Over the past year and a half, I’ve probably written a dozen – if not more – drafts of this post. I’ve tried (and scrapped) posts centered around everything from article quotes, to personal anecdotes, to general emotional rants. But I think this is finally it. While many of my posts have presented feminist themes, fundamentally, this is a post dedicated to feminism. It’s also about many other things, as it’s impossible to discuss feminism in isolation, but if you’re not willing to read about ‘just feminism’ then I suggest you leave this page now.
I was first inspired by Tuesday’s Room for Debate on the New York Times. To copy from the Times site: “Room for Debate presents a video roundtable, via Google+, reflecting on the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique.” The book tapped into anger among “happy housewives” in the 60s, helping create the second wave of feminism. But many women who balance career and family are still frustrated. Why?” Those interested in watching the roundtable video can find it here.
I found one of the most interesting aspects of the roundtable to be the discussion of the words “feminism” and “feminist.” I’ve always been personally reluctant to associate myself with the word “feminism” and to label myself as a “feminist” for the same reason that I think many women do. That opponents of feminism have associated the word with “man-hating” and irrational, hormone-fueled aggression. That feminists are trying to turn women into men, or (even worse) men into women. The word “feminism” is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary to mean: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” So, many of the women who agree with this definition, but may deny the label “feminist” are in fact, by definition feminist. It’s important to acknowledge that many women don’t identify with feminism, not because they don’t care, but because they don’t care to identify with certain perceptions of feminism.
Also interesting was the roundtable’s discussion of “female rage.” The subtitle for the piece was “If women can have it all why are they still angry?” Upon first reading this, it made me a little angry myself, but for a different reason. I thought, “Why did the NY Times automatically assume that women are angry?” To me, the word ‘anger’ implied irrationality and lack of control. People who were angry weren’t taken seriously. They were told to calm down and cool off. But most of the panelists thought otherwise. They were upset with the fact that it’s not acceptable for women to express their anger at current gender inequality. Women are told that they should be grateful of the conditions now, considering how conditions a few decades ago were much more unequal – there’s no place for rage anymore. But the panelists (and now I, myself) beg to differ. Rage and anger have a place anytime inequality continues to exist. It’s not wrong to be grateful for progress, but past progress should not be used as an excuse to impede future work.
Unarguably, the feminist movement has made its mistakes. Sometimes it pushed to hard and was too aggressive. Other times, it was too passive and made too many compromises. And too often, it was defined by the beliefs and actions of radical minorities that managed to grab media attention to the detriment of the overall movement. However, I don’t think anyone would argue that change is messy. Progress means venturing into new terrain; mistakes have been made and will continue to be made.
I consider myself very fortunate to be ‘entering adulthood’ in a time when women have more respect, more recognition, and more opportunities than ever. But at the same time, I agree there’s much more progress to be made. For example, here are a few things that I’d like to see change in my lifetime:
- Women’s reproductive rights in the hands of women. I think when it comes down to it, women (in consultation with their doctors) – NOT their boyfriends or husbands, NOT lobbying groups, and DEFINITELY NOT old, conservative, white, male legislators – know what’s best for women. I think comprehensive sex education and healthcare options will go far in empowering women, and will also reduce instances of unintended pregnancy and therefore abortion.
- Along a similar vein, I’d like to see elimination of the virgin or slut dichotomy – the idea that a woman is either prude if she is a virgin, or a slut for having pre-marital sex or sex with multiple partners. That whatever your level of sexual activity, it’s something to hide for fear of judgement. I mean, there’s no male equivalent for the word “slut.”
- Gender-neutral marketing of toys, books, etc. I feel very lucky to have a brother close to my age. It meant that growing up, I got to play with his LEGO block sets, video games, and other ‘boy toys.’ And I had a ton of fun with them. No girl should miss out on building LEGO fortresses because parents think that LEGOs aren’t ‘girl toys.’ This especially applies to educational toys like science kits that are more often marketed towards boys than girls.
- General improved understanding of and patience towards the feminist movement and its results. Like I mentioned earlier, with progress comes mistakes, and accepting that requires patience. I think a recent Thought Catalogue post put it very well. “Our grandmothers largely looked toward the eventual certainty of becoming a wife as one great stabilizing force, a determinant; we are a generation of women overwhelmed by choice.” I have choices that even my own mother couldn’t have dreamt of, but at the same time, it can be overwhelming. I wasn’t raised to be prepared for all of ‘this’ because all of ‘this’ wasn’t the case when my mother was growing up. I’m sure I’ll figure it out, but some patience and understanding would really help