What comes to mind when you hear the word, feminist? Gloria Steinem in her oversized glasses? Women burning bras or screaming into bullhorns? Or maybe you think back to that brief chapter in high school history when you learned about the suffragettes, and you picture Victorian ladies marching in fancy hats and sashes.
What I really want to know is: do you picture you?
When I was very young I wondered why democratic politicians didn’t win every election. If roughly fifty percent of the American population is female, I reasoned, and all women are democrats, then the collective democratic vote would tip the scales every time. Right?
Obviously, I was wrong on a few points.
I went off to college and learned how nuanced women are, how complicated political issues can be, and how multifaceted the word feminism is. Feminism gave me a frame for understanding what I was witnessing in school, at family gatherings, and out in the world. It put my thoughts into context and helped me feel connected to something important. My degree was more than just a privilege; it was my duty. I proudly pursued a minor in Women’s Studies and carried my feminism around in my pocket like a secret handshake to be pulled out at dinner parties—“Yes, I’m with you!” Or like a badge to be flashed at… um, other dinner parties—“That’s bullshit!”
All those classes still didn’t help me understand why a woman could ever be a republican. It wasn’t until I began listening to republican women explain their views that I came to understand—it is possible to be both. A woman could unroll her beliefs about a whole mess of topics, and I may disagree with her on every point, yet still embrace her as a sister in a common struggle.
In recent conversations I’ve had with women, I’ve noticed a funny thing happen when I use the word feminism. Whether I’m identifying as a feminist or talking about feminist thought, I see women get uncomfortable. Some don’t like the word and don’t identify with it. Others never tried the word on for size because they never had to. These are women I would call compassionate and forward thinking. But feminism feels too abrasive and dated. They like calling themselves, humanists or something more… I don’t know… soft and pretty. Because don’t all humans matter?
Hmmm. Sounds familiar.
Feminism has become a dirty word to those too afraid to align themselves with something radical. And this is a problem.
While I was in middle school, my young and cool aunt went off to college and came home telling me about this women studies class she was taking. She pumped her fist in the air and chanted, “Hate men! Hate men!” She was joking. Still, her chant reflected a common misconception about a movement, even if it sparked a curiosity in me that later became my identity.
Feminism is not about taking power out of the hands of men. Rather, it is about opening space for all voices to be heard. Feminism is about removing obstacles to growth and advancement that are based solely on gender, orientation, race, or class. (Yes, feminism includes all these things.) It is about equality and sharing power. No one is elevated through oppression.
That’s it. Who can’t get on board with that? Well, quite a few, as the results of this past election have taught us.The beautiful thing about feminism is it's a banner big enough for all of us to stand under. Click To Tweet
Maybe you don’t want to call yourself a feminist because you’re not willing to give up your mani-pedis, or maybe you aspire to be a stay-at-home mom and so feminist doesn’t feel quite right, or shouting into a bullhorn isn’t your jam. Or maybe it just feels dated.
It’s not. Feminism is alive and kicking. It’s the reason we just witnessed a woman get further politically than any woman ever has. Yeah, I’m still mourning Clinton’s loss, but I’ll not forget that THAT is something worth celebrating.
The beautiful thing about feminism is this: it is a banner big enough for all of us to stand under. It is not a dirty word. It is a necessary word. Because if there is anything this election has taught me, it’s that we’re not there yet. And we still have A LOT of work to do.
You can be a feminist whether you shave your armpits or not. You can be a feminist if you are religious. You can disagree with Hillary Clinton and still be a feminist. You can be a feminist if you don’t even know who Gloria Steinem is. (Although, you should. Google her now!) And you can be a feminist if you are a man.
Mmmmm, hmm. One of the sexiest things about my husband is how swift he is to declare he is a feminist too.
Feminism isn’t scary or dated. And it’s not going anywhere until men and women have achieved equality in every way. Try it on for size. Walk around your house calling yourself a feminist for an afternoon. The most revolutionary act you ever make may be aligning yourself with those you oppose in the name of a greater good.
For the record, my cool aunt who introduced me to feminism is busy earning a Ph.D. while working full time and raising a confident and compassionate daughter and son. And she’s a single mother. I don’t know whom she voted for. I don’t know if she still calls herself a feminist. (I hope so, because she is.) Regardless, I owe her thanks for showing me it was okay to call myself one.
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