State of the feminist union

The recent State of the Union-type stirring from the Obama camp has led me to ponder the state of something else: feminism. But what are the recent feminist milestones, the ones that will one day be read over in the history books and chuckled about as artifacts from a time when we actually needed something like feminism to fight a thing called social inequality? Answering that question proved harder than I expected. There are a few statistics that speak to the general state of feminist affairs âÄî e.g., more women in college and expanded contraception options âÄî but overall, feminist activism is pretty low. This is not for a loss of things for which to fight. Women still get paid less than men for comparable work, abortion law remains tenacious and gay marriage continues to be shot down (not to equate feminism with any particular sexual preference, but simply with the fight against sex and gender-related oppression). Though there is a higher consciousness of womenâÄôs rights, sex and gender-related problems still run deep. Where are the landmarks of feminist action against them? The first thing that comes to mind, as a kind of un-example, is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Oh, Hillary. I cannot help but feel a little sad that you didnâÄôt put an end to the white male tradition in the U.S. presidency. Yes, âÄúwhiteâÄù no longer applies and that is good. But women did end up getting the short end of the stick this past election. There are valid arguments that ClintonâÄôs loss was due to factors other than her gender, and she did get a doozy of a consolation prize. But to the extent that one person can represent a huge category of people âÄî the same extent to which Obama can represent all blacks âÄî Clinton is a representative of the group âÄúwomen,âÄù and seeing her in the Oval Office would have provided relief to the half of the population that firmly believes, âÄúYes we can, too.âÄù Yet this is an example of what could have been, rather than what really was. It would seem that the movement has lost momentum or lost focus. My generation often shows either a mild disdain for feminism, seeing it as passé, or a vague affiliation to it that they would rather not discuss. Either response is basically lukewarm, so itâÄôs no wonder thereâÄôs little âÄúmovementâÄù of which to speak. Perhaps this is because to align yourself too closely with feminism is to be less cool. As the characters of âÄúSex and the CityâÄù suggest, us modern gals are totally beyond feminism. By omitting explicit reference to feminist history or politics in a show about independent women, theorist Angela McRobbie has noted, they read as outside of feminist history. I remember hearing a woman on NPR apologize for alluding to feminism in a discussion on Sarah Palin : âÄúI hate to bring up the F word, but IâÄôm going to do it: feminism,âÄù she said. It was as if she were conjuring up an old ghost that might return if we say its name too loud. Simply acting as if women are already liberated does not make that true. The negative side effects of losing feminist momentum are visible even here at Cornell. The way in which freshman women are typically received on campus is one example. It is common knowledge that a goal of many Cornell [frat] parties is to get first-year women drunk so they are easier sexual targets. My older brotherâÄôs advice as I set out for college comes to mind: âÄúDonâÄôt drink the punch!âÄù A college grad himself, he knew that spiked punch is pushed on girls at parties. It is a small-scale version of âÄúladies nightsâÄù and other sexist schemes to fill a nightspot with drunk women for men to pursue. And although this particular example represents only a small portion of the Cornell experience, it is troubling that this is the norm despite its sexist, predatory connotations. It shows some feminist issues have fallen through the cracks, and there is no discernable movement to sweep them up. I intended to write this column on the state of the feminist movement, but after taking a close look, that movement seems dispersed almost to the point of nonexistence. There is hope in that, although the movement itself is illusive, feminism as a way of thinking has been firmly established. You can find instances of feminist progress if you look hard enough, in everyday life as well as in politics, art and entertainment. It would just be nice if all those instances formed a more perfect union. This column, accessed via UWire, was originally published in the Cornell Daily Sun at Cornell University. Please send comments to [email protected]