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When did equality become a bad thing?

By Lara Loewenstein

May 16, 2007 9:55 p.m.

George Carlin didn’t put “feminist” in his list of seven dirty words, but considering all the negative associations with the word, he might as well have.

And considering that this is the first week of UCLA’s Women For Change celebration, these negative interpretations of feminism need to end.

Women for Change is a new program, but for the last three years it’s been releasing a “feminist out list.” This list contains the names of people in the UCLA community who consider themselves feminists.

Roxanne Neal, a member of the Women for Change Committee, estimated that this year’s list would be about 300 names long, which she said was the same length as last year.

Considering the size of this school, and the fact that this list isn’t just meant for students but also for faculty, this number is pathetic.

More people are enrolled in Phy Sci 5 than are on this list ““ this gives the impression that more people know how many carbs they should eat than care about the equality of genders. Maybe this list is so short because it hasn’t been well-advertised. Maybe people simply aren’t motivated to join some list. But honestly, as a woman, that number worries me ““ more people should understand what it means to be a feminist.

And being a feminist simply means believing in the equality of genders.

It sounds so simple, but unfortunately, the term “feminist” has been taken to mean anything from a woman who is man-hating, a lesbian, hairy or too sexually promiscuous to a woman who is too puritanical.

And furthermore, the idea of feminism has been associated with an ideology where women are not equal, but rather in higher standing than men.

Considering the different ways women have interpreted their relationship with the word, these different understandings of “feminist” are not surprising. Women vary in terms of what they think about pornography, rape laws and the idea of teaching sexual awareness in women. But they are all feminists.

However, people’s judgement of feminism doesn’t end there, mainly because it isn’t immediately apparent what is meant by equality. For instance, women and men are certainly not the same people. If everything was exactly equal, including something like legal rights regarding reproduction, some women might take issue mainly because reproduction isn’t an equal process. And rightfully so.

Furthermore, equal certainly can’t mean that there should be an equal number of men and women completing every task or fulfilling every role. For instance, if a company has more male engineers than female engineers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that company should try and hire more women in order to balance the genders.

Hiring in fields such as engineering and the sciences should be based on merit, not on what the person’s got in his or her pants. Practices such as specifically seeking out women who may be less qualified than men is potentially offensive to true feminists ““ it’s implying that women have to be judged by lower standards than men in order for them to participate.

So what exactly is meant by equality?

The equality that is meant with respect to feminism is the basic belief that if a woman walks into a job interview, her gender won’t be counted as a point against her. Similarly, if a man walks in, his gender shouldn’t be counted as a point for him.

The idea is that there shouldn’t be a glass ceiling stopping women, or men, from achieving all they want to achieve simply because they are women or men.

Whether you believe that glass ceiling currently exists is irrelevant. Either way you think it shouldn’t exist and that women should have equal opportunities to men.

This doesn’t mean that research shouldn’t continue on exactly why there aren’t as many women in the sciences. Nor should it stop people from developing ideas for ameliorating the status of women in science, or other fields.

And whether you want your name to be on an “out list,” identifying as a feminist promotes this idea of equality. As Neal said, “The point isn’t the number, it’s the getting out the idea there that “˜feminist’ isn’t a dirty word.” And considering that this country considers itself a promoter of democracy and equal rights, I would hope that everyone on this campus would consider themselves a feminist.Whatever one’s opinions are on these issues, that shouldn’t stop anyone from believing in the basic principle that no one should be kept from achieving their goals because of their gender. And that belief makes one a feminist.

If you’re a feminist and you shave, e-mail Loewenstein at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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