On International Women’s Day, large numbers of feminists at UC Berkeley were motivated to take part in the “Day Without a Woman” protests. The protests across the country looked like a melting pot of misplaced anger and unmitigated insanity. What was even more shocking was that this protest was a fundamental affront to the goals of the original feminist movement, which were aimed at equality of opportunity for both sexes. It also explained why an increasing number of people now hesitate to associate themselves with the label of “feminist.”
I write this column because I sincerely believe that there still exists a need for a grassroots feminist movement, especially at colleges like UC Berkeley. I have seen a culture back in India where politicians protest anti-rape bills on the grounds that they would disrupt the natural process of love, where pregnant women pray to God that they do not bear a female child and where women are kept as broodmares for the family, devoid of any other ambition for their lives. Trust me, Western feminism is a force that does need to pervade several backward cultures across the world, and it is my hope that women who are privileged enough to attend college in the United States would stand up for their sisters in the Middle East who are not permitted, in several societies, to attain any education at all. There are areas around the world where it is acceptable to throw rocks and acid at the faces of women who do not conform to societal norms. Fighting that institutionalized misogyny is a cause all women can and should unite behind.
But that is not what this movement is about.
A couple of days before the protest, the organizers took to the Guardian to publish an op-ed outlining both the goals of and inspirations for the protest. In it, the organizers repeatedly claimed that women are victims of violence, which they define as “the violence of the market, of debt, of capitalist property relations, and of the state … and the institutional violence against women’s bodies through abortion bans and lack of access to free healthcare and free abortion.”
This provided the first hint that this movement had nothing to do with unity — far from it. The organizers’ intention was to divide society into victim groups to which they could then attach political agendas. It takes a kind of mental gymnastics to argue that the lack of socialist health care and state-funded abortions can be termed as “institutional violence against women’s bodies.” This, to me, is a frankly repulsive attempt to use the façade of female unity to push leftist policies and vilify the opponents of those policies as enemies of womankind. It is a cynical tactic that assumes all women are united behind those policies, and as a result, opposing those policies implies a hostility toward all women.
It is also worth noting that the organizers of the march display no interest in grasping simple economic realities, choosing instead to disseminate propaganda. In the world that exists in the minds of the radical feminists who organized this protest, “the market” and “capitalist property relations” may seem to be predatory institutions that victimize women, but in the real world, the free market and capitalism have been sources of tremendous wealth generation and have been responsible, in large part, for slashing the global poverty rate to less than one-third of what it was 25 years ago. The following question then arises: These feminists can’t possibly be against people, including women, lifting themselves out of poverty, can they? Or would they say anything to fit their political agenda?
Another argument for these protests that gets thrown around with no regard for economic facts is the existence of the mythical gender wage gap. How often do you hear that women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar? A study from Georgetown University, however, showed that out of the five highest-paying college majors, four were dominated by men, while women dominated four out of five of the lowest-paying majors. This imbalance may have sinister implications and merits further analysis. But it doesn’t point to discrimination on the part of the employer. Even the U.S. Department of Labor concluded that, after controlling for variables such as education and career choices, the wage gap shrinks dramatically. The residual gap is inexplicable, because no study is able to account for every variable that drives wages. For instance, few studies account for jobs with hazardous work conditions in which men are overrepresented. Think about it this way: If a U.S. employer could pay a female employee lower wages for the same work, wouldn’t it be profitable for him or her to employ an entirely female workforce?
The mantle of “female unity” is one that is inherently noble and elicits emotions of sincere passion from hundreds of women. My only recommendation to the feminist movement would be to prevent those emotions from being exploited by activists with political ends. The fight for women’s equality has significant hurdles ahead, and we need a unified, bipartisan front to confront them. Somewhere close to 90 women will be raped in India today alone, and it will be interesting to see if the American feminist stands up for them.