Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I Am A Feminist


          I am a feminist.  In this day and age, feminism is treated as a joke, an aberration, a word that conjures up the image of emasculating, bra-burning angry women who clamor for a world without men.  Feminist is used as an insult meant to brand a woman as being angry or hateful.  But militancy is not the soul of feminism.  Feminism is the conviction that women should be judged based on their accomplishments rather than their gender.  People should be allowed to explore and develop their own unique talents and when they do develop these talents, they should be rewarded in an egalitarian manner that has no bearing on gender.  
          I am not anti-marriage or anti-family.  I am not anti-man.  I have no objection to a woman staying at home to raise her children, just as I have no objection to a woman pursuing a career or forsaking marriage altogether, as long as these choices are independent of gender constraints.  I believe, in the deepest sense of the word, that people should be given the right to shape their own destiny and that gender should not be an obstacle to achieving dreams.  This belief defines who I am as a person.  
          With the recent cuts to Planned Parenthood, the fights over healthcare coverage of contraceptives, the attempts to restrict abortion rights, and the recent comment by Rep. Todd Akin that belittled the suffering of rape victims everywhere, I am feeling besieged.  I am watching as my beloved country slides backwards in terms of human rights and equality.  My body is not a political battlefield; my convictions should not be a source of ridicule or derision.  
          As a woman, my opinions are influenced by my own personal experiences; my experience is that of a woman’s.  But equality is a two-way street; I do not believe that men should be defined by their gender any more than women should.  My primary interest is in the unique talents of an individual, irrespective of whether these traits are in accordance with gender stereotypes or not.  Male, female, straight, gay, young, old, and everything in between - we all share a common bond of humanity that transcends labels.   
          The time has come to redefine what feminism means to our society at large.  And so, at this point in time, I would like to open this discussion to all of the wonderful people that have taken the time to read this post.  What does feminism - and equality - mean to you?  

20 comments:

  1. (My post is too long, this is the fist one.)

    Maybe this is overly simplistic, but I believe feminism's core values come down to:
    Socierty's job is to ensure anyone should be able to grow up to be anything; and each person should be able to choose what their anything is.

    Of course this means more than just telling our children they can grow up to be president, even if they are girls, boys and girls whose skin has more pigment, Jewish, Hindo, Transgender, etc.

    I believe feminism is an action word, and as with all actions, there are different forces that act upon you, that you act upon, and that are consequenses of action, either intended or not. Most feminists I have met or read, tend to fall into three general lines of thinking about the actions of feminism (there may be more, but these are what I see irl, as opposed to blog writings). I will address one of them in this post, and try to address the other two tomorrow, when my brain is a little fresher.

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  2. (Post #2)

    1) Those who seek out the thoughts, ideas and institutional rules that promote inequality against women, and seek to critique and then change thos inequalities. Many are very concerned with changing laws, rules, and removing things that they see as sexist, or in the way of women reaching their full potential. While steeped in intellectual analysis, a lot of focus is on critiques of individual books, laws, and societal norms. They sometimes have a hard time applying other critiques and view points into their thinking, even when those critiques mesh well with theirs.

    One quick personal example:
    I was involved, for about a year, in a feminist group in college that were downright condescending about another college sponsored group who were working on issues of poverty in female and male students who had children. The basic feminist stance was that since that organization was helping men, that they muct not be in line with feminist principles, and so they were a part of the paternalist culture that binds women.

    On the practical level, it meant that not only did the feminist club officially not support the toy and warm clothing drive done by the other group, they took it one step farther.

    The president wrote an OpEd in the school newspaper, with her critique of the other organization, and anger at what she saw as a "glossing over" of the real needs of women on campus. She argued that what women need is to be and feel empowered, that society (and the poor families taking the help) were simply hiding the problem. She felt that the campus, and the world, would not need a toy drive if the principles of feminism were adopted, and until that happened, all other struggles were secondary.

    While I agreed with her, in part, that if we had an equal society in which men and women had the same access to resources that we would have a more just society. I just don't think that feminism, by itself, will solve every problem. I hope that women having equal rights, and equal access to resources, will lead to less women living in poverty. When I look and see that the many men and women living in generational poverty, I can't believe that feminism holds all of the answers, for all of society's ills.

    I would like a society where there would be less need for programs to help poor and disenfranchised, whether they are men or women. I want more children to have the chance to live lives of security, without worrying if they will eat more than their school lunch each day. I want all people to have a place to call home, where they live without fear of returning to the streets the first time something happens to a job or a medical bill.

    I think that a feminist perspective brings a lot to the table. I am glad that there are women who have and continue to critique the world, institutions, books and society through the lens of feminism. I have just found that as I get older, and spend more time serving disenfranchised members of society, I think that my main course is humanism, served with a generous side dish of feminist critiques, with a healthy sprinkling of faith to give my intellectual framework a little zest.

