Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday's Musings: I'm a Feminist (and you should be too)

I Found Marx
Marx and Me
(Feminism and socialism don't have to go together, but it seems like the reaction to both in this country are about the same)
[Disclaimer: This post is about the core of feminism and about my interpretation of feminism. It may not completely follow feminist social theory, and some of my interpretation may differ from others' interpretations. And that's okay.]

I am a feminist. You should be too.

Feminism has unfortunately been slandered, twisted, and mis-defined in our culture. Quick, what comes to mind when you think of the word "feminist"? Our cultural narrative of feminism goes something like this: Feminists are militant. Feminists are angry. Feminists are butch. Feminists hate men. Feminists want to emasculate men. Feminists are against families. Feminists want to subjugate men. Feminists are overly sensitive. Feminists are going to destroy the fabric of our society. Feminists have no morals. Feminists are nefarious and scary. Feminists hate babies. Feminists are whiny and entitled... The list goes on.

But this is a lie. There may be some feminists who fit some of these definitions, but applying this definition to feminism would be like saying that socialists are mass murderers because Stalin happened to espouse this ideology. (*Note: Socialists are not mass murderers. Also, while I'm at it, socialism and communism are not the same thing, just to clear that up.*)

So what is feminism? According to Merriam-Webster (my favorite dictionary), feminism is defined as, (1)  "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes" and (2) "organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests." See, nothing really scary there. One of my favorite basic definitions, taken from Caitlin Moran's book How to Be a Woman, states that "Vagina + Equal Rights = Feminist." To put it simply, if you believe that men and women have the right to be treated equally, you are a feminist.

The original title for this post was going to be "Accidental Feminism," stemming from my own journey in feminism. But I quickly realized that this title would be wildly inaccurate. Feminism was not an "accident" in my life, in fact, it's very natural. I was raised by two wonderful parents who encouraged me and supported me. They told me I was smart and beautiful and strong and capable. They taught me that I deserved to be treated well and taken seriously. They instilled in me that my identity and my value does not come from any other human being, but from God. And God created both men and women in his image and he does not play favorites. My mother is a stay-at-home mom, by choice, for many reasons. But that does not mean she is in any way inferior to my father. They are partners, and that is very clear in the marriage. So why wouldn't I be a feminist? Since I was tiny I have been encouraged to stand up for myself, to create goals, to work hard to achieve those goals by all sorts of people in my life- parents, teachers, mentors, friends. I have been taught that I am loved and valued and that my worth has nothing to do with my gender. Because worth should have nothing to do with gender. That's why I'm a feminist.

Now, I first claimed that title of feminist in high school. Specifically, a friend and I joked about being closet "feminazis"* because of the reinterpretation of Cinderella we wrote in rhyming iambic pentameter for a high school English class (*Note: please do not use this term. It can be very hurtful, for a number of reasons, and it promotes fallacies and inaccuracies about feminism). Part of this movement towards feminism was incredibly healthy- I finally broke the notion in my head that I would truly be happy when I had a boyfriend. I finally realized that I did not need a man to define me, that being single is a gift, and that I could be happy and complete and fulfilled even if I remained single for the rest of my days. But unfortunately with this I went to far in the other way. I became a man-basher. I viewed men as stupid, hurtful, and oppressive. I have had my difficulties in relations with the opposite gender in the past, and this pushed me to push back in full-force. Men objectified and oppressed women; so as a woman, I had the right to denigrate and disparage them. Men had hurt me; I had the right to hurt them back. I could take pleasure in humiliating them with my superior intellect- they deserved it. I was bitter and angry, and in that often ugly, in my dealings towards guys. It took some really good guy friends and an honest gut-check to make me realize that what I was doing was wrong and I needed to change.

Man-bashing is not feminism. Feminism does not seek to subjugate men. That would be sexism. Two wrongs don't make a right-- attacking men because they have possessed the traditionally privileged gender role is not the right answer here. Feminism seeks to raise women up to the place they deserve- equal footing, equal worth, equal compensation. We need to be attacking the system that puts men and women on unequal footing. (On a related note: gender equality does not mean "sameness." In my book at least, men and women are different. We often process things differently, we often operate differently, and we often perceive the world differently. People of both genders have their strengths and weaknesses. We are different, but that doesn't mean we can't be equal partners.)

Being feminist does not mean burning your bra (though you can if you want to). Being feminist does not mean that you can't ever get married. Being feminist does not mean refusing to walk through a door that the man in front of you kindly held open for you. Being feminist does mean that you must only use gender neutral pronouns. Being feminist does not mean you have to be a abortion advocate. Being feminist means that you work towards men and women having equal opportunities in the political realm, in the economic realm, and in the social realm. It means fighting demeaning stereotypes in our culture. It mean supporting women's education. It means standing up against cases of sexism. It means recognizing that women are intelligent and capable and strong and deserve to be treated as such. It means creating spaces for them to safely express their opinions. It means not blaming the victim.

We live in a historically patriarchal (and often still patriarchal) society. Our society is not yet achieved gender equality. Which means that we need to actively work towards that. Hence, feminism. If you are a woman, feminism should come pretty naturally. After all, I don't think most of us want to be treated as if we are inferior. And for men, you should be feminist too. Because you are also intelligent and strong and capable, so you don't need to feel threatened by strong, intelligent, capable women. You don't need a system that oppresses women. You are better than that. So let's aim for a partnership on equal footing, okay?

I am a feminist, and I would like for you to join me.

Want to know more? These are a few of the works that inspired this post:
Caitlin Moran's fantastic funny book
This wonderful post from APW
This video (and the other five "Tropes vs. Women" videos)

PS: What about feminism and faith?

As a Christian, I've honestly struggled with this. Because there have definitely been times when what I have seen in the church seems to conflict with the idea of gender equality and strong, independent women. But I think it comes back down to the partners concept. Men and women, in partnership, are supposed to reflect the image of God. And Jesus was a big supporter of women in a culture that definitely devalued them. Yes, there are verses in the Bible that call for wives to submit to their husbands, as the church submits to the authority of Christ. But those verses are usually followed up with a command that husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church. And in case you're not familiar, Christ died a horrific, gruesome death for the church. Christ loved the church to the point of the ultimate self-sacrifice. So clearly, the sacrifice cuts both ways. I haven't entirely figured out what exactly a feminist Christian marriage looks like. But I am sure, that though men and women may play different parts and have different strengths, they can be (and should be) equal partners. After all, that's what most healthy marriages I can think of look like. Honestly, like I said in an earlier post, my first solution to this dilemma was to just postpone even thinking about marriage. But now that I can't really do that anymore, I'll let you know what I figure out as I go.

Photo taken by Kelly on Kara Haberstock's Camera, July 2011, all rights reserved

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