For All the Young Women Who Think Feminism is BS

Two Pretty Indian College graduates happy after getting degree in the campus.If your goal is to own your own home someday, you owe a feminist. If you want to have a credit card someday, you owe a feminist. If you want to be something more than a teacher or a nurse, you owe a feminist. So many women — women of color, white women, immigrant women, young women, old women, educated women, uneducated women — are all standing with you when you vote. We didn’t call some of those early women who fought for your rights and equality feminists. But they are the same kind of women, they are the women who didn’t sit back and take the status quo.

Are you a woman who thinks that feminism isn’t for you? Maybe you believe we’ve achieved equal rights and we don’t need a “movement” anymore?  Maybe you wonder if continued discussions about women’s rights are just all BS?

It is not.

While you are entitled to your opinion and even your experience on this question, just be sure that it is your own. It is right? So many of you who turn your nose up at feminism remind me of myself many years ago. I grew up in what I thought at the time was a conservative family and a conservative environment. My father was a business man and my mother was a homemaker. Sometimes she had outside employment but mostly she was there, a stay-a-home mom.

We went to church on Sunday, did not go out to movies or dinner very much, and were children who obeyed.

It was early on in private religious school that I knew that I was even more conservative than the kids I went to school with, at least that is what I thought. They could go to the movies, stay over at each others’ homes and play outside after school. I, on the other hand, did not have a lot of friends because I could not just play after school. I had to do my homework. I could not stay over at friends homes at night and I did not have money or permission for the movies. I barely got a quarter a week allowance. What do I mean by that? I had to earn the quarter and the chores had to be up to a certain standard.

There were a lot of things my parents did that were with good intention or for reasons I did not know at the time. Fortunately, I did grow up with manners and a strong moral code.

I also grew up in a household that encouraged reading and did not restrict it in any way. I grew up being allowed to ask questions and being given thoughtful answers which always encouraged me to seek further information for later discussion. I also grew up asking my parents about their lives and their childhoods and they were only too happy to reveal many things which helped put their rules, restrictions and attitudes within a context. I won’t go into that here, but suffice to say, it was understandable and appreciated. It always seemed I never got too much that I had to process before I was ready to do so. I note that in retrospect.

So what I have to say to young women today who are not supportive of feminism is this — live a bit longer, get a bit more experience and then tell me what you think. Your views will most likely change, as mine did.

I grew up in a bubble that allowed me to experience the world but only to a very protected point. I did get information now and then and figure things out eventually. I was naturally a bit shy, a bit rigid and a bit awkward. My parents were older and raised me with a different set of references than most of my contemporaries. It did make me a bit different, noticeably different to some. Being insulated in a way prevented me from seeing other points of view many times. I didn’t consider certain things as clearly as I began to in later years after living in the real world. As time went on I learned more about my parents lives and was able to really see who they were. They were not as conservative as I thought. They, in fact, were quite socially liberal, quite strong on that and very thoughtful and inclusive people. I followed their example.

High school was a fairy tale land for me, lots of clubs, recognition, great grades and boys. I ventured out and was highly regarded by many. I believed I could do just about anything because I was so good at it all, I thought. Grade school had not been that way, but I told myself, I was too different inside and outside and I didn’t really know the ropes yet. So high school, a roaring success of fitting in, did not prepare me for college. The university was huge, it was a big vast pit where I promptly got misidentified and lost for a long time. The first few semesters followed the pattern of high school, then something changed. I think it was my world view. I suddenly could see more and more and more and I was trying to process it all against a paradigm that had worked in the past but just would not fit. I graduated and it got worse and worse. All of a sudden I was no longer a student, where there some rules and attempts at equality pretty much taken for granted by me. It suddenly all changed again. I was no longer a recent college graduate, I was a woman — a woman trying to continue on in life and get a job and have a life.

