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Neighbors Growing Together | Feb 22, 2018

‘Feminist’ is not a dirty word

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News | Feb 09, 2018

I remember the moment I decided to call myself a feminist.

I was a junior in high school doing a book report on “The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights,” when I made the decision, a label some in my church are still uncomfortable with to this day.

I say some people were uncomfortable because a lot of misconceptions about the feminist movement remain, possibly conjuring images of the “bra-burning” feminists of the ‘60s. But in “The Unfinished Revolution,” I learned about the reach of feminism beyond U.S. borders.

I learned about the devastatingly common practice of rape as a weapon of war and how women don’t have the right to own property in some countries. I read about the number of rape kits that sit untested in evidence storage (4,265 in Iowa as of March 2017, 36 of which date back to the 1990s, The Des Moines Register reported) and the consequences of child marriage (25 states in the U.S. do not set a minimum age for marriage).

On the cover of “The Unfinished Revolution” is a quote from 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee, which reads, “Women are not free anywhere in this world until all women in the world are free.” That has become my feminism moto — along with “Women’s rights are human rights,” said by Hillary Clinton in her speech as First Lady to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women on Sept. 8, 1995.

I bring this up now because Monday, Feb. 5, was the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This non-medical procedure is practiced by approximately 30 countries, mainly Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and causes severe health problems later in life. It is often motivated by the belief that this will ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity, according to World Health Organization (WHO). Yes, this still is a common practice in some cultures. (Although some consider circumcision a form of male genital mutilation, but that’s an entirely different conversation.)

It is important to make note of days such as these because it is a reminder of the extreme forms of discrimination that continue to plague women and girls in an attempt to control them. And I am only scraping the surface of the injustices women face because of ingrained social “norms.”

While these are major human rights issues around the world, there are the smaller, yet just as devastating, indiscretions in the U.S.

One example: doctors take women’s pain less seriously — even female doctors. In 2015, The Atlantic reported that nationwide, men wait an average of 49 minutes before receiving a pain reliever for abdominal pain, while women wait an average of 65 minutes for the same thing. A simple Google search “women and pain” reveals story after story of women whose pain was ignored by their doctor.

In fact, research shows that hospital staff take women’s pain less seriously and are more likely to diagnose their physical pain as “emotional,” The Independent reported in 2016, calling this the “gender pain gap.”

Along those same lines, women receive less attention when it comes to heart disease. In last week’s episode of the TV drama “Grey’s Anatomy” (spoiler alert!) doctor Miranda Bailey’s heart attack highlighted the disparity in the way women’s heart health is approached.

After suffering a heart attack, Bailey’s EKG comes back normal, and doctors say her heart is fine. They then begin questioning her about the emotional stressors in her life that could be causing her “discomfort.”

“Do not go down that road with me,” Bailey responds. “The road where a woman shows up in the ER with physical symptoms, and you decide that it must be that she’s not able to handle all her feelings. No, this is not about anxiety. My secret heart doesn’t need fixing. My actual heart needs fixing.”

In 2015, the U.S. National Library of Medicine published a story on women’s experiences of heart disease. They found that 44 percent of women with heart disease said they felt health care trivialized their complaints and attributed them to psychological causes. One women in the study said, “Doctors think men have heart attacks and women have stress.”

While I’ve mainly focused on the greater health risks women face for just being women, smaller indiscretions such as the phenomenon of men interrupting women in the workplace and beyond show inequality is alive and well. Last year, the New York Times reported that researchers consistently find women are interrupted more and that men dominate conversations and decision-making in corporate offices, town meetings, school boards and in the U.S. Senate.

And I wasn’t going to touch the pay disparity between men and women, but just this week, Fortune reported that female Uber drivers make 7 percent less per hour than their male counterparts, even though the algorithms that determine pay are “gender blind.”

“The gender wage gap has persisted,” writes Fortune reporter Kirsten Korosec. “With women making just under 89 cents on a man’s dollar in 2016 — even as females have been returning to the U.S. labor force in greater numbers.”

At its core, feminism is about equality for all people — social, economic and political. Labels can be a scary thing, but in the case of feminism, I think it’s important to feel comfortable with that label. Everyone deserves basic human rights. Everyone deserves to be equal. This is why I call myself a feminist.

And if you’re not fighting for equality, what are you fighting for?

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