by LaShawnda Jones
“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.” ~ Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Declaration of Sentiments
The feminist movement began with women intent on making their voices heard in society. From the beginning, the movement has been a series of events and ideas presented on a platform to proclaim the intelligence and value of women to their husbands, families, communities and nations. The platform has been used as a tool to get the female voice heard. The history of the feminist movement is a study of the continuity of thought and process. Women began speaking out with the simple desire to be heard and represented. That desire has evolved into the thought, at least among some of my contemporaries, that women have over-shared, over-demanded and sought so much in the name of equality that they have unbalanced the scales in the opposite direction within the male/female relationship dynamic.
I can say with a near certainty that the goal of the early women’s rights activists was not for the woman to take over the male role in the household or society, but to merge in both arenas as an equal partner. Seeking the right to vote was basically a request to speak and be heard. However, the quest for equal rights has led to the skewed perception that a woman who wishes to be equal to a man is a woman who places little value on her femininity, ergo her sexuality. As a result, we have evolved from a society that idealized the mystique of femininity, thereby respecting it on some level, to a culture that over-sexualizes and objectifies the female body in every medium possible, thereby degrading it.
“Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation—in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.“In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object.” (Stanton & Anthony, 1848)
Somewhere in the struggle for women to obtain the basic rights of an American citizen and to execute the privileges of said citizenship, women started looking at everything that men do as something they should be allowed to do without being stigmatized or marginalized in their community.
The more women have sought to be like men, the more degenerate American society has become.
Impacting Culture and Nation
I was born to a generation of females who are direct beneficiaries of the Women’s Movement in the United States. This movement has been building upon itself since the 1800’s in America.
The first wave of the Women’s Movement, also known as the feminist movement, took place throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries and was primarily focused on getting women the right to vote and the right of female representation in public office.
The second wave took place from mid to late 20th century. It is known primarily as a sexual revolution and characterized by the image of women burning their bras in the streets. Sex without commitment was billed as a personal freedom by the feminists of this generation. From there the battle for reproductive rights was engaged.
“Whereas the first wave of feminism was generally propelled by middle class white women, the second phase drew in women of color and developing nations, seeking sisterhood and solidarity and claiming “Women’s struggle is class struggle.” Feminists spoke of women as a social class and coined phrases such as “the personal is political” and “identity politics” in an effort to demonstrate that race, class, and gender oppression are all related. They initiated a concentrated effort to rid society top-to-bottom of sexism, from children’s cartoons to the highest levels of government.” (Rampton, 2008)
The third wave of the Women’s Movement flowed seamlessly from the second wave in the 1990’s. It came about as a response “to the perceived failures of, and backlash against, initiatives and movements created by second wave…, and the realization that women are of ‘many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds’. (Tong, 2009) The third wave embraces diversity and change; there is no all-encompassing single feminist idea.” (Tong, 2009) The feminists of this generation “seek to challenge or avoid… the “essentialist” definitions of femininity, which often assumed a universal female identity and over-emphasized the experiences of upper-middle-class white women.”
This paper began with the thought that I am a post-feminist woman, insomuch as the historic agendas of the various feminist movements in the United States have not defined me nor have they adequately addressed the woman I choose to be. That’s not to say that I have not started off in life in a better position than my predecessors. I am of course eternally grateful for the commitment, contribution, dedication and sacrifices of countless women through the centuries whose efforts to better the world for themselves and the women to follow have brought us to where we are today. As with any movement or revolution, the end goal has to be narrowly defined so that successes and failures are easily identifiable. Narrowly defining feminism, however – what makes a woman a woman – is almost as restricting as leaving women without a voice altogether. By and large, women around the world still function and are treated as if they have no representation or will to speak up for themselves. Women in Western societies are certainly forerunners in the Women’s movement, but there are still women within Western cultures who are abused, victimized, and violated in countless ways. This is truly unfortunate for a population of women who have access to education and laws to protect them. But the real tragedy is the women around the world who have no access to education and live in countries where the laws don’t even speak to their existence. These are the women have no recourse for safety and dignity within their communities other than the good will of their male relatives. This is where the narrow objectives of the various feminist movements have fallen short of their lofty goals. As Dr. King said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” 
An American woman cannot live with true freedom of feminine expression if her sisters halfway around the world are being sold and used as sex slaves. Or even closer to home, if her sister in the office next door thinks the best way to break through the glass ceiling is to never marry or have children.
It is not only expedient that women who are favored by advances in cultural norms and attitudes each back and over to women who are still oppressed by unchanging norms and attitudes, but the same women who are seeking to progress society must include the men and boys in their households and communities. Society is changed, and culture is transformed household by household, community by community. No one has more influence over the formation of a young mind than the mother nurturing, guiding or ignoring that mind. In this regard, many women have set aside their power and silenced their own voices.
