We Need to Talk About How Feminism Moves Forward

Gloria Steinem

I’ll be honest. This is not an article I ever wanted to write. Like millions of Americans, I had high hopes for election night. Last Monday, I wrote a piece about what the future of feminism would look like once we had our first female President. On election night I was putting the final edits on that article.

As the results for state after state rolled in, I felt knots forming in the pit of my stomach. The country I thought I was living in was not the bright red country I saw before me. Suddenly, everything I wanted to say about feminism, about being inspired by the Clinton campaign, and about forging ahead to a better future felt irrelevant.

But that irrelevancy is what Donald Trump and his supporters want us to feel. It’s now more important than ever that we continue talking about feminism, even if those in charge of our country aren’t.

Gloria Steinem’s Thoughts on Violence

In early November, I had the privilege of hearing Gloria Steinem speak at Pennsylvania State University, and she said something that I will never forget: If you want to see a country’s potential for violence, look no further than the way it treats its women. She could not know that just six days later Donald Trump would be elected President, but she understood the culture that put him in that position.

At 82-years-old Gloria Steinem is one of the most important figures of the feminist movement. Long before Hillary Clinton ever hit the campaign trail, Steinem was questioning the roles of women in society. In fact, if anyone could rival Clinton as one of the most iconic faces of feminism in the 21st century, it would probably be Ms. Steinem.

Steinem’s article for Esquire about women being unjustly asked to choose between a career and marriage was published in 1962, a year before The Feminine Mystique. And despite a brief struggle in her career after going undercover as a Playboy Bunny to expose the unfair working conditions and exploitation of the women working at the Playboy Mansion (you can read her excellent essay here), she went on to found Ms. magazine, the first mainstream feminist publication, in 1972.

Why Misogyny Matters

Steinem is a firm believer that violence against other countries starts with violence against women. For the skeptics who are hearing this notion for the first time, let me paraphrase the concept: If violence is happening in the form of women being abused in everyday situations, particularly by husbands or boyfriends in their own homes, this violent attitude will spread to a country at large. It normalizes the idea that one group of people is dominant over another, and this mindset, if left unchecked, is what causes world leaders to wage war against other countries they disagree with or see as less important than themselves.

This notion is particularly scary in a world where our President-elect has been accused of sexual assault. It’s particularly scary when you consider that one of the most qualified presidential candidates in U.S. history was defeated by a man with no political or military experience. He also called her “nasty” on live television. Ignoring the misogyny that has gone unchecked throughout this past presidential campaign is like trying to ignore someone’s bright orange spray-tan.

Millions of Americans were ready for our first female President. We may have lost this most recent election, but we did not lose the last 100 years of history. Nor did we lose the progress that got us this far. Trump cannot take that away from us, not if we don’t let him.

The Next 100 Years

It is Steinem’s belief that if it took 100 years for women to gain the right to vote, it might take another 100 for us to earn equal rights outside the voting booth. I know that’s not exactly the cheery news we all wanted to hear right now, but Steinem didn’t deliver this part of her speech as a message of doom and gloom. Her belief is that we are currently in the midst of that struggle, and one of the reasons we are facing so much opposition right now is because the hardest part of any struggle always comes before breaking free.

And we must not forget the other movements that go hand-in-hand with feminism. One hundred years ago there was no Black Lives Matter movement. Or Pride parades. Or an acknowledgement that ableism exists. In fact, most of the progress made with these movements is fairly recent. We have A LOT of work to do on all these issues, and I’m not going to pretend I understand the struggles the people in these marginalized communities go through every day. But the amazing thing is that as these communities continue to grow in strength and power, we see more and more how much we all have in common.

Unique Voices United

When I woke up on Wednesday morning, I cried. Then I felt bad for crying because I realized the fear I felt as a straight, white cis-gender woman wasn’t nearly as strong as the fear my friends who are Muslim feel, or those who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, or those who are people of color. After realizing this, I cried again. If Gloria Steinem’s message could be summed up in one word, it would not be “feminism.” It would be “unity.” We are all going to need each other these next four years.

What will being a feminist look like in Trump’s America? What will it mean to battle racism? To fight for gay rights? To be a person with a disability? To be an immigrant? To be a person of color?

I think we can all agree that it’s going to be hard. I will not attempt to delegitimize anyone’s fear. I know that anything I say would be inadequate. Please know that I will fight alongside you. And that too, will probably be inadequate. Feel free to call me out on it when you see my white privilege showing.

Steinem once said: “When unique voices are united in a common cause, they make history.”‬ If Steinem can still believe this after 82-years, after living through the social unrest of the ‘50’s, the ‘60’s, the ‘70’s, and every other decade in history up until today, then I want to continue believing it as well.

After the election results on Tuesday night, this quote might seem irrelevant, but no message is ever irrelevant as long as people are still discussing it. And I will continue to discuss it and live it for the next four years.

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