Facing feminism through multiple lenses
With the players for the U.S. women's national soccer team filing a wage-discrimination complaint last month, concerns regarding gender inequality have resurfaced. BVNW students and staff shed light on how feminism and societal gender roles shape the process of understanding inherent gender differences.
May 10, 2016
The crowd pours into the room, excitedly conversing about the long-awaited game. The boy’s basketball team has lost almost every game this season.
The bleachers are almost completely filled.
In the other building, the girls warm up on the court, they run up, dribble and swish, swish, swish. The game has not started, and the girls make every shot. They are an undefeated team.
A girl turns to her left and then her right; the bleachers are almost empty.
ELA teacher and self-declared feminist Amanda Witty said she began noticing this aspect of gender inequality when she was in high school.
“Where are the biggest crowds for athletic events?” Witty said. “They’re at football games, they’re at the boys basketball games. It doesn’t matter that the girls are the best in the state or the boys are the worst…Females are less important. I mean that’s essentially what we’re saying by not showing up to girls’ games.”
This differentiation is also reflected in nationally recognized sports. Last month, top members of the U.S. women’s soccer team filed a wage-discrimination complaint stating that despite their better performance, they are paid only 40 percent of what the men are paid.
Witty said the lack of focus on females is one of the reasons she supports feminism, which she defines as equality between genders. She said feminism, especially now, is often perceived as a negative thing because of how it is depicted in society.
“I think that sometimes that’s where feminism gets a bad name, we’re expecting like these special things,” Witty said. “I think it’s the idea that women, in general, have been oppressed for a long time and in that way they do deserve something that’s different.”
Witty said concerns with gender equality is often linked to traditional gender roles established in society.
Witty, who grew up in a small rural community, said there was a clear disparity between the future of females versus males after high school.
“When I was going to high school, it was much more likely that a man, that a boy that graduated from high school would go and get post-secondary training of some sort,” Witty said. “(It was) much more likely if you were a female that maybe you didn’t…and that was the late 90s.”
According to Witty, equality is different for everyone. When Witty was growing up, she said her mom fit the stereotype of the female caretaker.
“I used to think that because my mom took care of my dad, she was the one who cooked our meals, she was always the one who cleaned the house, she did all those things that she was not a feminist, that she was somehow on the opposite side,” Witty said.
Witty said as she got older, she realized that this was not the case.
Dolls, boys and gender roles
He picked up the doll and began to take care of it, mirroring his mother’s nurturing of his newly born sister. The doll was not meant for him – it was a gift for his sister Michaela. Still, the young boy carried around the baby doll for years. His mother did not stop him.
Years later, junior Ian Lecki and his mother relate how this memory reflects the way the Lecki household deals with societal pressures related to gender. Lecki said according to society, males are supposed to be tough and support the family, whereas females are supposed to be nurturing and weaker.
However, due to the way he grew up, Lecki said he does not relate to the structured roles of individuals in society.
“I think it’s wrong because my uncle is a stay at home dad so the roles are completely flipped and he is the more nurturing one,” Lecki said. “He’s there for his kids when they need him, while their mom is at work doing stuff and she’s kind of doing what the male role would be in society.”
Ian’s mom, Jackie Sparks-Leckie, said as her children grew up she did not prevent them from taking part in activities that were not associated with their respective sex.
“In our house, there were dolls for the boys to play with; there were trucks for my daughter to play with,” Jackie said.
Jackie said although she fits female stereotypes as a stay-at-home mom, she said she encouraged her children to be aware of the differences around them and feel free to express themselves.
“I think [my sons] are more sensitive,” Jackie said. “They’re more apt to show their emotion. Guys are supposed to be tough, but I don’t want them to feel like they have to be.”
Jackie said when Lecki experienced rough situations like being cut from a sports team, she handled it a different way.
“We just talked through it rather than him just ‘man up,’” Jackie said.