Unfortunately, I again overestimated how the world had progressed. At the time I was starting out as a professional, the world wasn’t yet ready for women who were thinkers and had their own ideas. “Conform, conform, conform,” was the message I repeatedly heard. I was not supposed to graduate with the degree I did and expect to get a job with it. I apparently was doing everything wrong just by being a woman. I ran into that time and again. There was so much discrimination in the work place regarding money, position, and title, not to mention sexual harassment. It was an expected thing to go on an interview and if the interviewer was a man, that he might inject some sexual innuendo into the interview and watch to see how a young, attractive and naïve woman might respond. Sometimes the questions and offers were very direct, “If you sleep with me, I will give you a job.”

So as I look at all of that so long ago, I came to understand what my aunts, my mother, and her mother all went through decades before me. I did get to see some changes in my lifetime that came on the backs of women who were feminists and did it because it was right. It was only as I grew older and more and more things happened that I began to see the real strides that had been made, the things that many of you might be taking for granted.

You might be schooled into the thought that you are better, therefore you will be treated better. I thought that too. It is not true. In a patriarchal society you are always the loser. Why? Because you are not a man.

As the years went on it became very clear what was wanted in the workplace of a woman. I even met women who challenged me about my own experience. They made it seem that I just didn’t get it. Observing them was telling. They were mild-mannered, quiet types who raised no red flags, kept themselves demure and above the fray. So what if they were in a man’s field in a man’s world, they’d figured out the game, had gotten the rules down and played along. In fact, they played so well it did not matter to them that their salary was half that of their male counterparts. All the birth control questions and marriage questions didn’t matter to them because they were not going to have children when they married, so they could play along. They acquiesced to every single doubt that a man would have about having them as a co-worker. So in the end, yes, they were women competing in a man’s world, but they paid a rather high price for admitting that, in the end, they were always less.

Eventually all those laws about what is legal to ask during an interview did make some difference, and so did laws about equal pay (though there is still much more to accomplish). But none of these laws regarding women’s rights were just there for the taking. No men just decided to give us property rights, the right to vote, or the right to contraception or abortion out of the goodness of their hearts. Those rights were fought for by women — by feminists. Every time you discount a feminist, you discount the very people who allow you to enjoy those rights today.

If your goal is to own your own home someday, you owe a feminist. If you want to have a credit card someday, you owe a feminist. If you want to have your own bank account or a piece of land out west as an investment, you owe a feminist. If you have an IRA and you get to put money in it, more than $200 as a spouse a year, you owe a feminist. If you want to be something more than a teacher or a nurse, you owe a feminist. So many women — women of color, white women, immigrant women, young women, old women, educated women, uneducated women — are all standing with you when you vote. We didn’t call some of those early women who fought for your rights and equality feminists. But they are the same kind of women, they are the women who didn’t sit back and take the status quo. They didn’t believe it when society and laws said they were less than men.

So you can think all you want to, believe in what you are told by whomever tells you, including me; you are entitled to that. There will be a time, and I guarantee it will happen, when you will wake up and look back and say, “Now I get it.” It might benefit us all if that time came sooner than later.

Guest contributor Sheila Luecht holds a BA in Political Science and is a former nonprofit guru. Over the years, she has assisted numerous nonprofits with marketing strategies, organizational communication efforts, and fund development. Luecht was named the AAUW Agent of Change in 2000 and a Rising Star of the Women’s Leadership Council of Northern Illinois in 2001. Luecht was a branch president, was appointed the state Director of Communications, and was a member of the state public policy committee for the American Association of University Women Illinois Inc., as well as on the board of Gender Equity Advisory Council AAUW, Illinois Inc. Luecht also created and coordinated two major media events on behalf of the UnitedAgainstHate Campaign of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in Chicago to support Hate Crimes Legislation. Luecht currently writes on a variety of topics, both political and fictional, which at times can be interchangeable. She also acts as an administrator for a group of international feminists who share information regarding women in the world with the purpose of sparking activism for equality. She continues to work to support human rights for all. She is a wife, business owner and proud mother of three college graduates!

Image via iStockphoto

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