Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Defining Feminism

Feminism is making a comeback.  It's especially talked about on social media, so much so that #womenagainstfeminsim has cropped up as well.  I know feminism is truly awakening from its 1990s-2000s slumber if there is a sizable reaction against that movement.  So in fact, I'm pretty thankful for these anti-feminist tweets and opinions because it means people are noticing a rise in support for feminism and want to discuss it.

At first I was really upset by the tweets and YouTube videos I found after searching #womenagainstfeminism on Twitter and Google a few months ago.  In fact, this post was going to be a bit angry and argumentative.  After talking to my very wise friend Megan, though, I realized that that is exactly what I don't need to contribute to the conversation.  I think most of these women already know that without feminism they couldn't be doing what they are doing today (vote, own property, divorce, show some ankle, etc.).  While I disagree with most of the women against feminism, I am most upset by the fact that this tweet debate shows that nobody really knows what feminism is.  Feminists don't even really know.  They argue about the definition and what it means to live your life as a feminist pretty much constantly.  Does a woman have to throw away her razor and skirts to be considered a feminist?  If a woman is a stay-at-home mom, is she a feminist? If a woman is a stripper, can she be included as a feminist?  What are feminists fighting for, exactly?  Whose rights? American women?  [Insert race here] women?  Lower-class women? Fat women? Transwomen?

While mulling this over, the terrible and wonderful my-professor-was-right-all-along hit me.  In a feminist criticism course I took, the professor spent a lengthy amount of time discussing the relativity of feminism to modern women and if it can even be defined anymore.  After all, there isn't one single and obvious reform to rally around like suffrage or even the Equal Rights Amendment.  We discussed whether something needs a hard and fast definition to even exist.  We talked about the severe negativity many people associate with "the other F word."  We speculated that perhaps adopting a word like "equalist" would be a safer, more comfortable label.  I disagreed with her at the time, thinking "equalist" was wimping out and making "feminist" even more of a "bad word".  I  thought the prof was suggesting that feminism as an active movement had come to a close and now all we could do was exchange high-fives and critique old literary pieces using historic, archaic feminist ideas.

Now my own internal feminist debate that has been storming most ardently in the past few weeks has come full circle and I find myself again looking at the ideas in Dr. C's feminist criticism class.  Although now I feel I can see a bit more clearly into the murky, muddy puddle that is feminist theory.  We need a definition of feminism.  But who is authorized to give it?

A while ago I watched a TED talk given by Tavi Gevinson that grappled with the same issues.  The precocious high school girl, who runs a fashion blog and considers herself a feminist, explains how she came to terms with all the contradictions that come with being a feminist, not to mention one obsessed with fashion.  Feminism is incredibly complex and means something different to virtually every person who has encountered the word.  So basically, you must define it for yourself.  I know.  That clears up very little.  But I'll try to explain by giving my personal definition and some guidelines about finding your own feminism.

My definition of feminism is "total equality regardless of gender identification or sexual orientation".  The way I measure this "equality" is based on the abolition of the assumption that we as humans possess any ownership over another human's body.  Societal expression of this ownership assumption includes rape and sexual assault, body judgement and shame, oversexualization of the female (or male) body in media, and in other parts of the world women are still trying to declare freedom from body ownership in serious and basic ways, like genital mutilation and prearranged marriages that equate to goods exchanges.  The second part of my definition is compassion.  I know that a lot of women give back the hate they feel directed at them and call it feminism, but I don't subscribe to that.  Compassion is the motivation for my feminism.  The third part of my definition is that all women should be free to choose their own life.  If they want to be mothers, they should be.  If they want to chase a career, they should.  If they want to do both, they should be able to without judgments made on their parenting.  If they want to stay home and homeschool their kids and bake pies and sew clothes, they should be able to without judgment.

My guidelines for defining feminism are simple.  Equality should be in your definition somewhere.  Hatred should be left out of equal rights fights always.  And feminism is not exclusive.  It can't fully exist without also fighting racism and classism.  It also intersects with gender spectrum issues and fat studies these days.

Sounds really idealistic, romantic, and other words for the opposite of realistic.  But that's the thing.  I want it to become a reality.


  1. Found your blog because of a post on Hozier, and had to keep reading. I am one of those who refuse to call myself a feminist, mainly because I think it's swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction (in today's world). I'm an equalist, and I'm proud to stand up for both women's and men's rights. I think that we often get so blinded to our own struggles that we forget that others face them as well.

    As an author, the nuances between men and women - from sexuality to professional interactions - all speak to the decades of women who have fought for equal rights, and that there's still a way to go. The problem is how to be treated as an equal without losing our femininity. I for one do not want to become a "man with boobs" (as so often seen in strong female characters in novels, where the gender could easily be changed without altering the story at all). I like the girly aspects of my character, and I think that if we forget that "equal does not mean identical" then it becomes an easy trap to fall into.

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