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Why Feminism matters…

January 13th, 2009     by Michelle Schwartz     Comments

Living in the midst of a backlash that has turned “feminism” into “the f-word,” a horrifying dirty slur used to dismiss, rather than help women, I often find myself attempting to explain why exactly feminism is important. These explanations typically fall on the deaf ears of women who have fully bought into the idea that the only thing feminism cares to eliminate is their right to wear frilly pink bras.

Those of us who, despite having used the gains made by feminism to play varsity sports, work our way into high-powered careers, and open independent bank accounts, never saw what it was like before feminism, and thus often take our freedom for granted, even going so far as to mythologize “the good old days, when women were women, and men were men” as part of our backlash influenced beliefs.

Working as an archivist, I would frequently come across photos and letters that would blow my mind. Women completely erased by history, having always signed correspondence with their husband’s name. Women being sexually harassed and groped by men in company photos. Women being rejected for employment, treated like children, insulted, or ignored entirely. I would often think to myself that if only this stuff was out in the open instead of in a dusty box, the backlash wouldn’t exist.

So, without further ado, here is one of those very pieces of dusty pre-feminist history, a rejection letter sent by the Walt Disney Corporation to a woman applying for work as an animator:

Click the image for a larger copy. Photo courtesy of <a href=”>Sim Sandwich

While there is definitely still sexism in the field of animation, I would wager that on any given Disney animation project, the number of women working in the creative departments is a number greater than zero. It is because of feminism and anti-racist activism that Disney now has a board of directors that is one quarter female, and has increased their workplace diversity in the United States to 54% Black, Latino, Asian and Native American.

The differences between 1938 and now shouldn’t be seen as a reason to give up on feminism, however, but as a reason to keep fighting until things are truly equal. While Disney has made great strides in certain areas, they are still manufacturing their merchandise in sweatshops, exploiting the poor in developing countries throughout the world. We must not let the backlash stop us from recognizing all the work that remains to be done. We must keep fighting so that things never return to the way they were back in “the good old days.”

Tags: media savvy

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