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

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.

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.

One thought on “Does being in a male-dominated industry make women skittish about feminism?

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  1. I, too, was really disappointed at Mayer’s statement. These tired tropes of what feminists embody really rub me the wrong way and I continue to be deeply disturbed by the lack of awareness of what feminism truly means. The bra burning i still a major association in present day and I can’t tell you how many of the male sex react to my declaration of being a feminist in exactly the manner stated above. A few steps back, hands in the air or an inappropriate and tired remark about being afraid for his man parts are the top two responses. We absolutely need more awareness of what it means to be a feminist. I, myself, until several years ago was only vaguely knowledgeable about the true extent and specifics of the female plight through history. Dare I say a women’s history/studies class be mandatory for all majors. It just seems so many women want the power and equality, but lack the knowledge to self associate with the label. One thing is for certain, our current media content is not helping us any. I am currently reading Stephanie Coontz ‘A Strange Stirring’ that revisits the Feminine Mystique and I continue to ask the question, if you think all humans are equal, women are people and should be fully afforded the same rights and opportunities as men, how are you not a feminist? Really great piece.

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