I am a feminist – say it with me

The entry below comes from my old MySpace blog, dated 5.25.2006. I was reminded of it when the other day I found myself reading a column from my favorite red-headed op-ed writer, Maureen Dowd (I’m being serious – I’d totally have her babies), in which she argues against a Hillary presidency, but also laments the fact that Hillary has become a shadow of who she once was because, as a female politician in a world of men, she has learned to constantly be on the offensive. It’s an unfortunate double-edged sword that got me thinking about our current third-wave of feminism, where sexual stereotypes are knowingly embraced by women and the word “feminist” is an aggressive word. Anyway, there are a few things in this 2-year-old article against which I find my current self slightly arguing, but… I’m lazy, so I’ll save that for a later entry.

When did the word “feminist” become such a bad word? Maybe I live in la-la land, or maybe I spent too much time in Berkeley, but it seemed like for a while there it was actually cool to call yourself a feminist.

Let me explain. Currently I attend private catholic university. I say this because I understand up front that the general politics of the student body will most probably lean towards the conservative, as do much (but by no means all) of the devoutly religious. Anyhoo, after class I was talking to an undergrad female student who was enrolled in my film discussion lab. She was mentioning how difficult it is to get funding for her tuition (considering tuition costs are incessantly rising, but that’s a different rant). I recommended women’s groups. She said how that might not work because all she wants to do is get married, have babies, and write from her home office. I said that’s great, that she could totally play the “working mom wanting to have it all” card. She looked at me funny, then said, “Well, it’s not like I’m a feminist.” As if it were a bad word.

Incident number 2: another female undergrad, this time actually during one of the discussion labs. She’s telling the other students about a women studies paper she’s writing about depictions of women in the silent era, and how frequently they were made either asexual or destructive, and too often merely the damsel in distress. Then she qualified her arguments by saying, “And it’s not like I’m a feminist…” In both cases, I felt compelled to say, “Well, I am a feminist, and I think etc. etc” (and in the latter I actually did) because I don’t see anything wrong with saying that. My point is, both these young women treated the word feminist as if it were the mark of death… even though they themselves benefit most directly from feminist thoughts and movements – let’s not lose sight of the fact that they are attending a nationally accredited co-ed university.

I think people are most afraid to identify with feminism because they see it as a drastic restructuring of global and historical power. And they would be right about that. The search for equality all to frequently – though not inherently – lessens the power of those who have it, in this case, and arguably all cases, men. The way we as Americans define power is by and large relative, basically through dynamics rather than individual capability. I am allowed to do things that you are not. It’s a quiet form of classism done through economics versus breed or dynasty (although there’s a little bit of that, too). So when we start giving disenfranchised groups of people new rights and privileges, it seems to lessen the value of those who have more rights and privileges than said groups. It doesn’t have to, but it seems to.

There are a lot of definitions for feminism, but in the end, all feminism has to be is the search for social, economic, and political equality for the sexes. This is a harder pill to swallow than, say, equality for different races, because racism is a much more dynamic, regional issue in that it has changed several times over several centuries in several countries. Patriarchy, however, has been around as long as we care to remember. More than that, it uniformly spans virtually over the entire globe. So when we start talking about feminism, we start talking about rearranging power dynamics not just nationally, but internationally.

I said that feminism is the search for social, economic, and political equality. Let me qualify my statement: in America, women have political equality. We all do. Women have the same right to vote as men, the same right to hold political office, the same right to dictate policy. However, considering women are the majority in this country, it seems these rights are not being exercised proportionate to the population. I would argue that this is largely due to the psychological impact of social/cultural and economic inequality: social in that women are viewed popularly in media as sexual objects and culturally not as competent as men (men always need to know what’s going on – it’s why we don’t ask for directions); and economic in that women are paid something like $.77 on the dollar for comparable positions men hold.

It feels like over the past five to ten years that a new wave of feminism has been coming about that is basically saying this inequality is not only okay but embraceable by the female population as long as they are willingly embracing it – the wave that says “it’s my right and my choice to wear high heels and make-up every day of the week,” or that allows men to affectionately use the term “girl money” (that wonderful term used to playfully acknowledge the aforementioned wage gap) in order to be chivalrous and pay for their female dates or friends. Granted, the self-image thing is a wonderful right that this country offers – it’s a plus not to have to wear a burqa – but to exercise that right with such little responsibility, to do so without even thinking of why women wear high heels instead of men (and I don’t think it’s biological) and then making the choice, basically sets our society back a few decades.

If we really are all interested in equality in this country (which we should – we have the power to change things if we all really want to get away from our television sets and internet connections), we need to start being comfortable declaring ourselves feminists. Men especially. Being a feminist does not make you a feminazi (a word that is overly abused). It simply means you recognize an inequality in our society and devote yourself to changing those inequalities – even if it’s just personally – because you believe in the basic tenets of this country: freedom and equality for all. So don’t be afraid, it’s not a dirty word. Say it with me: I am a feminist.

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Published in: on May 14, 2008 at 9:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. As you said, feminism is the school of thought that encourages equality between genders – nothing more and nothing less. The notion that somehow equal rights for women will inhibit the enjoyment of those freedoms by men is pure hysteria.

    That being said, I agree that an apreciation of feminist ideals has been lost from our generation – those currently idenitified as “twenty-somethings.” Then again, look at our rolemodels – for every Oprah, there’s a Laura Bush, playing the role of vapid, demure stick-to-the-homemaking type wifey-wife.

    One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is the way in which it’s encourages all the women around me to vocalize their sense of frustration with the status quo, to articulate their firm belief that a woman can and should be president. Even those, like my girlfriend, who nonetheless support Obama, have opened up about women’s issues in media and public life. It’s past time that happened, I think. We’ll see how it lasts.


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