    Julia
    poetrysansonions.blogspot.com

    not stop me from making donations to the clothing and toy drives.

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  3. It's frightening how quickly the debate has devolved from women having access to abortion to "personhood" and "legitimate rape." To me feminism is defined pretty much as you've put it, that a woman should have the freedom to choose what she does with her body and what she does in her life. :)

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    1. "It's frightening how quickly the debate has devolved from women having access to abortion to "personhood" and "legitimate rape.""

      Which is why it's so important for reproductive justice supporters to reclaim the terms of the debate.

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    2. It's a hard thing, watching everything that has been going on lately - I really feel we are losing the rights that earlier women had fought so hard.

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  4. It sounds like we're on the same page. There was an opinion article I read on CNN once about a "new brand" of feminists that were furious that that one French lady stuck with her cheatin' politician of a husband. In that article, the author made a statement that I rather liked. I do believe you'll like it, too. :)

    "I cannot accept the idea that womanhood automatically implies victimhood, nor do I think that it is a desirable state of affairs when women see men as the enemy." --Lucy Wadham

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    1. That's great quote - thanks for sharing!

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  5. This was a bold and much needed start against a plethora of feminist literature that actually goes too far. A nice piece. This might just be the start necessary for encouraging people to think positively about feminism

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  6. Beautifully put. I don't think I could come up with a better description of what feminism means to me than what you wrote - it's exactly how I feel. Thanks for this!

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    1. Thank you, MK! I think we need to talk about this more, try and inject some level-headed reason back into this debate.

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  7. Is it redefining or taking back the word "feminism." I think it's taking back. there are many words that have been stolen and bastardized over the years like environmentalist, atheist, feminist, liberal, conservative, etc...It used to be that those were words that described without being a bad something something. Now the usage is, like, negative or something, but it really means some thing more simple and stripped away by today's standards.

    Kriss

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    1. Taking back is a good way to describe it, especially as the text-book definition of feminism is something I believe in.

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  8. I like the idea of taking back feminism. :-)

    It hasn't been a good day for my back, so I thought I would write two brief paragraphs, and fill them out when I have more energy.

    #2 - Feminist women and men who Live as equals, and while they take on issues of gender inequality, they try to let their lives and work speak more loudly than the words they might say. (In college there were several older students who were part of organizations that fought for birth control in the 70s. They would emphasize that without male feminists, supporting the female feminists while they fought for change.). I think that when men are excluded from participating in feminist changes that help women move forward, and men be more enlightened than the would other. I think it is important that children are taught feminist and humanist values, along with the values of their family's faith, or non-faith.

    #3 The last group of feminists that significantly impacted my life, self described themselves as motivational feminists. They were very good at their chosen professions, which for the summer program I went to, means that they were very well respected scientists. Part of the camp was letting us handle and use equipment in a variety of labs. Part of the camp was having PhD candidates share their thesis overviews, and then ask us what we would do, or what questions we would ask, if we were working on their project. We had two of those sessions a day, so we got to discuss ten thesis projects. One of the women who was at the camp, whose thesis I really loved (effects of black holes on time dilation) sent me a copy of her finished thesis.

    Women in science, or politics, or in the military can set a great example with how they live their life. Sharing their success stories directly, to girls when they are in grade school and middle school, lets girls start out thinking that feminist ideas and ideals are simply a part of life. I think it is important to address and critique issues that are a problem right now. All three "flavors" of feminism need each other, both for support and to critique each other.

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  9. Well said! Though I'm male, I consider myself a feminist (if I'm permitted to adopt the label) in that I support and hold the very same views/values you have outlined above. I see feminism as simply the logical extension (or root of) the equality movement, which I see as including gender equality, racial equality, sexual orientation / identity equality, etc. (Although, my feminism doesn't compare to that of my partner's - My love for her grows each time I see her in action!) I realize each movement has their own specific goals, and I wouldn't want to impede on those, but they all have a very similar philosophy: Equality of rights & freedom from belittling stereotypes.

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    1. Thank you progexmo! I'm glad you liked this piece and it's really great that you can see the larger picture - that these types of movements all have the similar goals of equality and freedom. I had been thinking something similar but I hadn't been able to put it in words the way that you have.

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  10. I used to consider myself a feminist; until I got to college I discovered I was little more than a potential rapist.

    I think feminism was at one point great. And I think they accomplished damn near everything they set out to do.

