Thursday, March 08, 2012

International Women's Day

March 8 is International Women's Day...a day to celebrate the contributions of women (all women, from the rural subsistence farmer to the CEO) and to raise awareness of the issues of women around the globe. Issues like equal pay (even in the US, we don't have this), education (2/3 of the children who can't go to school are girls), healthcare (in many parts of the world, and even in some places in the US, healthcare for women is nonexistent), safety, etc. We know that educating women and ensuring they have healthcare are the keys, often, to bringing whole communities out of poverty...and yet.

Just this week I've had more than one conversation that included the words "I'm not a feminist." There's also the national conversation going on about how we talk about women, and the use of the word "feminazi" ...(not to mention "slut.")
And then I started reading this book, a biography of Gertrude Bell, and in the prologue--only a few pages in--came across this quote:
"she was not a feminist; she had no wish for special treatment.....this was the 1880s when women were hardly educated or allowed to prove themselves outside the home....she got a First at Oxford, was a spy and a major in the British army, was a poet, scholar, historian, mountaineer, photographer, archaeologist, gardener, cartographer, linguist, and distinguished servant of the state."

Now, let's be clear: feminism is not about special treatment. It's about equality. It's not special for me to want to be treated the same as a man. It's not special for girls to have the same educational opportunities, to get paid the same for the same work, or to have access to healthcare. That's human.
Gertrude Bell had plenty of opportunities other women in the 1880s didn't have....which I'm pretty sure qualifies as special treatment because of her socio-economic status, but let's leave that issue aside for a moment. She did all those things--including creating the maps of the middle east that were used by everyone up until the second world war. She went on adventures, shaped nations, had amazing access to politicians, served in the military, and published under her own name. In her time and place, it would have been perfectly normal and acceptable for the men in her life to refuse her these opportunities for schooling, travel, work, speaking to powerful men. But they didn't. She broke the norm for women of her culture, her class, her time, so that she could do whatever the men could do.

So yes, she was a feminist.

It's time to take that word back. There is no reason for "feminist" to be a dirty word, a slur, a put-down. It's a badge to wear proudly--yes, I'm a feminist, because I believe women are human beings with all the same rights as any other human being, with capabilities and liabilities like any other human being, and women deserve to be treated equally, with respect. period.

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