Rethinking the Feminist Future

by Ama Debrah

Over ninety years after the ratification of the nineteenth amendment, forty years after the passage of Title IX, and thirty years after women and men began entering college at a 50/50 ratio, both feminists and anti-feminists alike are demanding a redefinition of the purpose of modern feminism. Although many critics argue that all the goals of the feminist movement have already been achieved, others state that the current “War on Women” and low percentage of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers and political power prove that the movement has actually stalled. At the same time, articles and books by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Sheryl Sandberg, and Debora Spar have tackled what exactly a “successful” modern woman looks like, and if it is even possible for women to “have it all.”

What do you think, Mom?

Amidst these growing debates, The Women’s History Month Committee at Barnard/Columbia hosted a panel on “The Future of Feminism” this past Monday to try to identify where the feminist movement is now and what women should be doing to further sustainable progress towards gender equality. The panelists included Janet Jakobsen, Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women and Professor of Women’s Studies; Sara Angevine, PhD candidate of Political Science at Rutgers University and Professor of Women and Leadership at Barnard; Nathalie Molina Nino, Entrepreneur and Global Business Strategist; and Cathy O’Neil, Data Scientist at Intent Media and blogger. From the get go, I appreciated the wide diversity in ages, academic specialties, and work experience among the panelists, and each panelist was able to bring a unique perspective to the questions asked.

“Low numbers of women in government isn’t because of a lack of political ambition, but because studies have shown that women need to be asked to run an average of three times before seriously considering public office.”

The first question posed to the panelists was if they agreed that progress towards gender equality has stalled. While O’Neil did state that female representation in STEM field has stalled particularly in the United States, she said this wasn’t because women are not motivated or given enough chances, but because the system itself is broken. O’Neil recounted that the reason she decided to leave mathematics academia was “not because I wasn’t good enough for academics, but because academics wasn’t good enough for me.” Angevine echoed this response by saying that the low numbers of women in government isn’t because of a lack of political ambition, but because studies have shown that women need to be asked to run an average of three times before seriously considering public office. In addition, Angevine stated that women tend to prefer working in local and state governments not because of their lesser responsibility, but because they can see direct changes more easily at a state level.

The other panelists argued that many high power jobs in academics or corporations are structured for people with wives. Jakobsen elaborated that many high-power jobs require employees to work 80+ hours a week because their employers know that they have wives at home who will be able to take care of the laundry, bills, and children. Nino emphasized this point by stating that when she was working in global business, she felt guilty about having to hire a personal assistant to pick up her dry cleaning and do her checkbook, until she realized that the only reason her male colleagues did not have personal assistants was because their wives were fulfilling that role. Nino then said that it’s up to women in power to change work culture structures in order to make the work environment more accommodating to men and women alike.

The overarching theme that was emphasized throughout the entire discussion was that the work/life balance is essentially impossible. As O’Neil said, “life isn’t a Google calendar.” Many of the panelists advocated for a redefinition of feminism that instead of labeling success as climbing to the top of the corporate ladder or sitting in the Oval Office, defined success as women living fulfilling, happy lives that they chose for themselves.

Ama Debrah is a junior at Barnard and New York and On Campus Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of The Telegraph.

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