Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Feminism and Politics: A Rising Tide

BY: Ellie Grabowski, Senior at The Bryn Mawr School

           "I am an ambitious feminist." Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s words rang out in the auditorium. A split second later, the room filled with cheers and applause. Her words had electrified the audience of teenage girls, and I was caught up in the tide of confidence, inspiration, and awe. For a brief moment, despite all I knew about this unbelievably unjust world in which we live, I was invincible, sitting on the crest of this wave of idealism and determination.
             I attend The Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, Maryland, an all-girls college preparatory school known for its philosophy of women's empowerment. This past November, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York visited and gave a talk followed by a question-and-answer session. She discussed how she entered politics, the struggles she faced and overcame along the way, and her views on issues like sexual assault in the military and paid maternity leave. She was confident. She was intelligent. She was immensely inspiring to the hundreds of teenage girls in her audience. But what struck me the most about her visit was her bold, unapologetic, determined declaration: “I am an ambitious feminist."  Me too.
     There aren’t many self-declared feminists in American culture, let alone American politics. 2014 saw a relative deluge of feminism in mainstream pop culture — ask anyone, and they’ll name Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, and Lena Dunham — but that doesn’t mean that mainstream pop culture is suddenly feminist. This, after all, is the culture that allowed domestic abuser Ray Rice to be reinstated to the NFL, the culture that tells high school girls that their bodies are distracting to their male classmates, and the culture that was documented by the ten hours’ worth of street harassment a woman recorded while simply walking down the streets of New York City. This is the culture that resulted in Time picking “feminist” as an option for its poll of words of 2014 to ban on November 12th this year. This is the culture in which that option received the most votes.
      And yet, time and time again, I’ve seen and heard people protesting that feminism is unnecessary. I’ve heard people decry the way it’s supposedly been shoved in their faces. I’ve heard people insist that women’s issues really aren’t as big a deal as they’re made out to be, and that those who pick up the label “feminist” only do so because it’s trendy. On the contrary, the very fact that those who call themselves feminists are accused of being shallow is proof that feminism is necessary. How can feminism be only a fashion statement if it is obvious that those who embrace it are relentlessly criticized? One need only look at the shocking amount of hatred and harassment thrown at Emma Watson after her (relatively mild) speech at the UN to see that we need feminism now more than ever.
         There are even fewer feminist politicians today than there are pop stars. Hillary Clinton is one; Senator Gillibrand, clearly, is another; and some people might be able to name Wendy Davis, but it’s hard to think of any more off the top of your head. This persistent absence of women who represent feminism and the realities of women’s lives from the political sphere is the reason why my classmates and I were so inspired by Senator Gillibrand when she visited our school. She is someone rare and necessary. We need more politicians and people like her, people who are not afraid of the word “feminist.”
            For me, it wasn’t hard to call myself either ambitious or feminist. It seemed obvious to me. I have big dreams, so I am ambitious; I believe in equal rights and opportunities for women, so I am a feminist. Senator Gillibrand, it is clear to me, feels the same way. As a politician, by definition, she works with people with whom she does not see eye-to-eye, but she has not let anyone else’s refusal to accept her opinions prevent her from working together with those people to come up with real solutions to real problems.
            According to the National Women’s Political Caucus, women currently make up less than 20% of Congress and less than 25% of state legislatorsThere are two women in President Obama’s Cabinet and three women on the U.S. Supreme Court. And yet, according to the United States Census Bureau, women make up 50.8% of America as of 2013. These numbers do not match. They do not make any sense.
       We need women in politics. That much is blatantly obvious, but it’s not where it ends. We need, more than anything, ambitious, feminist women in politics. We need them now. We cannot solve any problem, be it sexual assault or global warming, paid maternity leave or world hunger, if women are not represented in the government that makes decisions about our lives. We cannot solve any problem if half of the country cannot contribute to the solution.
         I am a teenager; I am a young woman; I am a student. I have a voice in this world, and I am determined to use it. The sense of invincibility that I felt during Senator Gillibrand’s visit in November does not have to fade away; the crest of that wave is not necessarily fated to come crashing down back to reality. We have the power to use our momentum to keep pushing higher and higher.
        I am not an aspiring politician, but Senator Gillibrand’s visit inspired me, as it did many of my classmates, to take a stand once again for issues that are important to me. I am an ambitious feminist. You can be, too.

1 comment:

  1. This thoughtful and thought provoking article gives me hope for our future.