I love talking politics and government but I hate being ill-informed and ignorant (largely because I spent the first two decades of my life ignorant and opinionated before having a change of heart). My desire to not be ignorant is what led me to major in Political Science. I wanted to be able to speak with surety about the things that were going on in the political theaters of the U.S. and around the world. But my quest for knowledge was just that…a quest for nothing more than knowledge. I just wanted to be able to talk about politics. I didn’t want to do politics. One of the reasons for this was that I didn’t recognize a need for change. I, as a white female, was adequately represented by my elected leaders and feminism was done. I believed in, as what Deborah Seigel called, “the trendy notion that we are living in a ‘post-feminist’ era” (The Movement That Has No Name, 2007, p. 34). Seigel’s essay and Patricia Hill Collins’s Toward a New Vision were instrumental in changing that misconception.
In my studies of politics, I’ve learned that representation is key to achieving a group’s goals. Upon reading The Movement That Has No Name, I realized that feminism was not done and there was still much work to be done before the goals of feminism (equality for all and an end to sexism) could be said to be realized. Siegel writes, “Polls proclaimed that 22 million unmarried women did not vote in the 2000 presidential election” (p. 33). Seigel writes that
younger women are highly involved volunteers, grassroots organizers, and activists. These women are not voting, not because they don’t care, but because they “disillusioned” (p. 36). This disillusionment exists because in a world where the cost of running for office is in the millions of dollars–$3 million for a seat in the House and over $21 million for a Senatorial seat (projected costs for 2010), and over $300 million spent on President Obama’s campaign (as reported by Thomas E. Patterson in American Democracy, 2008)–women only own “1 percent of the world’s assets” (Siegel, p. 35). Is it any wonder, then, that women only make up about 16.4% of American Congressmen? Only “20 percent of full professors” are women as are only “17 percent of partners in law firms…Only 10 Fortune 500 CEOs are women” (p. 34).
“The low turnout among young female voters during the 2004 election doesn’t mean that all women under 35 are apathetic but rather, perhaps, that many are turned off and disillusioned by politicians who fail to take on their issues” (Siegel, p. 36), for without the resources that men have, getting one of their own in a position of power has proven extremely difficult.
As I finished reading Siegel’s work, I began thinking of ways to organize my peers, give them a movement they can stand behind and can support them. Siegel believes a principle cause of women thinking their “personal” problem is not political is the lack of just such a movement to support them (2007). I was left with the question, “How does one go about doing such a thing?”
Patricia Hill Collins’s Toward a New Vision gave me some of the answers I was looking for. She writes, “[C]hange starts with self, and relationships that we have with those around us must always be the primary site for social change (1993, p. 76). It is easy for me to forget how central personal relationships are. Before I met my good friend Alex, I gave little thought to the unique struggles of the partially disabled. Until my atheist husband joined the Air Force, I had given no thought to how oppressively Christian the military can be. Until I begin to share what I have learned and experienced, many around me may remain ignorant of the issues facing women today.
Collins also urges us away from “additive analyses of oppression,” (p. 76) as such is based on either/or thinking. Collins points out some of the “dichotomous” thinking with, “Black/white, man/woman, thought/feeling…” (p. 77). I add to that list other dichotomies that plague, not just the study of oppression, but the study of politics and government as well: good/evil, right/wrong, Left/Right, pro-life/pro-choice, pro-gun-rights/pro-gun-control, against war/patriotic. The list of divisions goes on and one. Dichotomies such as these tear people apart and create divides where none needs to be because dichotomous thinking means that only one side can be right and that side is 100% right. Therefore the other side (any side that isn’t right) is 100% wrong. The pro-life side does not see the pro-choice side as supporting choice. They see them as anti-life. The pro-choice side does not see
the pro-life side as pro-life; they see them as anti-choice and pro-oppression. The pro-gun control does not see the pro-gun-rights side as pro-Constitution or pro-self-defense. They see them as pro-murder and mayhem. The pro-gun-rights side does not see the pro-gun-control side as pro-safety and anti-violent-crime. They see them as anti-Constitution and anti-family. Each side vilifies the other while elevating themselves to sainthood. Such thinking will ultimately destroy much more than it builds.
While my passion remains government and politics, feminism has “lit a fire” under me, so to say. Previously, my goal had simply been to understand politics, to be able to intelligently discuss government systems without embarrassing myself, and perhaps, to write the odd free-lance article. Now, armed with the knowledge that, 1. my voice, as a woman, is less heard than men’s voices; 2. There is great need for a cohesive feminist movement that young women can stand behind and be supported by; 3. Such an organizations will come about through personal relationships; 4. My fight to end dichotomous thinking in my own life is a good start but I must also spread it through those I’m in relationship with, I think perhaps I can and should do more with my education than just “have an education.” I must constantly challenge myself to remember these points and fight for the change I wish to see least I fall again into the ranks of the ill-informed, ignorant, and ultimately, powerless.
Collins, P. H. (1993). Toward a new vision. In S. Shaw, J. Lee (Eds.), Women’s voices, feminist visions.(2009). (pp. 76-84). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Patterson, T. E. (2009). The American democracy. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Siegel, D. (2007). The movement that had no name. In S. Shaw, J. Lee (Eds.), Women’s voices, feminist visions. (2009). (pp. 31-39). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.