New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof opened his lecture on his new book Half the Sky at St. John’s on Nov. 9 with a staggering fact: 60 to 100 million women have died from abuse or gone missing in the 20th century, a number far greater than all the men killed in all the wars of the same century.
You may wonder what this has to do with feminism. Feminism was just that time in the 1960s when women burned bras, stopped cleaning house and decided they hated men.
This, of course, is completely false, and your challenge is to continue reading if you believe any part of the previous sentence.
Feminism first began in the late 1800s when women first fought for the right to vote. It then became a fight for cultural and social equality in the 1970s, and finally in the 1990s it questioned the value of gender identity. Out of this movement stemmed “radical feminism,” an ideology that has inspired the negative connotation that feminism is simply a matter of “women hating men,” fighting for some sort of Amazonian all-female dominant society.
But this isn’t the case for most (if any) feminists, and far too many people in America exaggerate what feminism really means. The irony is that many of those same people uphold feminist values.
Kristof told a story that when Bill Gates went to speak in Saudi Arabia, a country with hardly any women’s rights, a man asked him if he thought Saudi Arabia could soon become one of the 10 most successful countries in the world. Gates responded with, “If you’re only using half the talent in the country, you’re not getting too close to the top ten.”
This notion that women are a valuable part of the community is the theme of Kristof’s book, the title of which derives from the Chinese proverb “Women hold up half the sky.” As Kristof says, we cannot continue to ignore that women make up half our population, and are invaluable to our society.
America is one of the countries in the best position to achieve gender equality, but don’t let this fool you. If America is considered one of the ‘best’ then that means two things: America has a long way to go, and the rest of the world has even more to do.
The sex trade is the modern form of slavery and women are being sold into it every day, both in America and around the world. Kristof has dedicated most of his professional career to visiting these places where women are stolen from their homes and forced into a life of prostitution. He notes that if someone has the money to buy them, they will even receive a receipt.
The reality is that throughout the world, women are discriminated against and exploited, and not just by men. Kristof points out that the majority of brothel owners in countries he visits are female.
It’s incomprehensible that in the 21st century women are still being abused, and tormented. Feminism is the movement trying to reverse these wrongs, trying to rearrange global societies into a world where women are treated justly and equally.
Considering this, how can you not be a feminist? You don’t have to be a protester, yelling for women’s rights. Simply upholding the value that women don’t deserve to be killed, turned into slaves, or tormented is a feministic stance. Regardless of your gender, if you believe that women have the right to vote, the right to work, and the right to learn, then you are a modern feminist.
We need to stop glorifying the culture of abusing and exploiting women. “Feminism” should no longer be perceived as a negative word, but a positive change. Don’t sit by and let this happen. If you wonder what you can do to change this, take Nicholas Kristof’s advice: education.
Educate yourself about women’s rights, educate others on what they can do, and finally, support the education of women worldwide. Next time you overhear someone say they are a feminist, think twice before scoffing. Think about how you can be a part of the global change towards a gender-equal society, and think about how much more prosperous the world could be.