homemakers. They are seen as property of their husbands, unable to make decisions for their own self or family. Women who hold influential positions in richer countries should be using their new power to give women without a voice the chance to make their way to the same progress, before only focusing on their own importance through ethnocentric views.

The women’s rights movement throughout the past few decades has skyrocketed the extent to which women can participate and succeed in society; however, this progress has found the most effects on white women, while other races in America and around the world had to fight longer and still have to fight for the same opportunities. In the 2016 biographical movie, Hidden Figures, women were able to work at NASA, but often only as computers, and almost never on specialized task teams with the men. However, the African-American women who had the talent to work there not only worked separately from the men, but they also were forced to work in a separate building away from the white female computers performing the same jobs as them.

While on one hand, this movie portrayed the single story of women in the 1950s and ‘60s, that they were not as intelligent as men, had to work in their own groups, and could not possibly possess the dominant qualities needed to lead and oversee men, it more specifically portrayed the single story of African-American women, which is a different story altogether. It was difficult for them to start fighting for equality with men because they still were fighting for equality with white women. By starting further back, they had to work harder and longer just to get the same rights other women had. This is still the case, not only with Americans, but with women in many developing countries. While fighting for progress is always a noble cause, international attention should first be focused on the women still fighting against their single story, to make sure that females around the world gain the opportunity to the same rights and treatment as white women receive in America. Only then, when women everywhere are finally equal to each other, should the energy be refocused on moving closer to equality with men.

In the past, society treated women as if their only roles to fulfill were those of a wife and mother. It was expected that those would be their only goals in life, as the single story in the early 20th century was that every woman has natural motherly and nurturing qualities, and needs a husband. The role of the wife was not only to love the husband, not even primarily, but to cater to his every need, and make sure everything in the house and family was running perfectly, as the single story also included God-given planning and organization abilities. These expected responsibilities are thoroughly detailed in Judy Brady’s satirical essay, I Want a Wife. She demonstrates why she would want a wife, as well as why everyone else would. The list of tasks she delegates to her “wife” includes almost every part of life. It expects the wife to be a talented worker, caretaker, planner, cook, maid, transcriber, and host all at the same time; anything less would be failing to fulfill her purpose as a woman.

Through this list, Brady alludes to the misconception at the time that every woman was the same, was good at everything, and even wanted to do everything for her husband. This single story still lurks sometimes in today’s society, but for the most part, it is acknowledged that spouses share responsibility and partake in mutual care and support. It is even mostly accepted that not all women want to be mothers, or even wives. The once lone story of a solely reproductive purpose has morphed into so many that most people know that many women just do not have natural motherly tendencies. People understand that all women are different. However, if this stereotype is still around in America, it is prevalent in other countries. Some places force women to produce children, and even punish if they give daughters instead of sons. The stories of independent women must be shared in those places for women to start being seen as more than a vessel, and as individuals with varying desires instead.

The women’s rights movement is very prevalent in America right now. From women’s marches, to proposing legislation, to protests, larger and larger numbers of women are devoting time, money, and energy to the fight for equality. While there are certain areas where women are underrepresented or undermined, it is hard to argue that the view on women pre-suffrage has not dramatically changed. Although there may be less women in the STEM fields than men, there is still a woman in every profession. Women may be represented disproportionately in the senate, but there is new legislation guaranteeing equality in different areas being passed all the time. All presidents may be male, but a woman was an entire party’s presidential candidate.

Progress is always an option, no matter what the topic is. Whether in technology, science, math, or women’s rights, there is always room for improvement. However, why don’t we use our time, money, and energy to allow the rest of the world to enjoy the opportunities we get to have? Why don’t we invest in women in developing countries who are abused, neglected, and ignored, with a government that condones it? Before we give in to ethnocentrism and begin to believe that we just want rights more than they do, let’s work to give those women the power to fight for what they deserve- the opportunities we were given decades ago.

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