The topic of feminism has become one of the biggest hot button issues in the United States today. Talking points such as the supposed wage gap and college rape culture have become incredibly divisive for people on both sides of the political aisle.
Those on the left claim that feminism is an all-inclusive ideology that promotes equality for both men and women. Many on the right side of the spectrum believe that the modern feminist movement has morphed into an ideology that focuses solely on women and even demeans men.
I’m going to be upfront about my bias: I don’t consider myself a feminist, at least not the current iteration of the movement, commonly called “third-wave feminism.” I do not believe that women are systematically oppressed in the United States, nor do I believe that American society and its government favor men over women.
Taking this into account, I sat down with the Women’s Activist Organization President Olivia Oland to talk about issues facing men and women in the United States and across the world.
Oland, a dedicated women’s activist, focuses much of her passion on the issue of female reproduction.
“Something I’m very passionate about is reproductive rights … I personally think that one of the biggest topics that I’m passionate about for women is reproductive health, especially for college students,” Oland said.
Despite the fact that the subject of modern-day feminism is an incredibly sensitive subject to many people, Oland and I both agree on the need for open discussion when it comes to the issue of supposed female oppression. In Oland’s opinion, the best way to combat women’s issues is with communication.
“I think it’s having open discussions about it. And when we talk about women, it’s important that we’re talking about cisgender women, transgender women, women of color. With all of these things, the only way we’re going to improve is by having open dialogue about it.”
While no one can argue that women face problems specific to their gender, such as sexual harassment and catcalling, the debate for many begins when the supposed “patriarchy” comes into the picture.
A patriarchy, for those who don’t know, is a society in which men are considered superior to women and given special privileges over them. A modern example of this would be the country of Saudi Arabia, where a woman’s testimony in a court case is only worth half as much as a man’s.
Many modern feminists, Oland included, believe that the United States also contains a patriarchal culture that oppresses women and promotes men over them.
“Yes, I think women are oppressed in the United States,” Oland said. “I think one of the biggest examples is the rape schedule.” This is something I was unaware of.
The rape schedule is the schedule women have to follow, having a constant fear of sexual assault. That’s one way women are oppressed because they’re following this constant schedule to make sure that they’re not risking their own safety due to the rape schedule.
Oland herself claims to have been oppressed by men in her personal life multiple times.
“Personally, pretty much every time I go to the doctor it’s up for debate on whether or not I can have birth control or not, just because I’m a woman … whereas that should be a basic right.”
Most people, including myself, find criminal acts such as rape and sexual harassment disgusting and degenerate. While some people may suffer from these atrocious crimes, it is quite a step up to claim that American society is systemically discriminating against women.
Many people have come to doubt the validity of the patriarchy claim and its supposed widespread oppression of American females. When asked where the link between individual cases of sexism to a systemic and ingrained oppression, Oland unfortunately said very little.
“I wasn’t very prepared for that question so I didn’t do any research for that.”
In terms of the legal system, Oland unfortunately could not comment on any possible sexist laws currently on the books.
“Laws aren’t really my thing, so when it comes to stuff like this this, I’m more into the activism and don’t really know a ton of laws, especially in North Dakota.”
The education system, however, is discriminatory toward women, according to Oland and her example.
“Education, I can say that here at NDSU, I have a friend who’s a math major, and the field she’s going into is like 93 percent men and 7 percent women. That’s just statistically how it’s set in the field she’s in. And I know that when she came to NDSU she applied to the math program and was really excited about it. She was still a freshman, and they automatically put her into the math education program and told her that once she proves to them that she can get out of the math education program, then we’ll put you into the straight math program. And that was the assumption that she wanted to be a teacher because she was a woman, and she had more limited opportunities than other incoming men who were freshman and got automatically put into the math program.”
One of the most prominent talking points of the feminist movement today is the supposed “wage gap.” For those who don’t know, the female wage gap is a purported gap in the pay between men and women, 76 cents to every dollar a man makes to be precise. The validity of this gap, however, is questionable to say the least.
The study that sparked the pay gap only measured how much women who worked full time earned compared to how much men who were also employed full time earned. The key word here is “earned.” Two people can be paid the same wage, but earn different amounts. If Employee A and Employee B both work a job that pays $10 an hour, they both have the same pay. But if Employee A works 30 hours weekly and Employee B only works 20 hours a week, then Employee A would earn more and therefore have more money. Do you see where people could find a flaw in the pay gap?
Even if the math isn’t convincing, just use basic logic. If women on average get paid less money for the same work as a man, then why don’t all business owners just hire females? After all, they could save tons of money by only having to pay their female employees 75 percent of what they would pay men.
Despite this criticism, Oland supports the wage gap’s existence, another alleged example of America’s patriarchal society.
“I definitely believe in the wage gap. I’ve never heard anyone say ‘earning less’ because obviously you’re earning what you work for. So the difference is definitely the pay.”
It is hard, however, for me to believe in the patriarchy when in fact men suffer from many disparities in the United States. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men commit suicide three times more often than women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men die in the workplace at a rate 13:1 compared to women. Over 90 percent of American combat deaths are men, and men lose child custody battles more often than women.
With these disparities against men being brought up, Oland did agree that they were definitely unfair.
So if the United States is a patriarchy, why does it let its men commit suicide so often? Why would a society that oppresses women and favors men send men off to die in wars at rates far higher than female soldiers? Why would a patriarchy and its government side with the woman in divorce cases instead of the man? Why would it let men take more dangerous jobs and die more often in the workplace?
It seems to me that the United States is in fact not a patriarchy, but instead has individuals who are sexists, just like every society in history.
The lack of evidence provided by Oland and many other third-wave feminist, to support the claim that an American patriarchy exists is damning. No laws have been brought forward that prove that the American government discriminates against women. No link between individual cases of sexism and a systemic system of oppression of females has been shown.
It’s a common intellectual mistake to equate individual cases of sexism, such as Oland and her friend’s personal examples, then drawing an illogical conclusion that these specific examples must mean that it’s widespread and ingrained into society.
Do misogynists and sex criminals exist in America? Absolutely. However, there is no evidence to support the claim that the United States and the culture are systemically sexist. It’s impossible to completely remove sexism from humanity, just like it’s impossible to remove racism and ignorance. There are always going to be racists, sexists and bigots. The only way to combat these individuals is to build a society that discourages such behavior, such as Western culture.
While the topics of the patriarchy and feminism are considered too taboo and divisive to discuss openly, we can all agree with Oland that the best way to solving sexism, as well as many other societal issues, is to have free discussions about our ideas and how to solve the problems we see throughout our culture and government.