The #MeToo movement. The Kavanaugh hearings. Brock Turner. All of these have one thing in common: they are evidence of the need for feminism. But what exactly does feminism mean? There’s liberal feminism, radical feminism, and neo-feminism, just to name a few. Neo-feminism is one of the newest branches, and is related to neoliberalism and consumerism. Although neo-feminism can instill feelings of empowerment in some women, it may not be sustainable or effective as a social movement. As it is a new branch of theory, there is little consensus regarding the movement’s definition and goals. Some academics say neo-feminism sends the message that feminism is no longer needed. Others say neo-feminism will finally give women opportunities that they deserve. The most agreed upon understanding of the theory is that it is founded in the belief that women are superior to men. And here is where I state my potentially controversial, complicated, and developing claim: change will not occur if men think that they are superior to women, nor will it occur if women think that they are superior to men.
Let’s take a look at Congress. In 2018, 20% of the 535 members of Congress identified as female. The 2017 United States Census recorded the total population of the country as 159.68 million women and 166.2 million men. Yes, you’re right when you read that and something seems off: Congress, which is a group of elected officials intended to represent the larger population, is highly skewed by gender. Whether we like it or not, we live in a male-dominated political and economic sphere. But believing and acting as if women are superior to men is not necessarily going to fix everything. I’m not saying that women aren’t great; we are. What I am saying is that nothing will change if our world turns into a battle of the sexes. Feminism works toward equality for all: men and women. In order for equality to become a reality, everyone needs to be on board. Yes, change on the individual level, as encouraged in neo-feminism, is wonderful. However, that is not going to change the institutions in which we work and socialize. Neo-feminism is surrendering to the gendered social constructions neo-feminists so strongly oppose; it is saying that gender is everything; that individuals are pawns strictly categorized by gender; and therefore, all men are the same and all women are the same. I argue that this is far from the truth.
We have a long way to go before we achieve equality, but we have already come a long way. Progress is a learning process filled with barriers, difficult conversations, and a plethora of perspectives. To some, neo-feminism might be attractive in the sense that it aims to empower women and pushes the notion that women are more than an oppressed group within the patriarchy. I buy into those aspects of the theory, as I buy into many movements that aim to empower women. Yet, this theory puts men and women on opposing sides when there is no need for any sides at all. Men having opportunities and women having opportunities need not be mutually exclusive. Perhaps it’s time to be optimistic: cautiously optimistic, that is. Gender inequality is not going to disappear overnight. However, the way that gender inequality is taught and thought about can change rather quickly. Younger generations can learn about feminism as something achievable rather than a distant social theory. Women and men can have open discussions about small steps, on the personal and institutional levels, that can make real change. As cheesy as it may sound, feminism is a team effort. Change can occur when the process aligns with the goal: men and women having equal voices and opportunities.