– By Tanya Eleftheriou
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only feminist, or at least the only person willing to assume this label. In a recent Vogue interview with former French First Lady Carla Bruni, she boldly states, “My generation doesn’t need feminism.” For me, as a woman of the next generation, this is an extremely frustrating and absurd statement. She goes on to say that she is happy being a mother and spending time with her family; yet, in the midst of this statement, she has a new album and headphone line debuting.
So doesn’t she seem to “have it all?” A happy home life: check. And a successful career: check.
My view on feminism advocates and supports women in this way. However, there is clearly a stigma attached to the word “feminism,” even to this day. The word seems to only bring up memories of the Second Wave movement’s shortcomings, which alienated women who refused to throw down their aprons and rush to join the workforce. The word somehow became equated with “man hater” and “bra burner.”
The feminism that I identify with is revamped for the 21st century. It is about empowerment through choice: choice to pursue any and all of your life’s aspirations, including that of staying home to raise a family. So while Bruni says she doesn’t need feminism, it is feminism and women in and before her generation that allow her to make the choice of being a mother, wife, and successful career woman. I believe feminism is changing the rhetoric from what we “should” be doing to what we “can” do. It is this feminism – the power of choice – that will allow for Madame Bruni’s son and daughter to grow up as equals.
My definition of feminism doesn’t just stop there, however. Feminism should further seek to rid the world of all gender binaries and not allow for them to be perpetuated in our everyday life. We need to realize that it’s 2013 and we shouldn’t be defining men and women by two separate and confining categories based on ancient stereotypes. While Melissa S. Fisher asserts in her ethnography Wall Street Women that the first generation of women to enter Wall Street in the 70s “broke glass ceilings,” they only managed to climb deeper into the glass box. These women entered Wall Street under patriarchal gender codes and used these gender binaries as a strategy for personal success. Fisher implies that these women’s work was empowering. However, to have women use their positions of power, whether on Wall Street or in Washington, to promote these gender binaries, is a step backwards for women and society in my opinion. This is where the issue of inclusion versus influence comes in.
So what really is the difference between inclusion and influence? The concept of inclusion seems to, ironically, acknowledge even more pockets of society where women are excluded for the large part. This is particularly visible in the American political sphere. We have multiple women in politics today and with this year’s election alone, more women are in Congress than ever before. People would argue that this is breaking barriers and changing gender norms, but is it that significant? If we broaden the spectrum and look at all the other numbers and statistics, women still do not make up a significant amount of the population voted into positions of power. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, women hold 98, or 18.3%, of the 535 seats in the 113th US Congress; 20, or 20.0%, of the 100 seats in the Senate and 78, or 17.9%, of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. If they remain in the minority, how much influence can they really have? Female presence does not imply power, just as inclusion doesn’t always lead to influence. While women are actively included in the political arena, it often seems that they, as well as the issues they support, are not heard and have little influence.
Women realize this and are now using social enterprise as an avenue to advance themselves as a gender and fight for the rights and respect they deserve. They are choosing to start business to not only empower themselves but alleviate cultural, political and economic problems for their children and families. Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, started the non-profit to eliminate educational inequity by hiring recent college graduates and professionals to teach in low-income communities throughout the US. Paola de la Rosa, the general director of Fábrica Social, built her enterprise to create opportunities and empower indigenous women artisans in Mexico. Through design workshops, basic business and marketing training, Fábrica Social provides access to technical training, business skills, and markets which would otherwise be out of reach for these women. Paola expresses the initiative for her enterprise by stating, “You don’t need to be angry, but you do need to be very discontent with the status quo!”
Subject to injustice in the past and even present, women understand the struggle and are choosing to use social enterprise in order to fight some of the most prevalent and challenging issues today. This is why our generation still needs feminism, Mrs. Bruni.
*Disclaimer: The views represented here are the opinions of the individual blog author and do not represent the views of Oikocredit USA.