Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I *AM* a feminist

There seems to be an epidemic of women, especially women with a platform, declining to be feminists. They use their platforms--whether it's a stage or a blog with an audience or a position in a major corporation or a turn on the floor of the legislature--to insist that they are not feminists and do not want to be feminists.

Which has a certain irony to it, since feminism is what makes it possible for them to go to school, wear pants in public, have jobs other than secretary-kindergarten teacher-nurse, and enjoy their platform that speaks to people across gender lines.

Last night's Oscar experience brought this all to the fore, again, because...again...the junior-high-humor focused primarily on degrading women. Which, for the record, is not funny. It is not funny to identify incredible actresses by their breasts. In fact, it's shameful that we still think women have to get naked to sell movies, and they'd better be tall slender (mostly white) women if they want to get the job. It is not funny to call on tired stereotypes of women as grudge holders in an attempt to get a laugh. It is not funny to make jokes about eating disorders and the "fashion" that so often requires women to "get the flu" before a big event in order to fit into the dress. It is DECIDEDLY not funny to make jokes that cast a talented young girl as victim of statutory rape, nor to refer to her with disgusting epithets.

see? not funny.
Until these things are seen as the horrific commentary on the joke-maker that they really are, we still need feminism.

Not to mention that until women make as much money as men for the same jobs, we still need feminism. Until women can wear what they choose without being blamed for men's infidelity or for their own rapes, we still need feminism. Until our legislative body is representative of our population, we need feminism. Until our advertising finds way to sell products other than putting a scantily clad person (woman or man) in the picture, we need feminism. Until we have healthcare and childcare that take care of the whole population, not only well-off men, we need feminism. Until the predominant image of a successful person is not always a white man in a business suit, we need feminism. Until it's okay to talk about God with words other than "He" and all of humanity beyond "man," we need feminism.

In other words, until women and men are treated equally, and until the underpinnings of our cultural narrative recognize equality, we need feminism.

To be clear, feminism is not man-hating. Feminazis and bra-burning are propaganda of people who are holding desperately to their power, fictions created by men who insist that "allowing" women equal rights somehow diminishes men.

This is, frankly, not true. In fact, the opposite is true. As long as anyone, in and of themselves--of any gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation or socio-economic status or religion--is seen as less-than, is an easy and obvious target for jokes, is blamed for society's (or the church's) ills, is perceived as a threat to the status-quo, we are all diminished.

And yet women fall into the trap--we have allowed the rhetoric to become truth inside us, believing that the fight is over, the victory won, or that only bitchy power-mongers are feminists, or that if we stand up for ourselves then we deserve whatever we get. We have become accustomed to politicians and pundits making decisions about our bodies, our marriages, our healthcare, and our labels/nicknames. We have allowed ourselves to believe that if only we are nice and pretty (and thin, and white but tanned) then we will be loved...but not before. We have bought into the idea that if we want to choose to stay home and raise a family, we're letting down women everywhere and so have to be defensive all the time. We have believed that everything in life is a zero-sum game and we are somehow taking things away from others.

These are the lies feminism tries to counter. (interestingly, they are also the lies Jesus tries to counter. a coincidence? unlikely.)

I appreciate the work that was done by first wave feminists who labored so that I can vote. And believe me, I vote.
I appreciate the work that was done by second wave feminists who labored so that I can wear what I want, including trousers in a public place; so that I can get an education in any field I choose (a right not afforded even to people in my mother's generation); so that I can work in a job that I am interested in and fulfilled by; so that I can speak out in public places; so that I can choose whether and when to have a family; so that I can travel, and have a credit card and a bank account and a mortgage, all without my father's permission.
And I appreciate the legacy and responsibility left to those of us in the third wave: we may not be fighting exactly the same battles, and we may not be doing it in the same way, but we are still needed. Feminism is not a quaint movement of the past.

And I am not willing to benefit from the movement without also taking it up so that others might do the same. To set aside the word "feminist" I would also need to set aside my education, my jeans, my job, my blog, and my passport. I doubt any of the women who have so publicly derided 21st century feminism want to do any of that...so why are they so quick to lay down the word?


  1. Can you hear me screaming AMEN!!!! Because I am. I didn't watch the Oscars (I was finishing my paper) but from what I read, I think I am REALLY glad I didn't, because I was angry just reading the synopses.

    Right there with ya! :)

  2. It is so hard to understand why people don't want to call themselves feminists. I am so, so deeply grateful I live in a society that has something approaching equal rights. It hasn't happened in the past, it doesn't happen in a lot of the world - and there's still so far to go! Why would anyone claim they don't believe in equality? Sigh. Mad, sad, and determined my son and daughter will call themselves feminists!

  3. Raising my rant flag here...Just yesterday, my daughter and I were talking and in the context of our conversation I asked her if she knows how pretty she is. Quietly, she responded "Yes. That is why I sometimes wear my hair in my face." Despite all that has come before, it is so very complex being a girl/a person in today's society. Then The Oscars: thank GOD we were not home and missed the "jokes" (my 12 y.o. is all about the music and would have been watching). I hate reading posts today saying "lighten up, it was just jokes." Shades of classic bullying in which the victim is blamed for not laughing along.

  4. Amen. Eloquently stated. Many thanks.

  5. Yes. Yes. Yes.
    I'll be post-feminist in the post-patriarchy. Until then...

  6. YES YES YES. Like Marci's post - I'll have to remember that (and attibute it to her, of course!)
    Well said and thanks, Teri.

  7. Thanks for this, Teri. The Femonite blog just started a series of posts on what it means to be "Feminist." In case you are interested: http://www.femonite.com/