I identify myself as a feminist, so it’s a little weird for me to backtrack and remember that it’s not a label everyone is comfortable wearing.
The only thing keeping me from calling myself a feminist was lack of understanding of what the word meant. Is feminism still a thing, or is it over now that women have the right to vote and work outside the home? Is being called a feminist a good thing? What exactly does it mean to call myself a feminist… and do I want to deal with the negative connotations surrounding the word? What is a feminist?
Let’s jump back to my first semester at a women’s college. For the first time in my life, I was participating in discussions about equality, diversity, empowerment, and the power of language– I was putting things I had always thought about and considered important into words.
My parents raised me to believe in my own worth, and never pinned me into prescribed gender roles or tried to control what I wanted to do with my life. The women in my life were strong, nurturing, ambitious, successful, and incredibly hard-working. Both my mom and grandma went back to university after having kids; my grandma became a nurse after raising 5 kids, and my mom became a teacher while raising 4 kids. I ran cross-country in the fall, watched romantic comedies at sleep overs in the winter, hiked along waterfalls in the spring, did folk dancing in the summer, and went away to college at a university a thousand miles away from home. No one ever explicitly talked about feminism, and my mom certainly never hung a picture of Gloria Steinem on the wall at home, but my family always empowered me to be my best, never limited me, and never made me feel I wasn’t equal to my brothers.
Becoming a feminist wasn’t some radical, “she’s gone to college and now she’s an anarchist!” kind of thing, because I was already a feminist. I remember choosing to label myself as a feminist with pride, once I felt I knew what it meant.
So many women and men recoil from the dreaded f-word. “Let’s not bring feminism into this!” I heard a woman say, in response to her friend’s comment that a woman could say herself (instead of being a damsel in distress). I was shocked; how is being an independent woman “bringing feminism” into the discussion?
Let’s look at what goes into this f-word:
Yes, feminism is still a thing. Less than 100 years ago, American women were granted the right to vote. (Awesome fact: Before American women had universal suffrage, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress.) After the vote was gained, “second-wave feminism” came in and prized basic rights for women out of the cold white hands of the patriarchy. (Part of the fun of being a feminist is getting to use colorful imagery to make a point.)
Imagine a world where your spouse has complete control over your credit cards and bank account, where many careers are considered out of reach for you solely on the basis of your sex (or skin color, or accent, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and so on– but that’s another, related, story), where your children are seen not as one aspect of your life but as very nearly the only aspect, where you earn less for the work you do than others who do the same quality of work. Many of these are, unfortunately, not hard to imagine, because we (Americans) still have not achieved pay equality.
Pay equality is a contentious issue, because it’s simply not as cut-and-dry as some statistics suggest. Part of the wage gap comes from more complex issues than just paychecks; there are fewer women leaders in many fields, women workers are sometimes treated unfairly because their employers believe they will become pregnant and leave their jobs, and many women haven’t been taught to be assertive about negotiating their pay the way men have. But the truth is, there shouldn’t be any kind of wage gap– and while that statistic about women being paid 78 cents on the male dollar keeps getting tossed around, when you put race into the equation, it becomes even scarier.
You’ll notice the figures differ in these two infographics. That’s kind of my point. No one agrees on this, no one agrees on what factors should go into to finding this information, and I certainly don’t know which statistics are accurate. But I have no doubt there is a pay gap among races and genders.
I digress. Yes, feminism is still a thing. Feminism in the media is usually white, middle class, 1st world feminism– but while white middle class women are affected by sexism, it’s important to recognize that being a woman becomes even harder when you’re also a minority, or when you’re considered your husband’s/father’s property, or when you can’t go to elementary school because you’re walking 12 miles to get water for your family. Feminism is about all of these things and more; at its roots, feminism is about equality.
Man-haters? Sure. Because wanting to be treated equally to men, to be given the same opportunities, to have my opinions and my work respected on their own, without reference to my gender, is man-hating. NO! I have incredible, loving men in my life, and I would never think of them as “bad” or anything like that, simply because they are men. Sexism is a systemic problem on a societal level, not something that every single man carries around like a weapon. Some men are awful sexists. So are some women. Some women are feminists, working for equality– and so are some men. It always seems so incredibly bizarre to me when people (mainly women) say they could never be feminist because they don’t hate men, or because they don’t want to raise women above men. I don’t want to be “above” men! I just want you to look at my abilities and contributions the same way you would if I was a man.
So if you’re wondering whether or not you are (or want to be) feminist, think about whether you believe women and men are equal in worth, and whether you want to do something about the way our society treats women and men.
Because at the end of the day…