In a USA Today article writer Sharon Jayson asks whether or not feminism is as influential today as it was 45 years ago to young women. The article comes before the presentation of an oral history project at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, documenting the stories of the first organizers of the National Organization of Women. Jayson’s main question is whether or not the label of “feminist” is being adopted by young women. To do this she hand picks two young women from the bastion of feminist thought… the Chi Omega sorority. Considering the heteronormative socialization projects that define sororities (not to mention their hegemonic male counterpart fraternities), the choice of the two interviewees is problematic to say the least.
In fact, the statement from a member of the Chi Omega sorority shows the insidious effects of patriarchy. The student would rather be “attractive” and “like-able” instead challenging unequal power structures.
“I think people think it’s a bit unattractive for a girl to be talking about things like that all the time,” says Szal, of New Hope, Pa. “You get a little stigmatized, like ‘pushy’ or ‘problematic’ or ‘troublesome’ or ‘a lot to handle.'”
Rather than showing the need for continued work to rectify unequal power structures between women and men, Jayson continues the patriarchal project by choosing the heteronormative voices that emerge from a sorority rather than someone from a gender rights or human rights campus group. The assumption that the pursuit of equal rights for women is antiquated and irrelevant is a tool for the same misogyny that denied support for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Jayson even goes so far as to denigrate the feminist ethos as being “largely under the radar of most younger Americans today, except maybe from gender studies classes or history books.” On top of the anti-intellectual tone of this opening statement, it denigrates the fact that people – of all genders – can get bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD’s in Women and Gender studies from some of the most prestigious universities in the world. The importance of Women & Gender studies in modern academia cannot be overstated. The hegemonic forces of historical voice are what make feminism “unattractive” and Women & Gender studies programs actively work to tear down these structures.
The patriarchal bias of Jayson’s article shows why organizations like NOW are needed more than ever. We have to counter the dominant narratives that say gender equality and equal human rights are not relevant to modern women or men. The pursuit of equality must be had by all people, not just those who fit the stereotype.