Jackie said due to her exposure to unconventional gender roles and freedom to explore a variety of things, her children have had more of an open mind in dealing with situations related to gender disparities.
“They don’t view others in a negative way when they see others not displaying their typical role model behaviors,” Jackie said. “I don’t think it’s as shocking to them.”
Because she laid this foundation from an early age, Jackie said it made it easier for her to guide her children in understanding the necessity of equality with both genders. To Jackie, feminism is that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.
Lecki said although he sees that there are inequalities, he has an issue dealing with feminists who express themselves without trying to hear the other side.
Senior Samuel Liu said he is not affected by certain perceptions and attitudes he has been exposed to over the years. Liu said he calls himself a feminist.
“Personally, I don’t think you should be against anything because of its connotation,” Liu said. “I think you should be mindful of it’s true purpose.”
Liu said because he is not a female, he has a unique role in the process of understanding inherent gender differences.
“As a male, I know that I don’t understand the difficulties women have,” Liu said. “I know I won’t truly understand what feelings they are going through, but it’s my role to try to understand and to make sure that the traditionally perceived notion of a male being superior is not revealed through my actions or my thoughts.”
Equality on the big screen
Husky Headlines Executive Producer and senior Ryan Burger said he considers himself a feminist. Burger, who will be studying film at the University of Kansas this fall, said he calls himself a feminist because he does not see an objective reason why both genders should not be equal. Burger said he sees feminism as beneficial to both genders.
Burger said he is seeing an increase in female representation in Hollywood.
“I love watching movies, and lately we’ve seen an increase in female protagonist roles,” Burger said. “I usually go like yes, that’s what we need, that’s awesome.”
However, Burger said the reactions to movies with strong female roles are not always positive. He said when “Mad Max: Fury Road” came out there was a lot of backlash because female actress Charlize Theron’s character was front and center alongside Max.
“A lot of people didn’t really like that,” Burger said. “There were kind of articles saying that like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ was feminist propaganda, that’s just false.”
Burger said he viewed the portrayals differently.
“It’s having two equally strong characters who just happen to be from opposite genders,” Burger said. “That was such a cool aspect of the movie, for me.”
Meninist shirts and feminist girls
Senior Susie Song said she was first exposed to feminism as a result of an incident at BVNW where a group of freshmen boys wore shirts with the word “meninist” on them.
“I had no idea what meninism was,” Song said. “I had no idea what feminism was, because no one talked about it; it was such a taboo subject. I realized that [meninism] was mocking feminism that is trying to promote gender equality, and that entire incident proved to me why everyone needed feminism. The meninists made me a feminist.”
Like Witty, Song said to her, feminism is the respect and equality of all people regardless of gender. Song said, though she wished someone had exposed her to feminism earlier, she now has a better understanding about the world around her because of it.
“I think becoming a feminist is one of the most important things to my life and to my identity,” Song said. “It made me realize that there are everyday problems that I can speak up about and make a difference and try to stop the aggressions that occur on a daily basis. ”
Song said her mom also influenced the way she saw gender roles in society.
“Growing up, she would always tell me it’s so bad that women are so shy and so insecure and weak,” Song said. “She was very focused on breaking gender roles, but often a lot of the burden was placed on the women as not being good enough. The woman has to improve and reach the masculine standard of success.”
Song said that as she increased her understanding on feminism, she decided this approach to feminism did not fit her own.
“I disagree with that older generations’ view of feminism,” Song said. “I think the problem with that idea it still enforces the dichotomy that masculinity is the definition of success that women have to aspire after. We need to start at a more foundational level. Women can be comfortable with who they are.”
Another ELA teacher, Bill Smithyman, said he did not understand feminism until after high school, when he took a Women’s Studies course in college. As a result, Smithyman said he does not see the movement through one lens.
“The way feminism was defined for me in college is that it’s really broad,” Smithyman said. “I think (the way) some people define feminism is as a women’s empowerment movement and some would default to more women’s equality movement…I think there’s a ton of gray area in those perceptions.”
