Why I am a Feminist
November 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
I am a feminist.
Recently this phrase has been a point of major contention in U.S. society. One of the biggest reasons for this has been TIME‘s poll asking which word should be banned in 2015, which included the word “feminist.” (This article by TIME now includes an apology for including the term in the list, due to much outrage over the suggestion.) As someone who considers myself as a feminist, I, of course, was frustrated by the suggestion that “feminist” even made the list in the first place.
I came to calling myself a feminist my junior year of undergraduate studies at a private Christian liberal arts institution, when I took a class, Media Criticism, and decided to use feminist criticism as my theory because I thought, “This will be easy. Pick a movie and analyze it by bashing men.” However, the more I learned about feminism, the more I realized I was a feminist myself. I grew up with parents who encouraged me to achieve, who told me I could be anything I wanted to be, even president of the United States. I never doubted that I could excel, whether it was athletics or academics. My sister and I played in a summer rec baseball league as nine- and ten-year-olds with mostly boys. I raced boys in elementary school and routinely beat them, proving that “run like a girl” might be something to be desired, not mocked.
The problem is that feminism has and continues to be considered the second “f-word.” It continues to develop negative connotations that have people believing that it means that feminists hate and blame men for every ill in their lives. Yet, that is not what feminism is. For example, a well-respected scholar, bell hooks, explains that,
“Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” (Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics Pluto Press, 2000)
Furthermore, Kimberly Tan, in her article in the Huffington Post delineates the definition of feminism and the problems with how people currently understand it, stating,
“By definition, feminism is simply the idea of guaranteed equality between men and women—the belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. Yet somehow, the term has evolved to take on a radical and pejorative connotation, leading those who support the ideals of feminism to not actually identify as feminists.” (para. 4)
If feminism is the movement to end sexism and fight for equality of the sexes, it is a good thing. Because of feminism, women can vote, women have better access to all levels of education, women can achieve higher positions at jobs and higher ranks in the military, and much more.
Yet, feminism is being interpreted as monolithic, as if one version of feminism represents all feminists. Saying that feminism’s one definition is hating men is like saying that Ted Haggard or other televangelists represent all Christians, or that Todd Akin represents all Republicans. In a society that feeds off of sensationalism, making feminism out to be something bad is what gains traction, yet this should be questioned. What it actually leads to is a population making uninformed decisions about words, phrases, or ideas. And, I would argue, many people who proclaim they are not feminists likely are. As Tan explains,
“In reality, feminism cuts much deeper than just shallow proclamations that men and women are equal. Calling ourselves feminists establishes recognition of the inequalities that still remain and reaffirms our commitment to eliminate these underlying issues so entrenched in the fabric of our society. Dismissing feminism only creates the incentive to dismiss the ideas of gender equality altogether—to overlook the fundamental, structural changes that our culture so desperately needs.” (para 12)
To circle back to where this post started, I am a feminist. I am a woman married to a man and we have an almost-two-year-old and another child on the way and a very egalitarian relationship when it comes to chores, childcare, work, financial decisions, and the everyday realities of life. So if someone were to ask me if we need feminism, my answer is a resounding yes. Is feminism bad? To ask a question like that is to oversimplify a concept that has multiple interpretations. Some forms of feminism may not be productive, but at its very foundation, feminism is good and is necessary if we want to see positive structural changes.