Does Wanting Success Make You a ‘Bad Feminist’?

In my childhood dreams, my life looked like ever power woman from the 90’s with a razor-sharp suit and an attitude that says, “Yes I’m the boss, but I’ll also cut your throat out.” Through the lens of shows with characters like Murphy Brown, Ally McBeal, and Maxine Shaw, the idea of an independent career orientated woman appealed to me. I wanted to be a power suit wearing Amazon. For me, this was my first taste of feminism-lite.

As I grew older, I realized feminism was about more than just how much money you make. It was how we could achieve true equality.

On January 14th, a new study was released on the number of women corporate boards. Though more women are on boards, a fairly large gender gap remains. According to the 2014 Catalyst Census, in the U.S women only make up 19.2% of board seats in list of 500 companies. It’s also staggering how many companies have not a single woman on their boards. Companies include: Monster Beverage, Discovery Communications, Garmin, and etc.

So what does this all mean? It means that for women in the business world things are getting better, but only slightly better.

We celebrate these numbers as progress for ‘womankind,’ but we still have a gender gap on the lower pay scale. For every $1 made by a [white] man, a [white] woman makes 77 cents. Compare the numbers to how much a black woman makes (64 cents for every dollar paid to a white man) and what a Latina woman makes ( 55 cents for every dollar paid to white man).

Let’s even look at the numbers to what a college educated woman makes to high school dropout makes:

Median Weekly Earnings for Full-Time Workers

Median Weekly Earnings for Full-Time Workers

Ok, let’s take it a step further. What about homeless women? In New York City there are currently 3,262 single women living on the streets. While we discuss how many women are on boards for multi-billion corporations, many women don’t even know where they’ll find a safe place to shower.

However, these are all numbers relative to the U.S. We haven’t even looked at what life is like for women from other parts of the world. So while we cheer on the women who have accomplished so much and who have joined the ‘good ole boys club,’ how do we celebrate one woman’s success while also acknowledging that many women are still struggling?

Feminists of the third wave from the Western World are stereotyped to care more for the individual than for the whole of the group. We celebrate the success of women who were ‘the first’ to do anything.

The pioneer.

It was their courage, their bravery, and their determination that allows me to enjoy certain privileges. My freedom, my vote, and my education are thanks to the many women who have paved the difficult road for me and for many of my fellow womenfolk. Yet we cannot forget that as much as being a pioneer is great for our gender, we cannot do it at the expenses of others. Success usually comes at the expense of someone. While you climb the ladder, there will always be someone who didn’t have the same opportunities as you.

One of the things I grapple with as a feminist is my own participation in capitalism while being aware of the crippling reality that capitalism has added to the destruction of women.  Does wanting success make you a bad feminist? Not necessarily. My idea of success is not solely based on money, but by social change. Success is using my platform as a writer and journalist to bring awareness encourage action. We must think about not only women, but humanity as a whole.

“Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago. It was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.”
― bell hooks, Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics

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