As National Women’s Day, March 8th, approaches I find it important to reflect on the leaps and bounds society has made in regard to feminism, as well as look at areas of change that still need to be conquered. Prior to being a council member I shied away from discussing female empowerment because I did not want to speak on a matter I knew little about. I set out to read feminist literature, scholarly articles, and other sources of information in order to formulate my thoughts on feminism.
One of the books that was given to me was Letters to a Young Feminist by Phyllis Chesler. This book was published in 1997, which made it an interesting read because I noticed that a lot has changed in 22 years. I felt many different emotions throughout this book, it gave me hope to read about all the progress that has been made, and also frustration with the lack of progress in other areas. I acknowledge that this book was written in North America and therefore the statistics and facts written by Phyllis Chesler are influenced by that, although she does do a good job of including places other than North America.
I’d like to share with you some of what I read that made me feel proud with the progress that has been made, disheartened for areas that for the most part remain the same, and a range of other emotions that push me to continue to be a better feminist.
I urge you to read these quotes and compare their meaning to thoughts of the 1990’s and earlier, thoughts throughout your life, and your present-day thoughts. (All quotes are directly taken from Letters to a Young Feminist.
On women’s careers:
“Women’s entrance into higher paying jobs did not come easily. Once we became conscious, we still had to fight unimaginably hard for each small gain. But we had each other, which made all the difference. It made having to fight- which we often experienced as “losing”- bearable, possible. Those employers who had refused to hire women in the first place were not happy to do so after we had legally forced their hands. Contrary to most myths about affirmative action, which claim that having quotas lowers standards, most women were in fact over-qualified. Often, a woman has to be twice as good as a man and willing to work twice as hard in a hostile atmosphere in order to keep her job. That is one of the many unwritten job descriptions for women.”
On women’s current (1990’s) entitlement:
“For example, most women work for no wages, own less than 1 percent of the world’s property, one-tenth of all visible income for their paid work, and constitute two-thirds of the world’s illiterates. Between 80 and 90 percent of the world’s impoverished and refugee populations are women and children.”
On women being in charge of themselves:
“Your body and your mind are, together, your primary country of allegiance. As a feminist, you must know- and know how to defend- your country and its boundaries.”
On the difference between men and women roles:
“When we compare women to men, we must first compare women to men in their own families and class before we compare women to the men in a lessprivileged economic class.”
“Even when men and women do exactly the same thing, it means something different. The father who changes a diaper is often seen as a hero; not so the mother who is, after all, only doing what she’s expected to do. This is not true in the reverse. The woman who succeeds in a man’s world- although she is not expected to do so- is rarely treated as a conquering hero. She is, more often, seen as an aggressive bitch. She may well be aggressive- but no more than her male colleagues.”
On words of empowerment:
“In order for you to help even one other woman you must first become very strong yourself. If you can’t take care of yourself- if you don’t have a strong self to take care of- you certainly can’t take care of anyone else. You must become radically compassionate towards yourself.... This is hard, not easy to do, but your legacy is one of ongoing, every day, evolution and transformation- not stasis. Your legacy prizes freedom as much as happiness, self-love as much as selflessness. Remember that.”
“Our strength is in diversity, not uniformity. It’s important to cut the next woman some slack, give her the benefit of the doubt until she proves you wrong in a major way and more than once. Even then, if you have a battle to wage in common, you may still have to find a way to work together.
“Not every pioneer will personally benefit from the particular wrong righted, the right won. Not everyone who begins a battle may be able to see it through to the end. Perhaps others, especially the coming generations, will be the ones to most benefit from your struggle.
I hope this article gave you some encouragement. The progress that has been made towards equality has been long but lots of positive change has been made, and there will be a lot more to come!
Chesler, Phyllis. (1997). Letters to a Young Feminist. Seal Press.