Gender InequalityOn The Pulse

Does being in a male-dominated industry make women skittish about feminism?

By August 7, 2012 One Comment

Exhibit A: Women who want the right to vote for their own political representation are also liable to be physically aggressive and potentially abusive towards their now-cowering husbands and take out all manner of sins on these poor, defenseless men.

There was a big headline in recent weeks, one that many women rejoiced over—Marissa Mayer, a long-time Google executive, was hired as Yahoo!’s new CEO. Big news, indeed, since a mere 4% of CEOs (a grand total of… 20) of Fortune 500 companies are women. Of course, I wasn’t the only one to be disappointed in Mayer’s subsequent claim that she is not a feminist — seemingly forgetting that without feminism, she would not be where she is today, celebrating her stature in the business world.

Fundamentally and importantly, feminism means equal opportunity, equal rights, and equal access (notably, things that Mayer said she does believe in). I’m not sure how many times we have to say it, but it doesn’t mean man-hating, it doesn’t mean bitter, it doesn’t mean shrill, it doesn’t mean militant, or “having a chip on our shoulder”, as Mayer put it. One of the best ways to combat these labels is for women in these powerful positions to embrace equality, i.e., feminism.

So, I wasn’t exactly surprised to find a collection of pictures targeting those earliest of feminists, suffragettes. Talk about some tired, tired stereotypes.

Exhibit B: Women who wanted the right to vote were unattractive, plain, homely, and apparently had the ulterior motive of also bringing down men and demanding that “old maids” be assured a marriage in the near future.

Seriously, these images make me admire even more the women who fought for the right to vote — and I didn’t think that was possible. To keep plugging away until 1920 when the 19th Amendment was finally passed while being called a violent old maid who will never have a valentine because she wears pants is pretty awesome. And to see that some of these stereotypes—shrill and militant, as Mayer claimed—are still being touted as reasons why some women do not want to identify as feminists, is pretty discouraging.

How are today’s slurs truly any different than those being lobbed at the first-wave fighters for equality? Do you think any of the women that these images are mocking would have given up the fight simply because they didn’t want to be seen as antagonistic? Thank goodness they didn’t.

Three cheers for feminists, am I right? You can check out the rest of the images over at BBC History Magazine.

Larkin Callaghan is an epidemiology and health communication fellow at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, where she also received her doctorate in Health Behavior and Education. She also blogs regularly at her own site, I’m Not Tired Yet, about women’s and adolescent health issues.