Representation is great. Protective laws are an awesome boon. Getting equal pay for work product is satisfying. Being able to say “no” and be respected is empowering. But none of those situations can stand against the tidal wave of societal transformation waiting to happen when each boy a woman raises grows into a man who honors and respects the intrinsic value of every female he encounters. Equally transformative would be each girl growing into a woman who is aware of her value and the value of all her sisters. Such women would be better able to accept the honor and respect afforded to them from the men who cross their path. Unfortunately, “feminism” narrows the scope so finely that the importance, simplicity and vastness of inclusion needed to allow for all human dignity are lost.
This paper will explore the various roles of men and women throughout history, across cultures, religions and regions of the world. It will delve into the nuances of progressive thoughts regarding women, family, community and society based on faith, geography and cultural norms. It is my belief that when women believe they are free in the West, they are more lax with the responsibility of freedom they have for those without it. When women’s bodies are continually violated all over the world, no woman is really free to express her femininity without constraints. So the freedom touted in the Western cultures is an illusion.
Crimes against Femininity
We are not a charity – we are a global change movement. We have no interest in patching up this system as it is. We support women leaders and visionaries in grassroots communities who are changing the traditions, structures, norms, givens, politics, laws, and religious imperatives of those communities. We believe in all-out change and revolution and we know nothing less will suffice if we want to end violence and save the planet. (Ensler, 2011)
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States. Their legislative agenda entails fighting sexual violence with DNA, improving services for victims of sexual violence, protecting children against sexual predators and campus safety. RAINN has been a leader in tracking, analyzing and sharing statistics they compile and information they gather on federal and state sexual assault policies and laws. With this experience RAINN pushes forward to continually improve sexual assault policies and laws around the United States. A couple of the most staggering statistics RAINN reports are:
- 1 in 6 American women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime 
- 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12
- Someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes, averaging 207,754 victims annually
According to the World Health Organization (2002), sexual assault victims are:
- 3 times more likely to suffer from depression
- 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide
- 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder
- 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol
- 26 times more likely to abuse drugs
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is an organization that focuses on a wide array of global
humanitarian issues. Primarily, the IRC provides:
- Health care, counseling and safe spaces to survivors of sexual violence in more than 17 countries
- Annual training and education of 2.5 million men and women in ways to prevent sexual violence
- Economic empowerment programs which increase women’s income and ability to provide for themselves and their family
- They work to strengthen national and international laws against sexual violence and the exploitation of women
Of particular interest for this paper is the IRC’s commitment to empower and protect women and girls around the world. According to the Women’s Empowerment and Protection page on the IRC website, “Violence against women is one of the most widespread of human rights abuses. One out of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime. During times of war and conflict, sexual violence is used to terrorize and humiliate women and girls. Survivors often suffer further victimization by family and society. The International Rescue Committee works to break this cycle of violence by helping survivors to heal, delivering care to victims of sexual assault, and by bringing women together for mutual support.”
One in six American women and one in three women worldwide sounds like a legacy that’s too closely joined for freedom to take a full breath. That being said, the IRC’s website has some of the most encouraging language regarding violence against women that I’ve encountered. The statistics aren’t positive, but the drive to change the statistics is certainly empowering. In the regions where the IRC is working on behalf of women and girls, sexual violence is used as a war strategy to systematically terrorize and humiliate girls, women and their families.
The consequences of violence against women are [emotionally, mentally, physically and sexually] debilitating…. The psychological and social consequences are equally as devastating, as the prevailing stigma associated with sexual violence often leaves women isolated and increasingly vulnerable. The trauma a survivor experiences goes beyond her own suffering, also rendering great costs to her family and community. In an effort to combat this devastation, the IRC operates grassroots campaigns geared towards encouraging women to speak out and share their experiences within their communities. The IRC also reaches out to boys and men in an effort to change the cultural attitudes that support abusive environments towards women.
The IRC also advocates for laws to protect women from violence and polices to support survivors. Crimes against femininity – girls and women – are not isolated or rare. Atrocities against women happen daily, hourly, by the minute everywhere in the world. No woman of today’s generation can truly claim to be progressive unless she is working to improve the lives of women who are being destroyed by the rage of some men and the nonchalance of others. Not only are women in the same boat with respect to violence against them, but men are also in the boat with them.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, Woman’s Rights
Convention, Seneca Falls, New York, July 19-20, 1848; http://ecssba.rutgers.edu/docs/seneca.html
 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, Woman’s Rights
Convention, Seneca Falls, New York, July 19-20, 1848; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_Sentiments
 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Alabama, 1963. http://www.mlkonline.net/jail.html
 National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences
of Violence Against Women Survey. 1998.
 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sex Offenses and Offenders. 1997
 U.S. Department of Justice. National Crime Victimization Survey. 2006-2010.