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Feminism, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Now this sounds a lot different than what feminism is usually portrayed as. I did not understand what feminism truly is until a few months ago. Before that, I believed it to be a movement full of whiny women that had nothing better to do. When I began to learn about feminism and what it truly is, my mind opened up to all of the discontents of society.
But what has shocked me the most in my own discovery of feminism is the blatant misogyny in the scientific community. Scientists are supposed to be unbiased in their findings, and yet many biologists will assign negative terms to female-oriented functions (usually in regards to the menstrual cycle: “wasteful,” “passive,” “failure”) and positive, or extremely forgiving, terms to male-oriented functions (Martin 473-87).
This sort of under-the rug misogyny is what shapes how society views the value of the different sexes.
Because women are often associated with these negative terms, they are viewed as weaker, or less important than men. I personally think that by looking to nature (where misogyny is a completely foreign concept), both men and women can abandon their hatred and live happier lives. Rather than focusing on the suppression of women’s sexualities and sexual behavior, scientists, scholars, and other people of great influence and importance should instead focus on the sexual evolution of woman and man and debunk common myths in regards to human sexuality; therefore, bringing the sexes closer together and lessening the prevalence of gender roles.
Emily Martin, an anthropologist and feminist, argues in her essay “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles” that biologists have always referred to the female ovum as a passive partner in conception.
Biologists, she argues, refer to the menstrual cycle as a “waste” or a “failure” and that the male production of millions of sperm every single day is a feat of nature (Martin 477). But let us focus on the ridiculousness of this statement for a moment: women shed one ovum at a time, “wasting” only 12 every year and yet men ejaculate millions of sperm at once, while only one will go on to fertilize an ovum. How is that less wasteful than the former? Scientists are too caught up on women being the weaker sex, so caught up that they cannot even properly assess what is wasteful and what is not. Scientists and men are so intent on maintaining their control over women that they are virtually blind to simple logic. If they instead focused on the positives in our differences and the positives in our similarities, this kind of misogyny would not exist. Michael R. Kauth cites the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker’s four fears of human nature, the first being, “If people are innately different, oppression and discrimination will be justified” (Kauth).
I disagree with this whole-heartedly. While it is nature to fear the unknown or the different, misogyny is separate from this because it is hatred, oppression, and discrimination of the opposite gender in your own species. This leads directly to men wanting to control women. In ancient times, women were treated as commodities, because of their ability to bare children, they were used as peace-offerings. For example, if two tribes were at war and wanted to come to a peace agreement, perhaps they exchange a woman (so that they may expand their population) as a peace offering. This has evolved to men trying to retain their control on women. They do this by taking away their right to choose. This is especially true in the case of abortion, by trying to outlaw abortion, the patriarchy are maintaining their control over women. Sometimes, in order to understand how we got to this point, we need to look to nature.
Animals are not misogynist in nature, although we can gain some perspective into how certain gender roles evolved. To play devil’s advocate, gender roles could be considered to be completely natural due to physical and sexual differences in both humans and animals. For example, look at the peacock. The male peacock is spectacularly adorned with colorful plumes and an incredible train. The peahen on the other hand, is brown with only a bit of color around the head and neck. The male of this species is “grander.” Now let us look at the cow. Bulls have horns to use both as defense but also to attract cows. The bigger the horns, the stronger the bull, the stronger the bull, the better he will be able to protect the cow and their potential offspring. The male of this species is “stronger.” Humans evolve no differently than any other animals. The male of Homo sapiens sapiens is stronger, taller, and able to run longer distances. Women just cannot compete physically with men. This is how the gender roles started.
In Alice H. Eagly and Wendy Wood’s article “Feminism and the Evolution of Sex Differences and Similarities,” they make a good point when they say, “Because selection pressures work through differential reproduction and survival of the species, the sexual selection pressures that evolutionary psychologists theorize acted on ancestral humans should result in sex-specific psychological dispositions for mating, such as men’s presumed (emphasis mine] greater promiscuity and women’s desire for partners with resources” (Eagly and Wood). I emphasized presumed, because it has been theorized that ancestral women were more promiscuous than ancestral men. I learnt in a Social Evolution class I took while I was at Rutgers that, due to the average size and shape of the human male penis and testicles, much larger than other primates, that is evidence enough for sperm competition. The male testicles are the largest of any primate (in relation to body size) which allows for them to ejaculate more sperm during intercourse than their other primate cousins.
For example, male gorillas have very small testicles in relation to body size because they live in family groups of many females and only one male; thus, there is no sperm competition. But if they lived in a society where many females are copulating with more than one male, you would see larger testicles for more sperm production in addition to appendages that “scrape” the sperm of competing males out of the reproductive tract of the female. This explains the shape of the human male glans. The glans is postulated to be there to remove competing sperm from within the female reproductive tract. With this evidence for ancestral female promiscuity, one must ask the question, how did society change to one man for every woman, but many women for every man? The answer is simple: control. If men control women, men control reproduction. Another issue to raise is that of advertisements to young girls.
