Let’s talk about feminism. What is it?
According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, it has two non-medical definitions:
1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests
Look at that #1 definition. Equality of the sexes. Nowhere does it list misandry, man-bashing, or the destruction of family. So guess what? If you believe in political, economic, and social equality that crosses sex and gender lines, congratulations! You are a feminist! Wait, don’t run away! Did I make you uncomfortable just now? Why is that? Do you associate the term feminist with “feminazi?” Are you afraid of being seen as an activist? Causing a fuss? Well guess what? Activism is NOT a part of the primary definition. Of course, we appreciate activism, but being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to go to marches, get abortions, burn your bra, or practice kicking men in the testes. I can honestly say I have never done any of those things, and I run a feminist blog.
So why is it such a loaded term? Why are so many powerful women wary of calling themselves feminists? Look at almost any celebrity magazine interview. Whenever a female celebrity is asked about her cultural and financial power, she will almost certainly respond something along the lines of “It’s great being seen as a role model, and I love that I can do that. I’m not a feminist, but I do think that women can do anything a man can.” Guess what, famous ladies? You’re probably a feminist. Your PR rep would flip if you ever said it publicly. Why on earth is that?
It would be far too easy to blame this on the right, especially considering Rush Limbaugh coined the term “feminazi” in 1990. We are constantly assaulted by pundits, authors, and news anchors telling us that feminists are out to destroy the American family. That they want male subservience and abortions for everyone. We are painted especially by the Men’s Rights Movement (yes, it’s a real thing) as vindictive harpies who want to eradicate sex, accuse all men of rape, and create a world run entirely by women. Feminists have been blamed for gang violence, unemployment, the divorce rate, and healthcare costs.
Anita Sarkeesian basically nailing it.
Another avoidance tactic is to say “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist.” Really? You want to work to revive classical literature and stress the worth of the individual over religion? Ok, that’s fine and dandy for you, but frankly doesn’t have a lot to do with the disenfranchisement of one gender for the benefit of another. Also, using the term humanism in place of feminism implies that everything is fine right now and we need to work together to keep the status quo. Unfortunately, the status quo is grossly unfair to women, especially women of color. White women still make 77 cents on the dollar to men, and black women make closer to 55 cents per dollar. Many women still face the (illegal) question “do you plan to have children in the next five years?” in job interviews. There is also the fact that women are trained from a very early age to be quiet and submissive. Part of the reason we make less money is because we are too afraid to ask for it, and with good reason. Women who negotiate salaries are more likely to be seen as “difficult” and “bitchy” while men who do the same are “go-getters.” The system is flawed in a multitude of ways. On a side note, this is why the NAACP haven’t changed their name to NAAAP: National Association for the Advancement of ALL People. Because some people have enough of a head start.
There is also the idea that women often require a modifier unnecessary for men. A recent brouhaha in feminist circles was over Wikipedia’s new American Authors article. Due to spacing concerns, women have been removed and placed in a Female American Authors section. While this in itself isn’t problematic, the fact that the now entirely male author section wasn’t renamed “Male American Authors” is. Given the lack of that modifier, it appears that all American authors are men. Inspiration is based in part on visibility. We aspire to be what se see. If we don’t see female authors, fewer girls may think it’s possible to become one.
Reproductive issues, rape, and child custody are all seen as “women’s issues” when in fact, they affect everyone. The notion that women should automatically get custody of children in divorce cases is rooted in the idea that women are naturally better caregivers than men. Obviously this slightly veiled sexism is exactly the kind of thing that feminists are striving to eradicate. Teaching girls to avoid rape instead of teaching boys not to rape is another huge problem. It assumes that all men are sexual monsters and that it’s up to women to put on the brakes. This does a huge disservice to both men and women.
The fear of the MRA that women are out to feminize America implies that there is something inherently wrong with being female. If the struggle for equality makes you fear that you will become female, you have “othered” women. You’re saying that you see women as less than men. To become more like a woman would lower you in some way. Arguably, this is a contributing factor in assaults on gay men. Seen as feminine, they were therefore less than human and should be punished for lowering themselves.
This kind of attitude is exactly why we still need feminism. Yes, we have female CEOs now. About 1 in 100. Yes, a woman has finally won an Oscar for Best Director. One. Things are not “fixed.” If you think that you might have a problem with any of these issues, well guess what? You may just be a feminist. Welcome.
Now, here’s something really awesome for you. Author, feminist, philanthropist, and all-around great woman J.K. Rowling discussing why having strong women in Harry Potter was so important to her. Thank you, Jo.