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June 19th, 2009
06:10 AM ET

Is feminism obsolete?

Editor's Note: Every Friday we touch on a hot button issue that, we hope, generates strong opinion from you. The segment is called "Just Sayin'" – and this week Carol Costello ponders the question: Is feminism obsolete? Tell us what you think!

From CNN's Carol Costello and Ronni Berke

It seems every time the media spotlight shines on Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, there's another debate about feminism. Some conservative women were upset feminists didn't protest loudly when late night host David Letterman initially refused to apologize for his off-color joke about Palin's daughter.

Is that because Sarah Palin isn't a feminist? Can a conservative woman be a feminist these days?

Not really, says Republican Strategist and CNN Commentator Mary Matalin. "No conservative woman would choose to call herself a feminist as it's described by liberals today," she says.

Matalin says feminism used to be about the freedom to choose the life you wanted. Now it's an exclusive club, closed off to women like Sarah Palin.

"No conservative woman would choose to call herself a feminist as it's described by liberals today." And who epitomizes today's feminism? In Harper's Bazaar, feminist writer Naomi Wolf calls film star and humanitarian Angelina Jolie, "the embodiment of female power and liberation."

Liberal women champion Hillary Clinton. Blogger Jessica Valenti, of feministing.com, says even a pro-life woman can be considered a feminist, however, "if a woman is actively fighting against legislation that allows for abortion and allows for access to birth control, than no, I don't think she can be a feminist."

So, if the word "feminist" is weighed down by such political baggage, why keep using it?

"The truth is," Valenti says, "I think no matter what word we used, if it meant women's rights it would end up being a bad word. It would end up being disparaged, so I think we have to stick with what we've got."


Filed under: Just Sayin'
soundoff (139 Responses)
  1. monitor301

    Feminism died the very moment it chose to challenge absolute principlem, and biological design. i.e. it died at its very inception.

    Our current societal situation belies an inability to learn from history: that which modern feminists would celebrate as groundbreaking social revolutions in recent decades have, in actual fact, happened numerous times in the past during the history of the major civilisations (cf. Toynbee, Jim Black). They are invariably associated with a declining society: matriarchist ideology, disruption of family cohesion and functionality, breakdown of normal gender roles and relationships, widespread moral and sexual degeneracy, violent disobedience of children; culminating in the onset of destructive events and widespread violence against and abuse of women, prior to reestablishment of the original traditions.

    All of this sounds alarmingly familiar.

    March 2, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  2. Betty

    A conservative woman can be a feminist. I know several personally. But Sarah Palin is not a feminist, I'm not even convinced she's conservative. Sarah Palin is a not very bright crazy person who looks good when in front of a camera.

    August 22, 2009 at 6:55 pm |
  3. Sarah

    Feminism is certainly not obsolete. There are still huge disparities in the way men and women are treated.
    I'm reminded of the last presidential election, when people wanted to focus on Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin's fashion choices more than they wanted to discuss their political views. I think this is just one small, but clear indicator that feminism still necessary.
    Also, I think we have to honor the women who have fought for equal rights in the past who called themselves feminists. The word has a lot of history, and I think it would be ridiculous to abandon it now.

    August 22, 2009 at 7:54 am |
  4. carey

    i am just saying to my knowlege more white woman have done the best under affirmeraction than any other person or persons in this country.

    July 17, 2009 at 9:06 am |
  5. Terry from West Texas

    Feminism is clearly obsolete. All of this equal opportunity stuff is from a previous century. First of all, women do not need equal pay. There would be fewer divorces if women realized that they could not support themselves without a man. Besides, all women need is a little purse money to buy cosmetics and lingeree. It is the man who should support his family. Does anyone think it is a coincidence that the rate of divorce went up when women found out that they could be independent.

    Secondly, a woman does not need a college degree. Housekeeping isn't exactly rocket science, and higher math is not needed to buy groceries.

    Thirdly, feminism convinces women that they are the intellectual equal of men, when science has proven that female IQs are about 5 points lower than men. Even the president of Harvard pointed out that women do not excel in math due to evolution.

    Fourth, feminism is so passe. What modern girl would want to be tagged as male-hating? What kind of girl do men want? A hottie who doesn't give him any crap. He doesn't want to play chess or discuss books with his little lady.

    OMG, feminism is so sixties. Come on girls, get with the fashion of the day.

