This post will attempt to break down important points found in the feminist readings done this week with an emphasis on Frigga Haug’s ON THE NECESSITY OF CONCEIVING THE UTOPIAN IN A FEMINIST FASHION. The focus is on feminism as a kind of utopia and how gender, not sex, can be problematic.
While it is trite to begin a response with a Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, it is necessary to open with a universal understanding that feminism is, by definition, “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” and it is certainly an (achievable) utopian belief. Feminism, when intersectional, is the most just way a society can act as a whole. In a world of anti-discrimination, gender is unrelated to potential success. Intellect, charisma, morals, and skills are valued in a feminist utopia and gender bias is nonexistent.
During her 2013 UN Speech, Malala Yousafzai said, “I raise up my voice-not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back,” which means if girls do not get provided the same rights as men, humanity will never reach its full utopian potential. Morally, holding back half the human race is wrong (actually, I prefer the word Evil). However, it is also economically damaging. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report from September 2015, a “scenario in which women play an identical role in labor markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion, or 26 percent, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025,” meaning that even from a capitalist point of view, the gender inequality at work is bad business.
For these reasons Haug believes gender needs to be abolished. I agree with Haug because sex (which is purely biological) is not the same as gender. You are born with your sex, you are assigned a gender. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) provides a public mandate of 112 pages that clearly illustrates the difference between sex and gender. To summarize, gender characteristics are taught and vary culture to culture whereas sex is the biology (although even that can be adjusted). The preference of the male gender is damaging psychologically and emotionally for boys and girls alike. Gender bias can lead to violence, abuse, and general disrespect.
A deep root of gender bias lays in what experiences and desires are considered strictly female or strictly male. Additionally, the way women are portrayed versus the way men are portrayed plays a role in our behavior. There are preconceived notions that need deconstruction. For instance, femininity is considered submissive and weak, but that does not mean the female gender is weak—It is how the media has taught us to think, and the desire to have a distinct line between masculine vs. feminine remains strong, and it starts young.
While change is incredibly slow, it is still considered “a problem” for a young boy to prefer dolls and the color pink. It is “inappropriate” for little girls to run outside and get dirty playing sports. Toys directed towards girl are often about becoming moms, while the toy market for boys is career based—or violent.
I am excited to see the shift (though subtle) in children’s clothing and entertainment. It is refreshing to see toy companies and large department stores transitioning to a genderless selection. Let’s discuss Target. Target has removed gendered signage in the toy aisle and the children’s clothing section. Target also has developed a new brand called Pillowfort. Pillowfort is a gender neutral brand that is being praised for providing a variety of bedroom accessories that are “universal.”
A smaller scale company, the spunky upstart GoldieBlox, has quickly taken over the toy aisles, creating gadgets that normally are associated with maleness but with the girly aesthetic of Barbie—it is still clearly gendered for girls, but is a step in the right direction. The toys are feminine in color and design—something still often considered “bad”—but when paired with the engineering education goals and the empowering puzzles/challenges, it successfully combats the norm.
Even Barbie has revamped itself. For the first time in almost 60 years Mattel has reinvented the doll, giving her more realistic sizes and a wider variety of ethnicities. The changes have been criticized for remaining too idealized, but it is revolutionary for the company, and a radical shift in the toy world…but maybe not radical enough. Soon after this positive news, rival company, Hasbro proved sexism to be alive and well. Hasbro recently released a Star Wars monopoly game without the main character, Rey…who happens to be a woman. Star Wars: The Force Awakens Director J.J. Abrams even publicly called Hasbro’s decision to leave out the female protagonist, “preposterous and wrong.” Perhaps Hasbro assumed only boys would be interested in the Star Wars universe.
In the informational comedy show Adam Ruins Everything, Adam explains how the gender bias of toys—specifically in video games though it applies to most all toys—worsened in the 90s and began targeting boys. Game consoles were for men and women until Nintendo decided to sell its consoles in the toy aisle, instead of the electronics section, where they were forced to pick gender. Pink or blue, girl or boy. When they picked the boy aisle, it therefore meant girls were not apart of that virtual world. The success in video game sales was assumed to be related to its gendered marketing. It is one of many toy related marketing decisions that furthered sexism. The 90s set us back, so the changes being made now are absolutely crucial.
Talking about all the ways the toy market has done right and wrong is important because children are sponges. They will absorb everything they see and hear. As they say in coding, “garbage in, garbage out.” The media consumed by the youth directly affects the way they view gender. The media has a responsibility to educate appropriately. Societal pressures and social stigmas and stereotypes may start with toys, but it doesn’t stop after that.
“Men must take part in attaining this different goal…This would be just the beginning of a humane society” and one that benefits both sexes (Haug). For instance, in a feminist utopia, a father fighting for custody of his children would have a fair chance of winning in court. A woman who commits a crime would have the same jail time as a man of the same crime. A woman with the same job as a man would be paid the same.
A current initiative attempting to implement the changes Haug calls for is the He For She campaign. Many well respected members of the entertainment industry are stepping forward to pledge their support of feminism. The campaign is a part of the United Nation’s initiative to have gender equality. With the help of Emma Watson the brand has gone viral. The purpose of this particular initiative is to get men to support feminism, and to provide a feminist education to the public. Hollywood heavy hitters Tom Hanks, Steve Carell, and Lin Manuel Miranda are examples of men supporting He For She.
Even though there is a celebrity scene in He For She, the campaign is not about equality in the movie making business alone, but rather focuses on a broad range of global issues. Health, work, identity, and violence are examples. The website www.heforshe.org provides resources for everyone to use for educational purposes. The point is being proactive. I highly recommend browsing the site.
While there are women and men working towards Haug’s feminist utopia, it certainly feels like a far off dream at times. Personally, I find myself frustrated with the sexism prevalent at RISD. For a school predominantly female, I had not anticipated sexism (and race) to be such an issue. Coming from an all girls private school education is the reason I was aware of feminism from a young age. That education is also the reason I was naive enough to think sexism would be far less common at the college level. In my four years at RISD I have never had an organized class discussion about feminism, so this upcoming class meeting is exciting for me.
As a female student, I often hear “Now Is Better,” as in women should be happy to live in the 21st century because being a woman is better than it used to be. I can now vote! I can go to school! I don’t need to be forced into an arranged marriage, or have children at age 16! However, I see this sort of talk as a form of silencing. “Now is better” implies women should stop their feminist agenda, and to demand more progress would be greedy.
Not to mention, I am privileged as a white woman growing up in America. Women of color are discriminated against even more than white women. Not every woman in the world gets an education, or the right to vote. Basic human rights are ignored.
Of course there are peers who say this with good intentions, but it ultimately is counterproductive to the growth of a feminist utopia. Haug’s feminist utopia is intended for the world, not only a privileged select few. That would defeat the purpose. Now is better, but it needs to keep getting better.
Outside Cited Bibliography