Ponnada: One feminist's manifesto

BY SRI PONNADA | MAY 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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An Economist and YouGov poll released early this month revealed that fewer than 30 percent of Americans consider themselves to be feminists.

That’s not very surprising to me. I frequently hear people, including some of my own friends, say things like, “I’m not a feminist … but I believe in equal rights for women.”

Statements like that really bother me. What’s so wrong with being a feminist?

“There’s a lot of negative stigma that goes along with being a feminist,” said UI senior Kat Lohse.

Do people even know what a feminist really is?

Lohse, like many people, said she used to believe the stereotype that feminists are “angry lesbians who hate men and don’t shave their legs.”

She said she came to learn that she was wrong.

Being a feminist simply means that you believe in equal rights and opportunities for women and men.

Shocking, I know. This may be disappointing, but not all feminists burn their bras.

I think bras are too expensive to burn, anyway.

Now that we know the truth about feminism, why aren’t we all feminists? We should be.

Nearly 50 percent of women think that feminism isn’t needed anymore, according to a poll conducted by CBS in 2009.

It’s a thing of the past. We’re living in a time where women can go to school; they can have a family and a job. Women can have it all — right?

Let’s take a look at present situations in our society.

The gender wage-gap problem — an issue Americans have been battling since 1963, when President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act to end wage discrimination based on sex — is still very much alive and profoundly affects the lives of women, particularly those of color.

Violence against women is also a huge issue.

Nearly 1-in-5 women in America have reported being raped.

Just a couple weeks ago, many women of the UI community gathered around the Pentacrest to share their experiences with sexual violence at the annual march and rally, Take Back the Night.

We have to have intense legislation to try to prevent gender violence — legislation that Congress failed to renew two years in a row, and which our very own Sen. Chuck Grassley voted against.

The United States is also one of the seven countries that have yet to ratify the U.N.’s Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Of the 194 U.N. nations, 187 countries have ratified it. The United States, Iran, and five other countries have not.

I agree that women have made advancements in social, political, and economic realms, but the extent to which we think their conditions have improved is sadly just an illusion.

Take voting rights for instance.

Women gained the right to vote in 1920 and have been a part of Congress since 1917, but the U.S. still has yet to elect a female president. Forget the president — Iowa still hasn’t sent a woman to Congress.

And what about reproductive rights?

We have national leaders opposing abortions even in the case of rape.

As former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Where is the utopia in which gender equality has been achieved?

Considering the status of women in America, it seems that it would do us much good to embrace the ideas of equality that feminism entails.

Remember, ladies and gentlemen, the feminist checklist doesn’t include: having hairy legs and armpits, harboring a hatred of men and all things associated with them, and having intense feelings of anger.

To determine whether or not you’re a feminist, take a look at the following statements.

You believe in equal rights and opportunities for men and women. You have taken a course in the Department of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, and it caused you to question society. You wonder why men are paid more than women doing the same job, with the same qualifications. You are agitated by the way that the media often portray women. You don’t see anything wrong with watching “chick flicks.” You think the swimsuit section in the Miss America pageant is unnecessary or ridiculous.

If one or more of the statements apply to you, congratulations — you are, indeed, a feminist.

And for those of you who still fear to embrace the feminist label — remember, there is power in words.

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