    But when leaders claim it’s a 'good learning experience' for men to go to jail on a false rape charge, or while lambasting Ted Kennedy for supporting Obama in the democratic primary over Clinton after feminists 'forgave' him for killing the girl (as though it was NOWs prevue to bestow forgiveness for murder) and goes on to explain how Kennedys failure to support Clinton was like gang rape, as was teasing of kindergarten aged boys towards girls. I must admit I've had my fill

    Throw in things like the so called pay gap, the decimation of sports scholarships for men under Title IX, and the proposed expansion of to require gender and minority enforced quotas for educational programs. Or how women being less than 10% of CEOs is viewed as sexism, while the fact that they make up less than 5% of workplace fatalities is not. Or how the dearth of women legislatures is viewed as sexism even though women vote in greater numbers than men. Or the fact that domestic violence is generally reciprocal and women initiate almost as often as men do (physically) and more often them men do (emotionally)

    Julia gave a great example of why people don’t like feminist in her first posts. They were willing to screw over women simply because a charity offering clothing to the poor dared to also help men.

    Sadly I think feminism has fallen into the trap of socialism where equality of opportunity isn’t good enough and equality of outcome is paramount - but only in the areas beneficial to women, not in areas detrimental like homelessness, and rates of incarceration.

    So by all means I wish you luck taking back feminism and its true definition, didn’t work out at all for the skinheads, but maybe you'll have better luck.

    I'd offer to help, but the last time men help feminists we were blamed for all the problems of the world once they no longer needed our help.

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    1. I think men need to "take back" feminism as much as women do. The feminists who spent years pressuring the government to allow women to vote would never have succeeded without men who were willing to bring proposed legislation, even though many of them were voted out of office for their efforts. I think that the OP does a good job of explaining why younger feminists are trying to reclaim feminist language, but apply it to the context in which we live. There are certainly issues of equality that need to be addressed, but they are issues that are not solely gender issues. Personally, I think that the feminist critiques can go too far (as in my first example) but that throwing the ideas of equality out, with the militant agenda of older feminists, would be a mistake for men and women.

      To quickly address one of your examples, women accounting for fewer workplace accidents than men, I would hope that the desire isn't to increase the number of women getting hurt, but to drastically decrease the number of people getting hurt, so that fewer men and women are injured. That would definitely be a humanist goal, but it is one that would not conflict with a feminist critique either. In fact, most of the examples you gave should be something any feminist would see as an important part of a creating a better society. IMO, feminism is not about punishing men, or at least the kind of feminism that I value. If I am going to take the word back, it needs to come with an ideal that fights for the rights of women, and brings along men in similar circumstances.

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    2. My point about fatalities v CEOs isnt that I want to see more women hurt, Its that I find the definition of 'equality' = high end high paying jobs not having "enough" women, and not having women work high rise construction, or working in a foundry casting liquid metal into molds, and I find that hypocritical

      1st wave feminism was great and all about equaility, sencond wave feminism royaly screwed over men(though nowhere near the way gender feminists of the lastwave did) and women of color.

      My point in metioning skinheads for those who missed it or were wondering, skinheads started out as a music(primarily carribiean{read black} music) and fashion counter culture to the hippies. Now they are neo nazis and white supremicicsts

      I think the same sort of minority extremist shift has occured to feminism as well. And I'll admit that I think it is already past the point of no return. But as I said good luck trying to take it back. But dont count on guys, guys these days are relegated to two roles when commenting on the effects of feminism. Yes men and rapist/apologist.

      If you disagree in any way you'll be called a rapist, a mysogonist or worse. If you dont believe me create a fake male persona go to even the most benign of feminist boards and bring up one of the things you disagree with and watch what happens

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  11. It is unfortunate that radical feminists took over feminism and ruined it. I am a woman in my late 50's and I remember when my oldest sister did NOT get a graduate school assistantship and her husband did, even though her grades were better than his. Why? Because she was a married female and he was a married male. The assumption was that he would support her, so she really didn't need to go to graduate school. Now, thank God and the women that worked to make change happen, this is illegal. I've been in the workforce for most of my life and I have seen a change in the way women are treated in the workforce, but the changes are still not enough. One bit of news that made me very happy is that combat positions are now going to be open to women in the military. Women have been serving in combat areas, taking and returning fire, but they do not get combat pay or promotions. I'm glad this is going to change. My mother would have been very happy about this. she served in the military in WWII.

    Anyway, I'm sure you guessed that I am a feminist. I've also been married to the love of my life for 30 years, who is my partner in every way. In my mind, this is what feminism was all about. Being able to be true partners in marriage and having real opportunities and choices in the work place.

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting; it sounds like we are on very similar wavelengths about this issue. I owe a lot to the early feminists and their struggles to achieve reforms; I just wish society as a whole would recognize and value that, instead of just stereotyping feminists as angry man-haters.

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