    July 16, 2009 at 2:25 pm |
  6. Nancy

    Feminism? Woman are the least equal group on the planet. They used to say men of quality respected a womans equality. However, there is a tremendous shortage of "men of quality". The daily news shows that to us in startling reality. Madoff's on numerous levels stealing money from the elderly and the already poor. High and low profile crime in such extensive numbers , that people have almost become numb to it.

    There are some woman involved in these crimes as well. But percentage wise there is NO comparison.

    There need to be some very tough laws enforced against scum bags . We could call it the national scum bag act, where total lack of character will eventually get one moved to live out their life on a remote asteroid.

    July 16, 2009 at 7:05 am |
  7. mjf

    Matt...the last part of your statement.... "I am ALL FOR gender equality, but not double standards. When women have the same set of expectations of themselves and their own gender as much as they expect from men, then REAL progress will have been made."

    As much as is expected from MEN? Are you kidding me? how many hats do you wear? men are still only holding the same expectations that they have for centuries...go to work and come home. watch t.v. and be the protector of the family. Women are the ones with more hats than ever, we are expected to do all of the things in a day that old fashion traditional expectations held PLUS go to work and earn money. Not to mention the social pressure put on us to always stay 'prettty' and 'hot'. We feel such need to compete in every area of our lives. At work and at home and in general society, hell we even make the mistake of competeing and putting eachother down.

    I think men like you need to wake up and realize how much a modern day woman does in a day and how little the views and expectations of men have changed towards helping women balance their lives by helping with the workload at home and stop looking at women as sexual objects. and to quote you again...

    "then REAL progress will have been made"

    July 15, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  8. Kristen B

    Feminism isn't dead as long as women continue to be raped, beaten, forced into sexual slavery, working for sub-average wages, the list goes on and on. The conversation about feminism isn't dead as long as colleges,communities, and women's groups continue to hold forums surrounding women's issues. Feminism does not have to be the so called "militant" feminism of earlier waves. The women who align with the political right are still feminists by definition even if they don't see eye to eye with more leftist movements. I am by no means a republican, nor do I support most republican versions of feminist movements (pro-life etc.), but I do feel that as women, we need to join together and rediscover the concept of sisterhood, and stop letting political ideation destroy what little progress we have made thus far.

    July 15, 2009 at 11:53 am |
  9. Norm

    There's little doubt that since the rise of feminism and the entry of women into politics and business that America has been in decline. I wonder if there's any correlation?

    July 14, 2009 at 11:07 am |
  10. Christine from Ocean City, MD

    Yikes, what a fierce debate!!! I think feminism has to include a valuing of anything women choose to do or be, and as well, it must value all things that used to be considered traditionally female (for example, I would come to the defense of a male nurse or a stay-at-home dad who was being criticized).

    As a mom, I have noticed that in general our society criticizes moms pervasively and endemically. I am either too strict with my kids or too lenient, and probably both. Hah! Yes, we have a ways to go before feminism can become irrelevant. That is the goal, I suppose, but we're not there yet! Thanks for the great question!

    July 14, 2009 at 8:22 am |
  11. Dana

    Here is a test for those in the United States:

    1. Name one LEGAL (that means under the law) right that men have that females do not have? 2. Name one LEGAL right that females have that men do not have? 3. Name one LEGAL responsibility that men have that females do not have? 4. Name one LEGAL responsibility that females have that men do not have?

    Now let's talk equality. Equality is about both rights and responsibilities.

    The old difference in salary argument is debatable because there are studies that show it exists and ones show it doesn't exist. Not that this is about legal rights; it is about how organizations compensate employees. The interesting thing to me is that the ones that show it does not exist do tend to be more scientific. Hmmm!

    Feminism today appears to be about a vocal, misandrist whining by females and some men.

    By the way, I use "men" and "female" as a mirror for how most news organizations refer to human males and human females, saying "male" and "woman".

    July 2, 2009 at 4:21 pm |
  12. billy Bob

    feminism 1960 = "equal opportunity and pay for the equally qualified, regardless of geneder"

    feminism 2009 = pro-lesbian, pro-baby killer, man-hating gender Amazons.

    Yes, feminism is dead as in it is not going anywhere else but the historical graveyard.

    July 2, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  13. soosie

    Feminist, women's libber.... what does it all mean anyway? I look at some of the women on TV these days – on Flavor of Love, The Cougar, The Bachlerorette, or any rock video and I ask myself, is this what we burned our bras for? I look at some of the women in my local Mall who's choice in clothing shows they have no modesty or self-respect and I ask myself, is this what equality means? I see dozens of women everyday who have breast enlargements, face lifts, butt lifts, and I ask myself, what happened to becoming the best PERSON you can be?
    Sometimes it seems that instead of all of us becoming more like Angelina Jolie, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, etc, we have become more like one of the guys. Shallow.

