Yes, feminism has changed the world. And yes, it has made people happier. To argue otherwise, as the Heritage Foundation panelists attempted to do in Washington, is to show blatant disregard (or willful ignorance) for the historical record. It is also an argument that insults the legacies of centuries of badass feminists who have bravely fought, failed and ultimately prevailed in the ongoing struggle to empower the marginalized and elevate the disenfranchised. A comprehensive list of these achievements would be far too long, but here we've compiled a pocket edition, just in case you ever run across someone who honestly believes feminism has made the world an unhappier place.
1. They quietly propelled the civil rights movement
Everyone knows about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but most Americans don't know about the other women involved in organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
In her book, At The Dark End Of The Street, Danielle McGuire recounts the many women who copied and distributed fliers, effectively leading the boycott, not only to protest segregation but to fight back against sexual assault. That fight, against the ritualistic rape of black women by white men in the South, had begun generations before Parks, who is rarely granted credit for the breadth and depth of the feminist work she did.
2. They made Americans get serious about gender discrimination
The Equal Rights Amendment, first written by Alice Paul in 1923, read, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
Proposed as a constitutional amendment that would guarantee all women have equal rights under the U.S. Constitution, the ERA failed to be ratified in dramatic fashion in the late 1970s.
However, the fight to get the ERA passed signaled a monumental shift in American society and sparked a new debate about the role of women and how they should be treated, pushing many states to draft their own gender discrimination laws.
3. They brought women out of the household — if they so chose
Anti-feminist activist Phyllis Schlafly recently argued that women don't need equal pay: "Another fact is the influence of hypergamy, which means that women typically choose a mate (husband or boyfriend) who earns more than she does. Men don't have the same preference for a higher-earning mate. ... Suppose the pay gap between men and women were magically eliminated. If that happened, simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate."
Thank goodness she's just a relic.
In reality, the women's movement has brought women out of the household and into the workplace. Women of color who were already working were joined by housewives in the labor force, which fundamentally changed the economy.
Changes catalyzed by feminism have closed the wage gap between men and women from 62 to 77 cents on the dollar, though there's still a long way to go. But feminism should be credited for changing the conversation around what types of work women can do and what they demand to be paid for it.