After 156 years, you would think that the issues brought up in the Declaration of Sentiments would have been resolved by this day, but unfortunately that is not the case. Since the dawn of capitalism, developing around the same time period the Declaration was written, it has become one of the most powerful (if not THE most powerful) economic structures in the world. It is no coincidence that this structure has become increasingly dependent on the destruction of women’s self-image, self-respect, and self-worth in order to sell more products. In the Declaration of Sentiments, one of the grievances listed recounts men’s continuing dominance over women’s self- respect.
It reads as follows:
“[Man] has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.”
It’s heartbreaking to see that this issue is still so pervasive today. It is not a learned behavior to hate one’s own appearance, hate one’s own size, and to feel as though there is a rigid sphere in which a person should inhabit. All of these self-worth issues have repeatedly been projected at women by men for years– whether it be through religious standards, social norms, or in this case, through profit. This method is much more insidious and less blatant than the traditional concept of men literally exerting physical dominance over women. In fact, the destruction of women’s self-worth via modern capitalism is so normal that it goes completely unnoticed. It’s because of subtleties like this that some people believe that sexism is no longer a problem. However, many people don’t seem to give any thought to the fact that women aren’t born believing that they are not pretty enough, not the right size, and that there are only a set amount of career options for them. Around age seven, a roughly equal number of boys and girls have ambitions to become the president of the United States. However, when asked the same question again at age 14, the number of girls with the same ambition dropped significantly .
Most of the sexism perpetrated today feels normalized and flies under the radar for most of the media-consuming population. Another subtle way in which sexism exists isn’t even committed by men—women are taking part in a cycle of misogyny and hatred of the members of their own gender. Very commonly nowadays you see young girls and even grown women claim to be different from their female peers in order to seem more appealing to men. It’s a very simple self-perpetuating way for misogyny to exist without ever being perpetrated by males. With the “not-like-other-girls” mindset, women are pitted against other women, as opposed to standing in solidarity against the very institutional sexism they have been unknowingly perpetuating. Girl-on-girl hate has been sensationalized and normalize in the media via television shows (see Gossip Girl), movies (see Mean Girls), and books (see The Clique series) all of these are specifically targeted for young girls. Often the antagonists of these stories are female peers and the happy ending or “reward” is finally getting to be with which ever boy that has been lusted over for the length of the story. While they do highlight the very real issue of bullying in schools, these stories do little to nothing to promote the friendship and commonality that young girls have together. In relation to the aforementioned grievance, self-image doesn’t have to be limited to one’s personality or appearance—it can refer to one’s gender, and can lead to the dislike of members of one’s own gender.
It’s easy to focus on the issues that have yet to be resolved. However women have made many strides since this Declaration of Sentiments was written. One of the first monumental movements started, led, and accomplished by women was women’s suffrage. This led to later allowing women the equal opportunity to work in office. Smaller yet equally necessary movements have been sprouting all across the globe such as body positivity, anti-street harassment, and sex positivity, which aims to get rid of the double standard between men and women’s sexual activity.
Although many feel sexism has been irradiated it is still very much alive despite the many victories women have had. Socially, politically, and sexually women have been repressed and overpowered but with hopeful generations massive amounts of development is yet to come.
Cogdon, Jessica, Claire Dietrich, and Jenny Raskin. Miss Representation. Prod. Jennifer S. Newsom. 22 Jan. 2011. Television.