Friday, September 11, 2009

Do We Need Feminism?

As I sat down to write this blog post, I had grand ideas about demonstrating the similarities between the women’s movement in the United States and other kinds of movements for equality, such as the labor movement both home and abroad. I wanted to argue that proponents of women’s rights need to support overseas labor movements not only because unfair treatment of women in America is just as wrong as unfair treatment of workers generally, but because the world labor market has become so interconnected that the foreign struggle affects our struggle. For example, I thought it would be interesting (especially because Labor Day was just this past Monday) to point out that a feminist should support the efforts of temporary employees in Korea to achieve fair treatment in the labor market just as readily as they would defend the right of a woman to choose her career over starting a family.

I also wondered if feminism is really even necessary. Several times thus far in class discussions, we have grappled with the difficulty of finding common ground to rally around as feminists. What feminism means to some people is not necessarily what it means to others, and women vary so much in their interests and desires that it would be difficult to define a “women’s movement” reflective of the goals of all women. Same-sex marriage may be an important battleground to some, but not others. Equality in the professional world is a concern as well, but wouldn’t a focus on moving up the corporate ladder downplay the importance of other issues facing women? Wouldn’t it be better to just consider ourselves egalitarians and fight injustice no matter where it exists?

But fighting is the hard part. Regrettably, I don’t have a great deal of experience as an activist, and determining how to rally enough support to achieve concrete change is not something I had given much thought to. Maybe problems need to be broken down into manageable units before it is possible to solve them. Increasing legal protection for mothers who wish to balance child care and career may not be a goal large enough in scope to truly be of importance to women generally, but it may be worthwhile for everyone to rally behind. A narrow focus on one specific issue could make success all the more likely. Even though the proponents of such an effort who do not wish to have children themselves may not benefit directly, a concrete victory against injustice will have been won. With that victory secured, the next specific battleground could then be chosen, and the movement could hopefully become more and more ambitious as time goes on, improving the circumstances of a broader range of women.

Feminism is necessary because the world is just too big to take on at once. It would be impossible to help people generally if we do not pay particular attention to the specific kinds of people that make up our world. Although women are certainly not a perfectly homogenous group, the commonalities that do exist warrant a more detailed focus. For example, although women serve in support roles as members of the U.S. military, they are precluded from participating in combat. Although few of us may desire to be combat soldiers, feminist theory can address the issue and determine its impact, such as the message such a military policy sends to the public. The knowledge gained can then hopefully assist in the fight against the policy, and another brick in the wall can be knocked down.

One of the Korean temporary employees mentioned above, Kim Joo-won, explained why he continues to fight to restore his old job, rather than look for more temporary work elsewhere. He said, “If I give up, I will drift from one temporary job to another for the rest of my life. If you are a non-regular in Korea, your life is second class. I must change the reality.” Mr. Kim’s fight against class discrimination may be just as worthy a cause as any being fought by American feminists. But we can’t do it all at once. In spite of the difficulties inherent in a narrower focus, feminist theory can help change the reality.

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