    June 30, 2009 at 12:12 pm |
  14. Julia Anne Callahan

    I think women are still fighting for equality in the workplace, in the household, and in society in general. I don't think they will ever give up.

    There will always be women who are dissatisfied with the status quo. So I don't think feminism will ever die.

    I guess it is wrong to exclude Sarah Palin as a feminist. Just because she is pretty? Or are there other reasons to exclude her. How could you seriously exclude her when she is a governor and a past vice-presidential candidate. Personally, I think she is shallow and ridiculous, but I would not rule her out as a feminist. She has succeeded in a male dominated arena.

    June 25, 2009 at 9:05 am |
  15. Christine

    Matt, no feminist is responding to your comments because they are a little ridiculous. Is you idea of equality really women paying for dates as often as men, or women asking men on dates as often as they get asked out, or your dad receiving as many gifts as your mom on holidays?

    Your example of female teachers getting a "slap on the wrist" may be valid example of women getting a lesser sentence than men for equal crimes. And I do think that kind of equality is unfair and should change.

    As for your "heavy lifting" example. I am certain you are not so ignorant that you do not see how men often are built with more muscle mass than women. And that in our culture, hard labor has been a man's job, not because women just "don't want to do manual labor" but because their bodies may not be able to do the amount of hard labor as a man's.

    But you other examples of inequality are minuscule in comparison to the inequality women face in the workplace, not to mention the sexism in our society which contributes to prejudice, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other atrocities against women. These are real issues that are cause for real conversations. The amount of gifts your dad receives on holidays and the amount of dates you get asked out on are not. I am not sure why you believe that men are so often "victimized" by women, nor why you think that feminists are not willing to receive equal treatment in all forms, even if that requires us to relinquish these so-called "perks" you can't shut up about.

    June 23, 2009 at 12:57 am |
  16. sheila

    Culture evolves so the concept of 'feminism' has evolved. In most liberal democracies the law seeks to redress wrongs of unequal representation, pay, access to education etc. This doesn't mean we can be complacent and not keep an eye on things. We continue to need support to access the laws that would help us. We can be moms, workers or both. We can be single, single moms or surrogates. Choice is crucial. By the way, pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. In most of the rest of the world women have a tremendous struggle ahead of them. Be spiritual and if you're religious make sure your belief system does not systematically denigrate women. Religion and politics make a powerful mix and can often be divisive. I'm glad I live in a secular liberal democracy! Yea, Canada!

    June 22, 2009 at 3:45 pm |
  17. Regan

    Hypocricy killed Feminism. Period.

    Feminism is obsolete because modern 'feminists' have repeatedly proven that the advancement and empowerment of women is far less important than other liberal causes. Sarah Palin is just the latest example.

    If you want a specific time period of when Feminism died, it would be in the mid-1990's when NOW left Bill Clinton's accusers to the dogs, but still called for resignations of Republican leaders who faced similar accusations.

    I am a man who has infinite respect for women in the workplace, is glad to work alongside them and will always fight for them to be treated no differently than me.

    Womens' groups, however, (generally) mean absolutely nothing to me. They are shrill, hypocritical, and obviously don't care about the cause they derive their self-righteousness from.

    Today, women deserve far better than modern Feminists.

    June 22, 2009 at 11:27 am |
  18. Matt Yoder

    Still waiting for at least one feminist to adress the comments I made here last week...

    June 22, 2009 at 11:08 am |
  19. Jesse Dangerously

    Feminism isn't "loaded down" with political baggage; it's a fundamentally political concept. Deciding whether you identify as part of such a movement or not is a decision of personal politics.

    That's why politically active people who give a crap about women continue to use it, and people who are intimidated at the prospect of political involvement shy away.

    That's why you get so many women and men saying, "I'm not some kind of feminist, I just think... [insert exhaustive list of feminist ideals here.]" Politics has been demonized.

    June 21, 2009 at 5:41 pm |
  20. Robin Einzig

    Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women 15-44.
    Women still earn 75% of what men earn.
    The Supreme Court just ruled against rights to equal pay for women.
    Poverty rates are higher for women, across all ethnic groups.
    Women and girls are still being sold into slavery–yes, even in the U.S.

