Making progress on women’s rights

On Tuesday, the Federalist Society of the University’s Law School hosted Christina Hoff Sommers, a conservative feminist author who derided the current state of the women’s movement. Sommers argued the feminist movement has achieved its goal of gender equality in the United States. Given the fulfillment of the domestic agenda, Sommers argued, the focus of today’s feminist movement should move outward – toward developing nations where women still do not enjoy the same freedoms as they do in the United States. Although her argument is flawed, Sommers’ speech, along with International Women’s Day last Saturday, provide occasion for reflection on where the feminist movement has come from and in which direction it should be heading.

Certainly, Sommers was right that the U.S. feminist movement has made great strides. Women have all the full, legal rights of men: the right to vote, the co-equal ownership of marital property, the right to equal pay for equal work. Women have also made great strides professionally. According to the U.S. Department of Education, women will make up 60 percent of the national collegiate student body by 2010. Women already make up more than 50 percent of the enrolled students in law schools nationwide; other graduate programs across the country report similar statistics.

It is tempting to look at these facts and be complacent, to say that gender equality has arrived. It is also tempting to say the fight is over and it is time for a new international crusade, as Sommers pleas. However, although women have broken down many of the structural barriers, attitude barriers remain. It is still difficult for a woman to present herself as a strong and assertive personality without being labeled unfeminine. Our establishments, especially those of authority, are still dominated and, more importantly, designed by men. Sexual harassment is still an issue in the workplace. Women taking an extended maternity leave are still in danger of falling behind in their career paths. It’s clear our society has not yet reached gender-blind perceptions.

We’ve come a long way, but our society has not yet moved so far forward that it is time to drop the issue of gender discrimination. While we should all work at improving the plight of women around the world, let us not forget the slights women face at home.