Women are held to impossible standards. We must have hairless skin like Asian women do, and we must also have big Latina butts, but we also must have flat stomachs and have skinny thighs (sorry men, but you cannot have a big butt and skinny thighs, anatomy just does not work that way) and arms, and this is not just my opinion, this is a fact. Turn on your television and watch any commercial. More than likely, it is a product geared towards women. And in this commercial does the woman look like any average woman walking down the street? Of course not, they are unrealistically beautiful. Women are led to believe from a very early age that if they do not look or act a certain way, or buy products that will make them look a certain way, they are worthless. “Many of the reasons women give for consenting to unwanted sex highlight traditional female gender roles, e.g., to avoid hurting a partner, to avoid conflict, to promote relationship success and to accommodate a partner’s needs” (Kennett, Humphreys, and Bramley).
The worst part about society constantly feeding this garbage to women in order for them to feel bad about themselves is highlighted in a study done by Ali Eryilmaz and Hasan Atak that concluded the following, “femininity was found to have a statistically non-significant effect on starting romantic intimacy” (Eryilmaz and Atak). If men do not really care about how “feminine” a woman is, why does society keep trying to convince women otherwise? If women are kept emotionally weak, men will be able to contain their control over them. One excellent way to combat this weakness in women caused by society is to expose young girls to strong female role models. A great way to do this is through literature. Though I never was free of the pressures of society, I read a lot of books with strong female characters when I was younger.
The one I most connected with as a young girl was Hermione from the Harry Potter series. Hermione was not particularly pretty, but she was extremely bright. Her two best friends were male, and they always acknowledged her intellect and relied on her to get out of many bad situations. They valued her for her intellect and courage rather than her appearance. Another female character that I became interested in recently is Katniss, the protagonist from The Hunger Games books. Katniss is an amazing archer, extremely athletic, clever, and almost completely detached from her emotions. She does not let her emotions for any boy get in the way of her protecting her family. She is an interesting character to evaluate from a feminist viewpoint. She is extremely strong and independent and does not rely on much male help to get by in life.
However, she does end up giving into love, a very persistent boy named Peeta eventually talks her into marrying him. But it is also interesting because she does not seem to fit into any gender role. Yes, she identifies as female, but it does not really make any difference to her either way. She wears her father’s shoes and clothing and she provides all the food for her family by hunting and bartering with the people from her District. She fits more of a male gender role than a female one. This leads me to another question: what if gender roles did not exist? If gender roles did not exist and everyone walked around as androgynous humans, what would happen? Would there be equality or would we, as humans, find something else to discriminate against? There would certainly be less confusion as far as sexuality goes, and relationships would be more equal because each party would be considered equal as human beings rather than male or female. This does not happen because misogyny exists. Misogyny affects relationships rather drastically. When men have a skewed perception for women, it can lead to abuse.
When they see them as less than human because they are women, why would they treat them the same way they would treat a man? When men perceive something as weaker than them, they will take advantage of it and control it. Men would not perceive women as weaker if when growing up, they were not only taught about the differences between men and women in a negative light—i.e. men cannot get pregnant and this is better than women because men do not have to go through the pain of childbirth. The differences should instead be celebrated and viewed in a more positive light. For example, men are stronger than women as a general rule, but women have a better understanding of emotional issues, both have their advantages and disadvantages and you cannot say which is better than the other. There are too many men still arguing that women do not belong in positions of power because they are too emotional and lack the problem solving skills of men.
If anything, women have better problem solving skills than men due to the fact that women use both sides of their brain to communicate rather than just the left as is seen in men. Women can be incredible leaders, just look at Queen Elizabeth II. She is almost 90 years old and she is still leading her country with grace and dignity. The Prime Minister of Australia was a woman until a few months ago and her approval rating was around 52% which is a lot better than what some misogynists would like to see. Feminism should not be called feminism—it should be called common sense because it is the belief that all should be equal regardless of race or gender. The fact that women are still arguing for their economic, political, and social equality is ridiculous to me. It is 2013 and women have almost had the right to vote for 100 years. Why do men still feel the need to control our every action? Why do they need to maintain any control over us at all? Are they so afraid of women that they cannot stand to see us in positions of power or even, wait for it, make the same amount of money? There is no reason that women should make less money than men. If I am working just as hard as a man, then I want to be paid for my hard work and dedication—luckily enough for me, the field I am working in is female-dominated. There are too many oppressed women in this world, and if that does not bother someone, I do not know what will.
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