    Is feminism obsolete? Don't make me laugh.

    That being said, there is one thing I do agree with in the video. Carol Costello says: "But if every woman has her own definition of what feminism is, what's the point of even using the word?" She's got that one right. The diffuse definition offered by the young woman in the video is precisely what has happened to feminism–it has been diluted over and over again, mostly by those (in my opinion) afraid of their own full power and of course what that power might do to their attractiveness to men. It's barely recognizable any more, more like water. Sorry, gals, feminism is NOT just whatever you want it to be, whatever fits neatly into your life. It is a political stance, a sociological analysis, a fight to end oppression of women–all women–not just something some braless women did in the 70's so that you could live with your boyfriend in the dorms.

    No, the word is not obsolete–it has never lost its meaning. But the memories of what has been sacrificed, those are largely missing. The political and social context of feminism has faded under the cloak of privilege and entitlement experienced as "normality" by relatively highly educated young women (the cohort that fired the feminism of the 70's). You know what they say...sadly, people don't fight until they get what it has to do with them.

    And of course, sexism is subsumed. Broken into pieces, shared between causes. There are some–like, say, me–that would suggest that misogyny is really the meat and bones of homophobia. There is no doubt whatsoever that the longstanding abortion debate is about nothing if not control of women. The struggle over labor and sweatshops is, in many cases, about exploitation of women. The clash of religions–of all stripes– has, at its core, the preservation of male power. But we forget. We fight for equal marriage, we march for abortion rights, we (well, a few of us) try to buy things not made in sweatshops, we chalk the wars up to the age-old battles over who knows God. And we forget that these institutions and battles share a poured foundation of misogyny. We have forgotten.

    Feminism is no more over because Hillary Clinton is Secretary of State than racism is over with the election of Barack Obama (another claim that has seemed utterly ridiculous). One or two or three or a hundred successes, as inspirational and important as they may be, do not a sea change make.

    http://hereswhatidontget.blogspot.com

    June 21, 2009 at 1:37 pm |
  21. Juli Parker

    Until racism, homophobia, and classism are erased, feminism will not be obsolete.

    Period.

    June 20, 2009 at 6:11 pm |
  22. Cara

    I somehow doubt that the timing of today's article was coincidental, as approximately 500 feminists, representing numerous others convened today for the national conference of our nation's largest feminist organization, the National Organization for Women. NOW has worked tirelessly on the following recent Obama administration efforts: passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the rescinding of the Global Gag Rule, provision of partner benefits for homosexual couples, the Sotomayor nomination, and numerous others. One could only believe feminism is obsolete with near deliberate blindness to NOW's presence and the treatment of Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin that we all, as a nation, have witnessed almost daily for the past two years–in disgust.

    June 19, 2009 at 11:57 pm |
  23. John Kneeland

    One thing that doesn't seem to have changed much since the 60s is that women tend to talk about their experiences, while many men pontificate about things they really don't have a clue about or gripe about how women done them wrong. But then, insecure guys always were threatened by women who call themselves feminists.

    Responding to Libby DeRoo, I have dual American-Canadian citizenship and currently live in Canada. My Ontario Health card is as precious as gold. I find it reprehensible the way American politicans lie about other countries' health-care systems. Could it just be that HMOs are making some small donations to their political campaigns?And contrary to the fraudulent ads put out by Conservatives for Patients' Rights (whose spokesperson is a former executive of an HMO), there is no bureacracy standing between me and my doctor. She makes all the final decisions regarding my health. The last time I lived and worked in Florida, a woman was on the radio attempting to sell one of her kidneys to pay for an operation. Is that the kind of patient's right to choose that CPR has in mind? Our company had a decent HMO for basic care (small co-payments, etc.), but then none of us ever had to test the response we'd get if we came down with a serious illness.

    June 19, 2009 at 6:03 pm |
  24. Emily

    I long for the day when feminism will mean that all women get to be respected in the role they choose. I gave up a strong career and graduate level education to stay home with my daughter, because I feel that is the most important investment I can make. We live on a frugal yet sufficient salary of my husband's, and I put substantial time into managing our home, social engagements, making sure we have what we need and a home cooked meal (almost) every night. I take great pride in the WORK I do, yet most feminists degrade that work by saying it is not of value, only something done outside the home is valuable. I provide order and stability to our family and give us the freedom to live in peace, tranquility and pursue greater things, including relationships and spirituality. I am waiting for feminists to recognize these sorts of sacrifices. I won't claim to say that this is the "only' right choice, or what every woman should do, but I can say that the investment in children, family and tranquility is not a waste and should be treated with respect.

