It’s a question we are dealing with a lot these days, while not actually addressing the question itself. Feminism has become this “catch all” term, often associated with bra-less, unshaven hippies on the street. It’s associated with hypocrisy and man-hate, and a sort of fascinating apathy. I kind of hate even using the term feminism, because, as an “ism” it tends to attract a lot of extremes and polarized behavior.
There are too many definitions, too many associations, too many negative examples.
What is feminism?
In an oversimplified world, two general sides shake out when the term “feminism” arises. One side sounds like this:
Fuck men! *Burns bra* Bras are symbols of man’s oppression over women. I should get paid better! I don’t want to be treated differently because I’m a woman, everything should be totally equal! I shouldn’t have to shave; men don’t shave. Seriously, look at my armpit hair! That’s protest for you! Really, we all know women are better anyway, men are just scared of the power we have. We would be ruling the world but the patriarchy has us pinned under its boot.
While the other side shouts this:
Feminism is over. You can vote and work and live freely, what else could you possibly want? Think of the rights that women have in other countries. At least you have it better than that. Besides, none of you know what you want any way. I open a door for you and you freak out and call me chauvinist, if I don’t open the door then you call me a jerk. What the hell? Whatever. You guys have it fine. Quit complaining. And make me a sandwich lololjk.
You know what? Both are wrong. More importantly, I don’t really think either of these sides represents a large portion of people. I do think most people inherently sense something is “off” in regards to gender treatment, but we seem to have a lot of trouble really putting our finger on it.
So what the hell is feminism?
First of all, the answer isn’t simple, and we need to stop trying to make it simple. An obnoxious Facebook comment will NEVER define the looming issues tied up in this very big problem. (So please stop acting like your single comment on social media is going to do anything.)
True feminism is about both genders supporting each other. Change cannot occur without both sides listening and recognizing the unique challenges we all face. I fully acknowledge that men deal with societal nuances that are total bullshit.
At the same time, the bulk of feminism is about women’s issues, because women need the most societal change. Why? Because women do not feel safe in our society. And I am talking about safe in every sense of the word: emotionally, physically, intellectually. They just don’t. I’m not just talking about back alley attacks, I’m talking about in the workplace, in their families, in their bodies, their relationships. Perhaps a lucky woman here and there feels safe in a few of those areas, but you would be hard-pressed to find a female who can honestly declare that she is safe and confident in all aspects of her life.
Now before you blow your whistle and tell me that no one feels “safe” all the time, I would argue that women have a particularly difficult hand dealt to them. Women are trying to figure out the rules of a game while the rules are changed and demand opposite actions. Women are told a plethora of mixed messages:
- Want sex but be pure.
- Look good but not like you are trying too hard.
- Be strong but don’t be a bitch.
More than the messages themselves, they often come in little bundles of threat: conform or be rejected. And I personally think women are pressured into not complaining. It’s confusing and it’s absurd. Perhaps it’s my own bias, but I really don’t think any other single group gets nearly as much mixed messages coupled with societal demand.
With all of that in mind, here is my personal definition:
Feminism is the acknowledgement that gender inequality exists in many complex aspects of our society; due to this recognition, feminism demands action to change the paradigm in as respectful a manner possible while still achieving progress.
When I initially wanted to start a blog two years ago, it was going to be a blog entirely devoted to feminism. It’s a HUGE topic. More than that, there are huge topics within feminism, and feminism is somehow this loose binding that holds these many frustrating and hot-button issues together.
But as I started defining the very nature of feminism and thinking of all the things I wanted to articulate, I couldn’t nail everything under the banner of feminism. I do consider myself a feminist. I am also a mother. I am also a teacher. I’m a wife and a writer and a reader and to restrict myself to only feminist issues seemed like it was inherently counter-productive
As I write more, I find links and ties to feminism in all aspects of my life. It’s not an overarching banner so much as a thread that runs through most projects and causes I undertake. So I think it will come up often in my writing, even if it’s not in a direct manner.
Women face new issues today, and they face old ones as well. Sensationalizing these issues will not solve the problem. Picking sides and screaming at each other will not solve the issue. And ignoring these issues will never help us.
Feminism is real, even if we can’t define it very well. And it needs to be talked about.
So let’s talk.