“Gina, don’t you agree we’re finally living in a post-feminist world?” members of my extended family will ask.
Actually, what they say is, “What the hell do you broads want, already?” but I know what they mean.
They want to know whether I believe we’ve evolved, culturally, to a place where equal rights and equal opportunities are now afforded to all women. They’re asking, in effect, whether feminism is still necessary. They’re asking if we’ve successfully forged a society where men and women no longer have to deal within gender-specific limitations and boundaries. If they used such language, they’d be asking whether we lived in a post-patriarchy.
My answer is, um, nope: We still live in a world where everything — from inequities in pay, unequal access to positions of governance and power, and the fact that fathers still refer to themselves as “baby-sitting” when dealing with their own offspring — is determined by sex.
You think I’m exaggerating about these small, familiar displays of gender contempt? Look anywhere — just look carefully. You don’t have to be Alan Turing unlocking the Enigma code; the discreetly calculated, carefully formulated phrases embedded in everyday advertising are enough to prove that women aren’t considered strong, reasonable, fully fledged human beings.
You don’t need to go to extremes. You don’t even need to look at a Victoria’s Secret catalog, where models who appear underage (but I’m sure are simply hours, if not days, over 18) pose in “racy thongs” “made to thrill” with “no back coverage” constructed from “imported nylon.”
Nor do you have to go to Cabela’s for “The Men’s Hell’s Canyon Performance Fleece Hoodie,” which is as “rugged as its namesake” and possesses “long-lasting toughness” that “endures brush-beating hunts.” Unlike the Victoria’s Secret thong, I presume the Cabela’s garment offers “back coverage.”
All you have to do — and it breaks my heart a little bit to say this — is look at an L.L. Bean catalog. L.L. Bean makes practical, durable clothing. And yet even good the ol’ L.L. Bean catalog amply illustrates the subtle yet pernicious differences between how women and men are addressed.
For example, the men’s “Two-Layer River Driver’s Shirts” are described as having been “inspired by our state’s logging heritage and the brave men who spent long, damp days working on Maine’s rivers.”
But the virtues of the “Microsuede Quilted Coat” for women are defined by an absence of activity: “When it snows the world gets quieter. And when you’re wearing this coat, you’ll stay warm without interrupting the silence.”
My bet is that the only way a Maine logger could be sold something that doesn’t interrupt the silence would be if it has cross hairs, bolt action and a suppressor.
We learn that the men’s Bean’s “Original Field Coat” was “First designed to withstand the briers and branches of the thick Maine woods.” Tough. Strong. Fierce.
Their “Boiled Wool Jacket” for women, in contrast, has “subtle princess seams,” is “dyed for a deep shade that won’t fade” and “keeps its rich texture for years.” Slimming. Colorful. Luxurious.
How about “Heritage Sweaters?” The ones for men are “Inspired by the traditional sweaters of North Atlantic fisherman — worn as a defense against the bone chilling conditions at sea.”
Are the ones for women inspired by the brave matriarchs who survived the harsh winters in bleak stone cottages? Were they inspired by women who made their own wool from smelly North Atlantic sheep and knitted, with raw and chilblained fingers, a layer of protection against the elements?
Who knows? There’s no back story for the women’s sweaters. They feature simply either “a traditional mix of cables and patterns” or “an authentic bird’s-eye knit.” Wait: We also know that the women’s sweaters have “faux-leather” buttons.
Maybe the buttons on the men’s sweaters are made from walrus eyeballs; they aren’t mentioned.
Finally, consider these two descriptions: “You loved our men’s Rugby Robe so much that you asked us to create one for women — now you can give his robe back” and “lined … with the same plush fleece as our men’s shirt.”
Now imagine comparing women’s clothes to men’s in such a way that men would want them. In other words, how could a man’s life be tailored to a woman’s and ever be considered a step up?
And that, folks, is why we still need feminism.