Today is Equal Pay Day, the day that marks how long into a year it takes women to earn what men earned the year before. It is sad that in 2015 we still have to mark this day.
I am a stay at home mom*, and I am a feminist. I don’t remember a time when I did not consider myself a feminist, but I do remember many arguments over the years with both men and women about feminism – what it is and what good it is for.
For a while, I thought it wasn’t necessary to defend feminism, but in the last couple of years I’ve had to on several occasions when people around me talked about feminism as a form of sexism. I have heard women saying they are not feminists because they love men, and millennial men whispering about women being feminists, as if that was a bad thing.
Personally, I don’t see anything wrong or incendiary about feminism, but to make things clear, I’ll give you the dictionary’s definition.
the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests
Feminism is not a desire to be masculine or a lack of femininity. Feminism is not a desire to get things just because we are women, but because we have earned them individually. Feminism is not a desire to not have children or to have them and then neglect them.*** Feminism doesn’t go against a belief in God, although many religious institutions are inherently sexist. Feminism is not hating men. Feminism is not the thought that women are better than men.
It is easy to get caught up on the bra burning, the women yelling and the notion that women are somehow trying to overrule men. But this is not feminism. Feminism is about equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women. Feminism is the opposite of sexism, not a form of sexism.
There was a time not too long ago when women did not have the opportunity to go to school, or work outside of the home. It wasn’t that long ago when women in this country did not have the right to vote. The 19th amendment, which gives women the right to vote, was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919. This means that if you are in your 30s your great-grandmother was not allowed to vote. If you are in your 50s it is quite possible that your grandmother could not vote.
According to Pew Research Center, women are still paid only 84% of what men gets paid.* This is why we still need to mark Equal Pay Day.
To me this is crazy–just like many other civil rights issues–but it is not just about men and women in similar positions earning different salaries, it is also about women choosing careers that are less lucrative, and society steering them into part time and hourly jobs so they can “have it all” and be both at home with the kids and earn a living. It is about working mothers being the default caregiver if the kids get sick. It is about women not negotiating their salaries.
As a mother of a boy and a girl I see personality differences between them that are very likely due to their gender, even though I try hard to have a gender neutral household so they can choose what they like instead of having me impose on them. We have blocks, and puzzles and vehicles and dolls. My son gravitates towards trucks, my daughter squeals when she sees a stuffed animal. They share a room decorated in nautical blues.
Regardless of their differences, I want them both to have the same opportunities. I want them to be able to go to great colleges and major in the subject they are passionate about, not what society thinks fits them best because of their gender. I want them to earn money according to their skill and experience, not whether they are male or female. Remember, women are still paid less than men.
The activists who fought and still fight for women’s right may not always do what I would do, but the message is a very important one for me. Equal rights. Equal opportunities. Equal pay for equal work. It is simple.
Thanks to those who fought for my rights, including those who burnt bras, I am able to choose to stay home, and once I am ready to go back to the workforce full-time I will do so knowing that I have every right to be there and to negotiate my salary knowing how my experience and skills–not my gender–should be compensated. When that time comes, I will be reading these stories about how different women have negotiated higher salaries.
Sexism hurts everyone, not just women. I cringe when I read about schools imposing gender specific dress codes, and women deciding not to wear tight pants because boys and men can’t help themselves. I am not responsible for the thoughts in any man’s brain, but I also know the men around me are better than animals unable to control their impulses.
I saddens me when women I know, strong women, speak against feminism because I know it comes from a place of misunderstanding of what feminism actually is. I wonder why young men in their 20s could be skeptical of feminism, as if they fear women over ruling men.
The truth is that while women and men are different, women are very important to today’s economy, and men are crucial in every child’s life. Stereotypes are incredibly damaging for everyone.
If you are not yet a feminist, consider this:
Do you believe that men and women should have the same rights and opportunities? If your answer is yes, congratulations, you are a feminist.
If you still don’t consider yourself a feminist, please tell me why!
* I am a stay at home mom, but I do work a few hours a week from home.
** Merriam-Webster Online, April 3, 2015
*** I do not believe that working outside the home is neglecting your children