Feminism is my favorite topic in this class. The history of feminism fascinates me because I am one of the many Cambodian women who grew up following the strict cultural rules that expected women to be proper and submissive in our male-lead society. In the book, “Political Ideologies,” the author, Andrew Heywood wrote that Feminist ideology is defined by “two basic beliefs: that women are disadvantaged because of their sex; and that this disadvantage can and should be overthrown.” Feminism is one of the most recent political ideologies to emerge in the twentieth-century.
The “First-wave of Feminism” was launched by the first text of modern feminism, Mary Wollstonecraft’s, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” which focused on “the campaign for female suffrage, the right to vote” was published in 1792 during the French revolution. Women demanded to enjoy the same legal and political rights as men because they deserved them. In the U.S., the birth of the women’s movement was inspired in part of the campaign to abolish slavery in the 1840’s and it finally adopted a “Declaration of Sentiments; written by Elizabeth Candy Stanton (1815-1906).” Another important figure in the First-wave of Feminism is Susan. B Anthony who is famous for being one of the most prominent leaders in the “women’s suffrage movement in the United States.” One of her major achievements contribute to the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote on August 18, 1920.
Heywood also mentioned in this chapter that the term feminism only became familiar in everyday language in the 1960s when it linked to the “women’s movement and the attempt to advance the role of women.” Betty Friedan, the author of the Feminine Mystique wrote, “Chosen motherhood is the real liberation. The choice to have a child makes the whole experience of motherhood different, and the choice to be generative in other ways can at last be made, and is being made by many women now, without guilt.” She pointed out in her nonfiction book that in the post-WWII, people believed that “it was women’s destiny to marry and bear children.” We discussed in class about struggles of American women as they kept fighting for equality and freedom and came across the issues in the 1960s that are known as the “second-wave feminism.” In this movement, women aspired equality for themselves in all fields, not just enfranchisement. Their campaign included rights regarding domestic issues, dress codes, sexuality, and employment opportunity. They pointed out how ridiculous it was that women could not even decide on how many children they want without getting a permission from their husbands. They had no control over their bodies and many women faced numerous obstacles to just simply enjoying a life as a woman. Betty Friedan was an important figure in the struggle that led to the successful passage of the “Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).”
I think feminism shares similar perspectives on freedom and individual rights with modern liberalism. For example, liberals give priority to freedom as the individual’s supreme value and they tend to advocate positive freedom in the sense of personal development and human flourishing. Liberals believe that everyone is equal, and each individual deserves to be treated in the same way. A liberal feminist would argue that most societies hold the false belief that women are, by nature, less intellectually and physically capable than men. They are likely to strive for sexual equality via political and legal reform. Most people in the West acknowledge the practice of the feminist ideas in advocating equal rights for women in domestic matters, the marketplace, politics, and society as a whole.
Most of the gender issues in America that the feminists usually challenge modern liberalists are the unequal payment and the underrepresentation of women in politics, especially at the State level. However, these issues have been progressively changed towards a positive result. The results of the recent midterm elections in 2018 were that an increased number of women were elected, showing that these gender issues in America have a positive outcome with a strong support from many Americans. Not only women were elected but the first openly gay man was also elected to become the governor of the Colorado State. Moreover, today, especially in developed countries, people are more educated, and most women enjoy their individualist freedoms including, their decisions in marriage, jobs, travels, number of children and sexuality.
If we look at gender issues in developing countries such as Cambodia, India, and Africa, the achievement of gender equality is still far from being achieved and far from the dream of a better society in terms of both the feminist and modern liberal perspective on gender and freedom. I am not sure if you are familiar with the term, “Bride burning” which is a form of domestic violence that is practiced in some provinces in India when a young woman is murdered by her husband or his family when her family refuses to pay an additional dowry. Also, many Indian women are pressured to give birth to a son or to have more children against their will. I had never fully understood the idea of feminism until I moved to America. As mentioned in the first paragraph, as a Cambodian woman, I never knew that my rejection of the strict Cambodian cultural rules in which I chose to wear short pants, kiss a man before my wedding day, or refused to do the household chores that my brother was not expected to do were the acts of feminism. Now, I see feminism as a practice for equal human rights for both women and men. Finally, I would like to close this journal with a quote from a Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from her book, “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.” In it she wrote, “Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not “if only.” Not “as long as.” I matter equally. Full stop.”