Over at Hugo's blog, there is some interesting thread drift on whether feminism has any purpose given the legal equality women enjoy in the U.S. Mr. Bad, a frequent commenter on Hugo's site, asks the following excellent question of another commenter in today's comments section:
I agree with the goals of what you call "classic feminism," but you have the right to equal pay for equal work, and you get it too; when you don't, you can either do it yourself or chose to have the govt. sue on your behalf (e.g., the EEOC). You have the right to decide whether to work or stay at home. You have the right to not have your ass grabbed at work. So what's the problem? What you don't have is a guarantee to equal outcomes independent of personal choices, effort, etc., nor should you.
I agree with Mr. Bad that we American feminists have won the right to equality before the law in most instances. That does not mean, however, that feminism is no longer important. Feminism is still relevant for the following reasons:
1) Thomas Jefferson said, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." The current legal rights women enjoy in the U.S. are virtually without precedent in human history. There are those who would strip us of these rights if they could. In particular, a woman's right to control her fertility -- even via mere contraception -- is still very controversial. Feminism is necessary to make sure that we hold on to what we have won!
2) People's cultural attitudes have not caught up with the law:
a) Many women fail to take advantage of the rights and privileges available to them due to various cultural beliefs or habits. This is where feminist "empowerment" comes in.
b) All too many men feel entitled to use physical coercion on women to dominate them or force sex upon them.
c) In addition, a number of misogynist and sexist stereotypes sway judges and jurors to the unjust detriment of women when it comes time to enforce women's legal rights (in the context of discrimination and harassment lawsuits, as well as the criminal prosecution of rape and domestic violence). (And yes, for the Men's Rights Activists, I agree that stereotypes also hurt male victims of domestic and sexual violence. That fact does not detract from the importance of feminism.)
d) Sexist assumptions still prevail in the workplace and many other facets of society. These assumptions can hurt women. It's been less than 40 years since the modern feminist movement took off. Old ways don't disappear overnight!
3) Feminists do not limit their concerns to American citizens. Global feminism still faces enormous problems. To give just one example, the truly nasty practice of female circumcision is still the norm in many parts of the world as a means to "control" female sexuality.