Because he has never experienced the same discrimination as females, Smithyman said he may be unable to voice his views on feminism.
“I don’t think you necessarily have to walk around with a sign that says this is how I feel about feminism,” Smithyman said. “As a man I don’t necessarily have the privilege of walking around and broadcasting what I think about feminism.”
However, Smithyman said an important aspect of understanding the inequality between males and females is recognizing that there is a wage gap regardless of its connection with feminism.
According to Smithyman, the negative perception of feminism stems from extremist expressions. He said it is like any subset and compared it to Christianity, calling Fred Phelps, the former Westboro Baptist Church leader, the subset of the religion.
“I think it’s important to understand that in the sliding scale of feminism that there are people with very vitriolic and maybe incendiary opinions at the far end of dominate superiority feminism that could turn you off as movements,” Smithyman said. “It’s like any subset.”
Witty, who grew up in a small rural community, said there was a clear disparity between the future of females versus males after high school. She said in the community, males who graduated high school were more likely to pursue a postsecondary education than females. However, Witty said the concept of feminism for her was not as specific for her when she was in high school.
“I don’t know that I would’ve said that I was like a card carrying feminist in high school,” Witty said. “But I think that there is a part of most women where you want to prove that you are independent and capable of taking care of yourself…My high school classmates would probably agree that was me.”
But Witty said that being a feminist does not mean that she was resistant to males, which she said is a common misconception of feminism.
Song said there are different aspects of society that hinder the feminist cause. She said one aspect is the school dress code. Song said the dress code is sexist because it polices women’s bodies.
“[The dress code] affirms this belief that women are sexual objects,” Song said. “It’s like extremely wrong if a certain body part is revealed or instigates male attention.”
Smithyman said he sees females of the current generation dressing to impress their male counterparts.
“[The girls of my generation’s] appearances did not seem to illustrate their consistent desire to appeal to men,” Smithyman said. “Their appearances did not say how far can I get away with the dress code, is this boy looking at me or not..As a teacher, I see that differing now. I see that changing just a bit. And I think that it’s a little bit of a challenge to feminism.”
Song said the concept of females making certain clothing choices based on the appeal to men has been ingrained in society from a very young age.
“Obviously there are women who dress to please males and that’s something that they’re taught to do as like a woman,” Song said. “That’s what (they’re taught) it means to be a woman: look pretty, be sexual for a man.”
Song said this attitude that females dress for males nowadays is problematic. However, Song said this applies to both genders and that looking good should be out of self-love.
Witty said in comparison to when she was in high school, she did not experience the backlash that feminists receive today.
“I’ve never taught anywhere outside of Blue Valley and maybe it’s part of the culture here too that’s different,” Witty said. “I feel like there’s some entitlement that goes along with that. ‘If someone else gets something, then I feel like I deserve that something too,’ regardless of whether you had to work for, regardless of whether you are the majority.”
Witty said the difference between the majority and minority is more complex than numerical values, and that has stayed true over time.
“We don’t look at it as much anymore, but females are a minority,” Witty said. “Not in numbers but because of our past and our history and the patriarchal society that we still live in.”
She said in Blue Valley there is a sense of fairness instead of equality when it comes to genders.
“That’s not what equality is,” Witty said. “Equality means…it looks different for people but it’s equitable because we all have the same kind of chance, the same opportunity and sometimes we have to make up for or help minorities get to a certain point.”
Song said she sees sexism in both dialogue and societal norms.
“Obviously, a lot of people don’t have the intent of offending others or doing something harmful when they participate in this,” Song said. “Using gendered language or making harmful jokes only perpetuates a culture in which women are harmed, in which women are not as respected as men. In which women and men have disparate roles that they have to follow in order to be a man or be a woman.”
BVNWnews contacted the students mentioned who wore meninist shirts to school, but they declined to comment.