Ah, Feminist. The new “F” word.
For most of my life, I assumed Feminists were considered “the good
guys gals.” I thought women were pretty happy about that whole being-able-to-vote thing. I figured that most, if not all, women thought that stricter sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape laws helped them and their daughters feel a little safer out in the world. I think we can all agree that voting and personal safety are fairly important human rights. So why don’t we appreciate the women – the feminists – who marched to turn those basic human rights into statutes and constitutional law?
Well, as it turns out, many people are a little confused about what the word Feminist actually means. Last year I sat in a Sex & Gender class when the professor asked a mostly female audience to raise their hand if they believed they were a feminist. Of course, my hand shot straight up… but it was alone.
Then the professor asked, “Okay, who here thinks women should be given equal pay for equal work.” Every hand went up.
Then he asked, “Okay, who here thinks that women should be allowed to own property.” Of course, every hand went up again.
Then he asked someone in the class to define feminism, and one person sheepishly responded, “Umm… man hater?”
Now picture me, frantically waving my hand like an excited kindergartner. The professor calls on me and I say, “Professor, feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” (*Cheris Kramerae)
“So class,” he says, “do we believe that women are human beings? Yes… I thought so. Well then, why didn’t you raise your hand when I asked if you were a feminist?”
People looked around, not quite knowing how to answer that one.
Fast forward to the present, and I recently came across a thread of women commenting on my blog name. Many said they wouldn’t even read what I had to say because they “hate feminists.” When asked if they like voting, they responded, “Yeah, I like equal rights, I just don’t like feminists.”
There it is again. You like what feminism does, you just don’t want anyone calling it feminism.
So, let’s go over this again:
- Do you believe that women are human beings*?
- Do you recognize the full humanity of BOTH men and women**?
- Do you believe in political, social, and economic equality between men and women^?
Then I hate to break it to you, but you’re a feminist, too.
Note, nowhere does it say that feminism amounts to “man-hating” or “trying to be like a man.” Feminism has never been defined that way by anyone except the Rush Limbaughs of the world, who use terms like “feminazi” to demonize and devalue the men and women who seek social justice. Feminism also isn’t about trying to make women the same as men – in contrast, feminism recognizes the difference between the sexes and asks that both sides be treated fairly and equitably based on their unique needs (if we pretend there exists only a gender binary to begin with). Feminism is just as much about protecting men as it is protecting women. Feminists work to end racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and all other forms of discrimination that exist in our culture. It is a living movement, which tackles new problems as they arise. It is not perfect, because nothing is. Some who call themselves feminists are merely perverting and co-opting the word because they either do not really know what it means, or they want to use its power to advance their agenda (Sarah Palin comes to mind.)
Still, the true definition of feminism is good, pure, and important. No one should be ashamed to be a Feminist. If you believe women are human beings and should be treated as such, then you are a feminist, and there’s no reason to deny the word.
Just remember: when you say you hate feminists, or simply deny being a feminist, you’re telling the world you don’t think women deserve full humanity. Is that the message you want to send?
*Cheris Kramerae, author of A Feminist Dictionary, 1996.
**Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms. Magazine, leader of the Women’s Movement.
^Feminist Majority Foundation