Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The problem has not gone away

By Laura Pedersen

There are no marches upon Washington, no emblazoned Suffragette sashes or newsworthy arrests. No ringing speeches have captivated national attention. There is no single, unifying leader with a textbook-bound name.
The conflict, however, is very much alive.

This third wave of feminism – for change has indeed required multiple waves – has mobilized since the ‘80s to address the conflicts faced by female workers facing a 77.8-cent dollar, women struggling with an unwanted pregnancy, working mothers pulling a double-shift, and women living under a lingering, misogynistic yoke of social expectation. Not all of these are issues one would expect to see in a feminist leaflet. In fact, the third wave of feminism leaves the expectations of most spectators fairly crushed.

The third wave of feminism calls for a sensitivity to this new brand of conflicts. It challenges society to radically alter their definition of the problem entirely, to stop demanding that feminists frame their cause with male tools and terms, and to stop turning a blind eye to arguments and ideas written off as ‘emotional,’ ‘needy,’ or any word offered as a synonym for ‘female weakness.’ The long-standing expectation is that those experiencing injustice package their problems in a manner and with a vocabulary that is familiar to the reigning majority opinion. The third wave challenges its audience to expect more of itself.

The problem with expectations is that they have the troublesome habit of being reflected in one’s actions and causing anything from surprise to discord when they go unfulfilled. They set the parameters for human relationships of any nature, acting as a rubric for others’ actions. Working mothers feel the strain of society’s expectation that they should be both primary care giver, the expected gender role, and maintain a successful career, their self-expectations. Then, of course, there is the revealing moment of surprise I myself felt upon meeting a stay-at-home father. Our expectations, I was reminded, have very deep roots.

What social expectation causes more women than men to preface their statements made in a college classroom with qualifying phrases (“Well, I’m so sure, but…” or “I’m probably wrong, but…”)? What expectation persists that leaves a woman waiting for the man to propose? Why should a Ben Stiller movie be able to capitalize so effectively on the concept of a male nurse? Why is society surprised to see a male wearing makeup on an average day but expects as much of a woman?

To call oneself a feminist is to defy expectation. It is to assume that society has the capacity to embrace a third wave of change, a wave with issues that to some are not immediately visible. It is to make a study of the second-nature reactions and beliefs that surround our day, and to conclude that change is still necessary.

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