The pressing issue of feminism cannot be neglected

    There is a very unfortunate tendency within American culture to take a hot issue of the moment, parade it around and debate it for a while, and then abandon it. We pick a cause, find a problem and address it. For a while. And then it’s discarded, swept aside and ignored to make way for a new issue to “”solve.””

    We did it to racial profiling. We did it to AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. We did it to universal health care (or the lack thereof). We did it to the separation of church and state. We’ve most certainly done it to gun control. It’s like we have this crazy belief that if we glance at as many problems as possible, even if it’s just for the slightest amount of time, then we’ve done our duty and done our best to answer whatever crisis was brought to our attention.

    In reality, we don’t solve anything, and in fact the problem becomes worse because we feel like there’s nothing more to be done. But really, the problem is still there — it’s just no longer discussed. Perhaps one of the most mind-reeling issues that we’ve left neglected for entirely too long is sexism.

    Sexism just isn’t an issue anymore. Feminism has apparently had a bit more than its 15 minutes and has been shoved aside to make way for other things — campaign finance issues (read: Enron) and rights to privacy (that is, terrorism side effects) come to mind. Yet, gender-based discrimination is still a huge problem.

    Disclaimer: Things are better now than they have ever been. Women are freer than they have ever been. We can vote, go to school and have jobs. Three cheers for that. Way to go, America. There’s clearly no gender-based opposition here. Yeah, right.

    Women are still stereotyped. We are still victimized by jokes and labels. It’s just that we don’t really talk about it anymore. Within the context of modern society, sexist stereotypes are everywhere. Everything a woman does marks her. Every action creates an opportunity for judgment. If she wears makeup, she’s taking advantage of her sexuality. If she doesn’t, then she’s making a statement about political beliefs. If she likes sex, she’s a loose slut. If she decides to wait, she’s a frigid prude. These hasty generalizations are so ingrained and so archaic that we take them in stride and shrug, not even bothering to be upset about it. Kick and scream all you like, insist that you don’t perceive women like that as such; it really doesn’t matter. The cold, harsh truth is that women are judged in ways that men are not.

    Granted, this is a gross oversimplification of how women are viewed within the context of conventional culture. Other things are taken into account, other things become fodder for prejudice: race, ethnicity, class, background and sexual orientation. But in the end, all women are subject to labels. And despite the overwhelming degree to which these stereotypes are applied, as a whole, we refuse to admit how very sexist we are.

    Certainly, men are victims to sexual objectification. Men are supposed to be buff and rugged. But the rate for eating disorders is still heavily slanted toward women. Ask the average person to name as many female models as he or she can. Then see if he or she can name half as many male models. Men are sometimes victims, but not nearly as often as they are the perpetrators.

    The second someone brings up women’s rights, she’s crucified. They call her an ungrateful, suburban, femi-Nazi brat desperate for a cause. They dismiss what she has to say based on the fact that it is coming from someone who clearly doesn’t know when to let an issue go. They will not be confronted by the fact that to this day, women are underrepresented in Congress and quite obviously in the White House, or that female CEOs are few and far between, and those who do manage to break through the glass ceiling are paid less then men. And that statistic isn’t changing.

    In 1963, the year the Equal Pay Act passed, women employed full time were paid on average only 59 percent what men were paid, while in 2000 women were paid 73 cents for every dollar received by men. These statistics were published in a report called “”A New Look Through the Glass Ceiling: Where are the Women?”” compiled from data from the General Accounting Office’s Current Population Survey.

    Even today, women are paying 26 cents every hour for no other reason then their gender.

    Let’s bring the facts closer. The UCSD survey of the graduating class of 2001 found that overall, men in entry-level positions are offered $47,200 per year and women receive $35,900, a difference of $5,650. The survey also showed that whether it’s engineering or entertainment, biology or communications, women who graduate with the same education as their male classmates are being offered less.

    If someone were to propose an annual tax of $5,650 based on gender, the reaction would be instant and acrimonious. Protests, rallies, marches — the uproar would be huge. But it’s not the government taking women’s salaries, it’s society itself.

    The issue is old. It’s been covered. It’s been dealt with. So don’t bring it up, because sexism isn’t a problem any more. At least not one that we’ll let ourselves see.

    We can’t keep ignoring this problem: That won’t change the fact that we are a sexist society. Let’s take a look at the facts and understand how things really are. And before we move on to the next hot topic, let’s take a moment to deal with this one.

    Sexism is wrong, and just about everyone realizes that. But the only way that we will ever get rid of it is to realize not just that’s it’s wrong, but that it’s here.

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