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“On Nov. 9 of 2016, at least 13 women woke up and found that their rapist was president of the United States. So yes, the U.S. is waging a war on women and has for a really long time,” said Anita Sarkeesian, media critic, creator and executive director of educational nonprofit Feminist Frequency. Sarkeesian was likely referring to the accusations by at least 13 women that Donald Trump either raped or sexually assaulted them.
Four feminist women examined the resistance to gender equality during the University of Colorado Boulder’s Conference on World Affairs panel, “Is America Waging a War on Women?”
The panelists were Sarkeesian, Florence Williams, Heather Hansen and Shadia Marhaban. Sarkeesian advocates for women’s rights, specifically in regard to online harassment. Williams wrote the books “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative” and “Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History.” Heather Hansen is a performative and visual artist. Marhaban is a journalist and activist for expanding women’s roles in peace and post-conflict efforts.
The war against women is not as simple as male versus female; it is the systemic patriarchy that is rooted so deeply in our society. Patriarchy guides the U.S. and many other countries to privilege men and hegemonic masculinity above women, femininity and non-cis males.
Our system of gender inequality is built upon centuries of established norms and roles that have become normalized expectations of men and women.
“The number of millennial men who agree with that statement, that women should be stay-home moms, is actually almost double what it was 20 years ago,” Williams said.
The resistance to the progression of women’s rights is an ancient battle that continues to be fueled by the patriarchal system, giving men unearned dominance and power in society. This is easily illustrated by the U.S. government, composed of approximately 80 percent men in both the Senate and the House of Representatives and with only four female governors, despite a 51 percent majority of women in our country.
Conference attendee Magda Schoenhals questioned the authority of white male politicians to make decisions regarding her reproductive system.
“Every time Trump signs a bill, he’s surrounded by white men,” Williams said.
We need to break out of the system of primarily male political authority and push women into positions of power who can advocate for marginalized female populations and reproductive rights. We need brave women to fight through the backlash many men will have toward the progression of women in politics. We can combat this backlash by breaking down the political institutions that discriminate against women.
U.S. society seems to villainize the word feminism due to our heavy reliance on the patriarchal system. This system also oppresses women through the wage gap, the sexualization of female bodies and the passing of legislation limiting women’s right.
This irrational fear of being labeled a “feminist” needs to be debunked. At the core of this movement is the persistence of liberation for all women, including women of color and people of all genders and backgrounds. Sarkeesian believes that a core tenet of feminism is that, “we are not free until everyone is free.”
Marhaban believes that we can combat the inequalities that women face every day nationally and globally by cultivating stronger support systems among individuals, families and institutions. Then, she believes, we must build a strong economy for women.
“Poverty is always linked to women,” Marhaban said.
We need to create a financial institution that can sustain and connect women. Finally, she believes that we need new strategies starting from the bottom up. We need to build a resilient community promoting gender equality and justice.
A lack of education continues to perpetuate this war on women. America needs the privileged population to educate their peers because so often the privileged group ignores the voices of the populations being marginalized. Our social system of gender norms can be broken by teaching your sons that it is okay to be emotional and do household work, while also teaching your daughters to diminish the attitudes that patriarchy and sexism are beneficial. Our culture of oppressive gender norms starts at home and can be reversed by instilling the belief in gender equality in your family.
“Raise better men, date better men,” Hansen said, because our current acceptance of oppression of women is setting the standard of women’s rights.
The war against women cannot be won by only the people who define themselves as feminists.
“We have to work together, we have to work with men, we have to work with individuals, we have to work with civil society, we have to work with a lot of leaders, inspirational leaders in this world, to promote what we call gender equality and justice,” Marhaban said.
This fight cannot be the U.S. versus women because it is a global issue that needs to be addressed through the different understandings of gender that each race and culture has.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Writer Carlisle Olsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.