I constantly find myself surprised to hear, even in as accepting an environment as this university, an astounding number of people forwarding the claim that feminism is no longer relevant, that it has served its purpose or that it has even run its course. Few things could be further from the truth. Though many of feminism’s earliest goals in terms of legal equality have been established, some of the most serious and disturbing problems of gender equality in this country still lie ahead of us.
Though institutional exclusion is still a serious problem for many women across the world, perhaps the largest gender-related issues we must address here in the United States is the deceptive problem of cultural bias; limiting and defeating gender roles are constantly being injected into our daily lives. Our music, movies, books and news are constantly placing us in a feedback loop of exclusionary and unhealthy gender roles.
This is not a new problem; we’ve all heard about it many times before. From the so-called ‘aspirational magazines’ that convince even the thinnest of people that they need to lose more weight to the children’s television shows that depict female figures as useless without relationships and mates, the entire gamut of our “main stream media” has been criticized from all directions.
However, even these supposedly feminist critiques sometimes seem loaded with their own internal sexism in the claim that young women are robots unable to think for themselves and make critical decisions about their own behavior.
We know that isn’t true. All of us, regardless of gender, are completely willing and able to think for ourselves; but there is a reason that this media exists. Even those of us who so vehemently oppose these Medusan-caricatures of sex and gender roles consume a Brobdingnagian portion of them on a regular basis. We like to consume media that reflects our society as it currently stands, and by its nature the ‘mediatization’ of this social fabric exaggerates and distorts that society. Through media’s hypnotic effect on desire, we are captured.
We are stuck in a cultural feedback loop: We behave in sexist and objectifying ways, our media exaggerates this behavior, these exaggerations become desirable and then become the new normal, only to find their way back into another ‘mediatized’ exaggeration.
The only way to cut this loop is through awareness, perhaps the single most important component for any feminist. Recent movements of feminism tend to emphasize this awareness above other forms of action, and rightly so. Large-scale strikes and protests can do nothing to combat complex internal psychological struggles, but feminism allows us to carefully deconstruct these ‘mediatized’ gender roles through close examination.
This understanding can then lead to action on a personal level, and without individual action, nothing greater can ever happen.