Guess what, ladies: you can totally have it all! You’re winning! You’ve come a long way, ba… You know the hard sell by now. Modern media pays as much attention to disproving the need for feminism as it does to the season finale of The Bachelor—an oxymoronic scenario if ever there was one.
The Atlantic is the latest to send this dangerous message. In an article entitled, “A Working Woman’s World: Out-Learning and Under-Earning Men,” the mag outlines the results of a poll that declares, among other things, that 75 percent of women believe they can advance as far as their ambitions take them in the workplace, regardless of their gender. And 71 percent report never being discriminated against because of their gender.
Wow, progressive stuff, right? Except: wrong. This “trend” story is based on a poll of 1,000 people. This sample can hardly represent the majority of women in our country, much less make a grand statement about the state of gender equality. But this happens all the time. Little nuggets of information are lifted from out-of-context quotes, articles published (but fact checked?) by other media or skewed polls such as this and picked up by news wires. They’re then published in national media (again: fact checked?) and inspire headlines such as, “feminism, who needs ya?” or declare that, “women can have it all!”
I’m all for optimism. I acknowledge that woman have, indeed, come a very long way in terms of workplace opportunity and equality. And, indeed, today’s working women and working mothers have far more opportunities and options than those of their mothers’ generations. But women still make less than men for the same job (the article at least acknowledges this). Sexual harassment is a very real, very prevalent problem. The non-existence of a national parental leave policy or any semblance of support for employees once they become parents is forcing talented people out of the workforce to care for their children or struggling to make ends meet, pay for child care and be a present parent (this is what the having-it-all scenario actually looks like).
Creating a trend that casts working women as “better off” without so much as adequate research promotes illiteracy of the most dangerous kind: media illiteracy. If feminism is going to win, if we are ever going to be rid of articles trying to disprove its importance, and if women are ever going to achieve equality, we must take charge of the messages we’re receiving. We should pause before sharing a provocative headline on our social media sites and instead investigate where this declaration of “trend” is coming from. We need to be able to distinguish between a headline and article that is opinion and one posing as a piece of journalism and therefore bringing with it the ethical requirements of objectivity and accuracy. We must know what we’re consuming and demand better.
I know it’s easy to let this slip. We’re busy. We hardly have time to scan the headlines in our Google Alerts much less read full articles. That’s why there are media literacy organizations out there fighting against blurry facts and discriminatory messages. They’re doing the hard work for us, but we need to pitch in too. Here are some feminist-minded resources for getting to the bottom of the information we’re bombarded with every day. Spending a few minutes on these sites may reveal a far-less-sunny reality, but it’s best we know what feminism is fighting for—and, most importantly, be reminded that the fight must go on.