Feminism is not a dirty word

There has been much discussion about women’s voting during this primary season. On the Democratic side, more women older than 50 favor Hillary Clinton, and large numbers of younger women prefer Bernie Sanders. Older feminists chastise the younger generation for abandoning a woman presidential candidate, and the younger generation suggests the old feminist battles have been won and that a candidate’s gender makes no difference. This polarization is unfortunate. While women need not be united in their choice of candidate, there are issues that should bring them together.

It was not that long ago that former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a top-of-her-class graduate of Stanford Law School, could not get interviews with law firms. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was able to get a clerkship only because her professor applied pressure on a particular judge. Despite much positive change, there are reasons to believe that we could be moving backward.

Women earn less than their male counterparts for equivalent work and head fewer large corporations. A decade into the 21st century, 70 percent of the world’s impoverished population consists of women and children. Violence against women is pervasive. The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex-male partners during that time was 11,766. Every nine seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten.

Reproductive rights and the important work of agencies involved in contraceptive education are being threatened. Women’s access to their constitutional right to reproductive choice is endangered. As former Secretary of State Madeline Albright put it, “…many politicians still act as though the top threat to our national security is Planned Parenthood.”

The U.S. has one of the world’s worst parental leave policies and is ill equipped to respond to the increasing demands of elder care. Much work remains to develop humane family leave policies and good universal child care.

A Yale study of research universities asked science faculty to consider identical resumes, one with a female name, one with a male name. Both male and female professors were more likely to hire the male student.

Another study at Northeastern University analyzed the words used by students to rate their professors. Students are more likely to focus on a woman’s appearance or personality and on a man’s skills and intelligence. Male professors are brilliant; women are bossy.

A study of technology companies revealed that gender was a factor in the reviews of employees. Women were criticized more often, were referred to as abrasive, and when they objected were called emotional or irrational. Men were called aggressive and praised for it.

Girls are more likely to complete their college degrees and earn more graduate degrees than men. Nevertheless, 90 percent of CEOs and top wage earners are male. We are still debating about how women should be leaders — should they lean in or out?

A strong consumerist culture still tells girls that their value is determined by their looks. Eating disorders are far more prevalent among young women than their male counterparts.

Feminism is not a dirty word. It simply means equal opportunity for our children. The feminist agenda is not just a matter of women’s concern but of human concern. We will need to join together to make certain that every candidate knows this.

Sandy Sasso is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck and director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at Butler University.