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Women’s Movement against Gender Inequality

By ivycoco321 Sep 26, 2014 1572 Words
Wenliang Jiang
Ms. Maffetone
W131 2667
December 12, 2013
Women’s Movement against Gender Inequality
In recent years, more women achieve success by developing their leadership qualities. It is widely shared that leadership is a typical masculine characteristic. However, women started to possess the power of leadership and apply it to their careers after Women’s Movement which made a big change to gender roles. To what extent did Women’s Movement, which for instance rose labor force participation rate of adult women, change social attitudes toward femininity? A photograph from 1913 of a woman called Inez Milholland who was the leader of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Parade wearing white and riding astride a white horse seems to answer this question. Although this photo seems to break the traditional gender roles which is well analyzed by Devor and Tannen, Elaine and Marnie raises the problem with postfeminism. They imply that gender inequality is still a problem in modern society. In the photo, a woman is in the foreground while the background shows a bunch of men around her. It simply conveys the growing social status of femininity. As the focal point of this image, the eye-catching white color drives attention to her and the horse. It differentiates the woman from everyone else in this image. She is marked by the color as a pure, sacred and inviolable character. Nevertheless, she looks serious by holding her head high. Such body posture and her mantle mark her as a brave soldier. The way she combines two different Jiang2

attributes that are femininity and masculinity emphasizes a new image of women as fighters against gender inequality. On the other hand, the crowd behind her that is mostly comprised by men depicts a gloomy and displeased feeling. The strong contrast between black and white indicates the gender discrimination. Men in the background seem to be in the shadow of the woman on a horse due the composition of the photograph and it implies the threat to men’s dominated position from women’s pursuit of equal right. As one of the leaders of the Feminist Movement, the way she was placed in the highest position via her position on the horse, forces others to look up at her, gives her a sense of control and represents the improvement of women’s social status. This photo appears to date back to the 20th Century. During that time, Inez Milholland’s behavior may be considered as inappropriate due to the conventional gender roles identity. Whereas, no one in the crowd shows any concern about her. They don’t even look at her. Take this detail into consideration, it gives rise to one possibility: Women’s Movement has gradually emerged into the society and affected people’s attitudes toward women. The trigger point of Women’s Movement is explained by Rachel A. Rosenfeld and Kathryn B. Ward in their article “The Contemporary U.S. Women's Movement: An Empirical Example of Competition Theory”. They argue that economic and sociodemographic changes since World War II increased competition between women and men in the marketplace. It is the increased competition that provides motivation for the women's movement. Even though it happens after the character in the photo has gone, it can be treated as a great process on

predecessors’ efforts. More and more women realized their need to change and start to follow Inez Milholland to fight for their rights. There is a certain amount truth in this argument, but there is still a problem with regard to another possibility arisen from the detail that everyone especially men looks over in a different direction away from the main character. They ignore this woman even though she is conspicuous enough to capture others’ attention. Despite the fact that something more important is happening outside of the photo, it conveys the sense of submission, an attribute which in Aaron H. Devor’s essay “Becoming Members of Society: Learning the Social Meanings of Gender,” is described as being subsumed by femininity. The central point of Devor’s essay is that femininity and masculinity are in a hierarchical relationship. He discusses how body postures and demeanors communicate different status between men and women. Men tend to be dominant and women are usually characterized by passivity. He indicates that this is a result of the systematic power imbalances to differentiate gender roles based on socially directed hormonal instructions. It is obvious that Inez Milholland is trying to inhabit a masculine role against women’s quest for harmony and cooperation because such need results in dependence. In some way, women’s dependence on men lowers women’s status. Inez Milholland’s position in the photo seems to give her invisible power above men in the background. It’s hard to feel any dominance from these men. They don’t fit into Devor’s description of men’s common behaviors because their status is threatened by women’s growing status. Since Devor wrote from male perspective, it suggests that men don’t

completely accept gender equality after Women’s Movement and these roles still persist despite the movement. The idea of remaining gender inequality is taken further in Deborah Tannen’s essay “There is No Unmarked Woman.” Tannen suggests that women are inevitably marked by their body postures, speech patterns, demeanors and men have freedom to decide whether or not to be marked. It drives her implication that such situation is a result of social unfairness, which exits to decide whether to mark one gender role, or not. Consequently, women are mostly defined in subordinate status. Men have the freedom because of their power over women. The way Inez Milholland uses external elements like clothing and body posture to mark herself stands for Tannen’s argument except that she is attempting to play the opposite role. The intense color contrast and her unique body poster and clothing contribute to her image as a returned hero. Such portray is a sharp blade to break the gender inequality. However, she can be easily recognized as a woman as immediate as we see her because of her dress and long hair. These two things are the typical tools that Tannen mentions to mark woman and they separate Inez Milholland from men behind her. One of the reasons is that Inez Milholland is on behalf of woman to lead Suffrage Parade and no matter how powerful she wants to define herself, she still has to be seen as a woman. Moreover, it is unacceptable for a woman to dress up like a man in that era which is exactly stated by Tannen that it prevents women from being treated as equally as men and announces women’s lower social status. Depending on Devor and Tannen’s claims, the relationship between men and women and women’s image in this photo make gender inequality problem Jiang5

float at last effluent surface. As time goes by, a reaction against feminism called postfeminism is developed by women who are disappointed with the perceived contradictions and absences of preceding feminism. This term is identified in Elaine J. Hall and Marnie Salupo Rodriguez’s essay, “The Myth of Postfeminism”. They claim that overall support for the women's movement has dramatically eroded because some women are increasingly antifeminist, believe the movement is irrelevant, and have adopted a "no, but... " version of feminism. This claim provides the reverse and critical effects of Women’s Movement. . It objects to the meaning of the photograph which demonstrates women’s effort to achieve equal social status. The emergence of postfeminism indicates the failure of Women’s Movement to a certain degree. The supporters of postfeminism are women who are afraid of facing hostility and repellent if they advocate feminism like what Inez Milholland is doing in the photo. Due to women’s instincts, postfeminists will absolutely refuse to ride on the horse if they misunderstand it as a behavior to inhibit them from feeling complete and keeping femininity. They are willing to be marked by makeup and hairstyle without feeling any gender constriction as long as they feel good about themselves which is actually a way to satisfy men’s heterosexual attractiveness. After realizing the future development of women’s status, the photo begins to display a sense of alienation. The main character is left alone in the central of the photo and it represents a certain degree of failure of the sensational Women’s Movement. After three waves of Women’s Movement, women’s social status has definitely increased a lot compared to the feudal society. Unfortunately, postfeminism and other reaction against women’s strive for equal Jiang6

rights leave the society the problem with gender inequality. Not only is Inez Milholland left alone in the photo, but also those brave feminists are left alone in the long history. Nevertheless, a fight for equal rights will never stop until it arrives at real equality. More and more women from the contemporary and next generation will stand up and fight for gender equality to accomplish predecessors’ unfinished aspiration.

Works Cited
Rachel A. Rosenfeld and Kathryn B. Ward “The Contemporary U.S. Women's Movement: An Empirical Example of Competition Theory”, Sociological Forum, Vol. 6, No. 3, Sep. 1991, 471-500

Deborah Tannen “There is No Unmarked Woman.” Readings for Analytical Writing, Third Edition, Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011, 444-448 Aaron H. Devor “Becoming Members of Society: Learning the Social Meanings of Gender.” Readings for Analytical Writing, Third Edition, Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011, 109-118

Elaine J. Hall and Marnie Salupo Rodriguez, “The Myth of Postfeminism”, Gender and Society, Vol. 17, No. 6, Dec. 2003, 878-902

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