On March 31, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington D.C. held a panel to celebrate the last day of Women’s History Month. The panelists, including Network of Enlightened Women’s President Karin Agness, syndicated columnist Mona Chen, and The Federalist’s Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway, stated that feminism must be readdressed in the United States for the sake of both men and women. They argued that feminism in its current form leaves men disempowered and women simply unhappy. Despite the one-hour discussion on women, the Heritage Foundation panelists failed to address any of the challenges that women face, including those involving unequal pay, gender-related violence and pregnancy discrimination. By shifting the focus away from society’s ills to an irrelevant debate on feminism, the speakers placed the responsibility for change on women and failed to address the real issues that impede the advancement of women in the United States.
Mona Charen, a columnist featured in multiple newspapers and websites, began the conversation that “feminism has done so much damage to happiness.” She stated that feminism causes women to develop a disdain toward family life, concluding that “if we truly want women to thrive we have to revive the marriage norm.”
Charen’s argument posits happiness as both all-important and universal. Instead recommending that women follow an alternative path for happiness, we should provide women with the support and services they need, whether they choose to pursue a professional career or not. Even if we accept Charen’s argument that pure happiness is what we should be aiming for in feminism, we can’t disregard feminism and the potential it holds to make professional women “happier” by guaranteeing improved workplace conditions.
In addition to stating that feminism makes women unhappy, the panelists also stated that feminism has disempowered men. Karin Agness pointed out that women outnumber men on college campuses, while columnist Mona Charen stated that male wages have fallen. These facts are accurate, but the correlation between the decline in male success and women’s empowerment does not imply causation. As Slate Magazine writer Amanda Hess points out, there are many factors that account for the decrease in men’s wages, such as the drop in union membership and the decline of American manufacturing. Inequality has risen over the past twenty to thirty years, and as a result, the mean hourly wages of the middle and lower classes have dropped for many reasons other than feminism.
Additionally, men continue to earn higher wages than women and hold more managerial positions, even given the decline in male education rates and wages. High school graduation rates for men have fallen, but female high school graduates make as much as male high school drop-outs. The few women who hold powerful professional positions have stepped into posts that were previously held by men, and the change has obviously caused the fraction of men in supervisory jobs to fall. The Heritage Foundation should not oppose this change however, because it is a necessary condition for female empowerment.
At Wellesley, we are fortunate enough to study in an environment that celebrates feminism and encourages students to define their own success. Although critics of women’s colleges decry women’s colleges as outdated, there is a clear need for institutions like Wellesley that encourage exploration of the challenges women face worldwide. Wellesley encourages its students to view these challenges not as the unfavorable disempowerment of men, but rather as emerging opportunities for women.
The Heritage Foundation wrongly ruled out feminism as a way to pave a better future for women. This argument completely discounts the feminist discourse that is supported by thousands of women and institutions like Wellesley. Instead of dismissing feminism, we should build support structures that give women a broader range of choices when they make important decisions throughout their lives. As Wellesley students, we have the opportunity to address the challenges that women face, and we should pursue constructive and inclusive discussions about feminism.