    June 19, 2009 at 5:05 pm |
  25. Amy Siskind

    Carol,

    A few folks directed me to this story. I am President of The New Agenda (www.thenewagenda.net). Many folks around the country consider our group to be the Next Wave.

    Here's a piece that I wrote on the same subject that appeared a few days ago on HuffPo (among most commented and viewed):
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-siskind/letterman-quietly-ushers_b_215664.html

    I have appeared on CNN a couple of times in early 2009. Would be happy to be involved as you develop this dialouge.

    Best,
    Amy Siskind
    President
    The New Agenda

    June 19, 2009 at 4:26 pm |
  26. Katarina Nolte

    Feminism is certainly not obsolete but it is in a slumber.
    Women have been fighting for their own and their children's rights much longer than most of us are aware.
    One of the biggest obstacles in this endeavor is the lack of knowledge about human history before Abraham and the three main versions of the patriarchal religion. Without the knowledge of women's history, we tend to mix up the natural sense of spirituality and the faith in the concept of life with institutionalized religion.
    Feminism deals with human rights issues and should therefore be embraced by everyone. This can occur with increased personal education and the acceptance of women as the creators of life, a truth that contradicts patriarchal ideologies of life being created by males via supernatural magic.
    The power that women are fighting for, they already possess by nature. They just seem to keep forgetting it.

    June 19, 2009 at 4:15 pm |
  27. j c

    Feminism is extinct. It was an idea that women can be equal.

    I have bosses that are women, they own businesses and homes on their own, etc.

    It's an obsolete idea, they have every opportunity a man has in 2009.

    A woman at Starbucks even refused to go through the door I opened for her...

    I don't feel sorry for any woman. They are equal.

    June 19, 2009 at 3:43 pm |
  28. Kami Costaris

    Feminist is not an obselete term, and I dread the thought of living in a world where it would be so. For more of my thoughts see my blog post this morning:
    http://kamikae5.blogspot.com/2009/06/feminist-is-not-dirty-word.html

    June 19, 2009 at 2:40 pm |
  29. carol costello

    Carol Costello with more food for thought...

    Jessica Valenti is considered by many to be the new, young face of feminism.

    She has written many thoughtful articles on feminism on her blog-she says many young women are feminists but don't associate their fight against inequality with the word, "feminist." Once they explore the issue, many embrace the word-although in a more modern way than did their mothers.

    Carol

    June 19, 2009 at 1:25 pm |
  30. Matt Yoder

    If women want to empower themselves more, why do they ask out men so infrequently on dates? What could be more empowering than a woman choosing which man to interact with instead of waiting for a man to choose her?

    If women in general truly want equality, why do they set some areas aside, especially in social situations, and pretend they don't need to be addressed when it comes to equality? Does equality only apply in situation where wome are likely to derive a benefit? Doesn't equality involve equal responsibities as well as equal benefits? I rarely hear women speaking up in defense of men in these situations, and it seems to be largely condoned (if not promoted) by a majority of women as if we "have it coming" somehow. Dad gets shorted gift wise on most holidays, and nothing is ever said or done BY WOMEN about that. Is that any way to maintain the high moral ground feminists claim their movement is based on?

    June 19, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  31. John

    The Cresset had a recent article about Palin as a new kind of feminist.

    http://www.valpo.edu/cresset/2008/Advent%202008/Meilaender_A08.html

    June 19, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  32. Linda Perkins

    why were all the women interviewed white??? Again, the face of feminism is always portrayed as a white woman's issue. No, feminism ISN'T dead and we women of color have LOTS to say about how women are portrayed and treated – race, class and religious affiliation play an enormous role in this discussion.

    June 19, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  33. Carol Costello

    Lynda,
    Women's voices aren't diminished by a discussion that asks a valid question. It's clear many women, with certain political leanings, feel excluded from the group.

    Is this right? Wrong? Aren't women stronger as a unified whole? The question, "is feminism obsolete" was MEANT to be provacative-to inspire discussion.

    And certainly is BEST asked by a woman who's wondering about the state of feminism in modern America.

    Carol Costello

    June 19, 2009 at 11:56 am |
  34. Judy Silver

    There's a great piece at HuffPo about a new kind of feminism:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-siskind/letterman-quietly-ushers_b_215664.html

    June 19, 2009 at 11:54 am |
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