Until about a year ago I would never, ever call myself a feminist directly. I would say, “I’m sort of a feminist, but not really,” and “I definitely think feminazis are going way too far” (as much as we hate to admit it, Rush Limbaugh does have an impact on the language of ideology in America). I would defend my concept of femininity and a women’s right to control her own body with the same strict sense of justice and equality that I do today, but I faltered with what to call myself. I suppose that I didn’t want to be labeled. With every 100,000 level-headed feminists there is one who wants to eliminate men from the face of the earth, and I certainly did not want to be seen as that one. I didn’t want anyone to feel that they had the right to silence me because I fit in a neat little box labeled ‘extremists’ that they could put on the shelf and ignore. Which, to be fair, is what I do to the Santorum’s of the world when they aren’t running for public office.
I remember in my adolescence explaining to an adult that I was a feminist and having them reply, “you don’t want to use that word honey.” That dirty word. “Feminist think that women should be drafted––you don’t want that do you?” Hell no, I don’t want to be drafted. That was the singular issue. That was used to shut me up because of course I didn’t want to be drafted. I wanted myself and my future womb to avoid shrapnel and machine guns at all costs. Unless we are fighting zombies or aliens––now THAT is a cause I can get behind.
I also remember thinking in my adolescence that Hillary Clinton was the coolest thing since B&M canned bread. I thought it was awesome that she was intelligent on all sorts of topics (Secretary of State isn’t the easiest job, I would imagine), AND she was for women, AND she was for children and education.
But adults––anchormen and women on TV, teachers, parents (not mine)––would laugh at her, tell me that yes, she was smart, but a woman could never be the head of our military. “Look at her hair, look at her clothes. Listen to her deep voice––she’s hardly a woman”. WTF mate? Was she a woman or wasn’t she? Why did it matter what she was wearing? Maybe a person devoid of the masculine ego would be the perfect military commander, thought I. Did her critics really think she was going to freeze up and have a tantrum in the oval office if she was elected? I thought we were over the whole “hysteria” thing.
When I was 16 I wrote a 5-page paper (what a doozy those were back in the day) for my government class about Hillary Clinton under the broad topic, “Hero or Heel?” The assignment was to evaluate a potential candidate for the 2008 election and decide based on my research whether they had skeletal closets or too many skeletons in their closets, and how prepared they would be for the presidency. I will share the first two sentences with you so you can get the gist of the paper, and so you can laugh along with me at my melodramatic teenage self:
” At the very mention of the name, conservatives will clench their fists and wince in disgust and horror, yet the achievements of Senator Hillary Clinton in the wake of a decline of humanity far outweigh her disadvantages. Though she has been described as “one without a soul” and “emotionless”( http://stophernow.com/) by right-winged radicals, her policies reflect social reform and aid the international democratic influence through foreign communication, as opposed to violent calls to action. “
I love how teenagers write––my favorite parts were “in the wake of the decline of humanity,” the “winged” radicals, and “foreign communication.” You would think that Ms. Clinton had invented the telephone to fight one-armed evangelical griffons. But back to the point––it seems that I believed that she was progressive domestically, anti-violence, and all for diplomacy. Later in the paper I cite the Children’s Health Insurance Plan and her interest in promoting UN intervention in Darfur as examples of her superior leadership. Even if my writing was a bit confused, I understood what was going on, and thought that as a person she would be a good choice for prez. But my classmates thought differently. My friends laughed at me and rolled their eyes when I told them I had picked her. They made fun of her for being robotic, soulless, and over-emotional at the same time (uhh….what?). At the end of the semester we had to give a presentation on our candidate with a powerpoint, and while I delivered the points that I discussed in my paper, I discounted every single one with a snarky comment about how she was a woman and robotic etc., and how it’s probably best that she wont be elected anyway because of her vagina (I doubt that I actually said vagina). I wrote about her as a “hero,” but delivered a presentation about a “heel.”
I went through life confused about my sense of justice for women and unable to express any of these feelings. Every time I ever tried to stand up for myself or a friend I would be shot down by laughter or a wave of the hand. So I fell silent––I pretended not to be a feminist and acted like one of the guys. I was cool. I lived in a patriarchal world without comment.
My feelings didn’t disappear, but were pushed inside. I became sensitive to the gender dynamics playing out around me. Yes, I said sensitive––but this doesn’t mean my thoughts can be discounted. “Sensitive” does not automatically equate “overreaction.” Poets are sensitive, artists are sensitive. Men are sensitive. And I will tell you from experience that it is much easier to fight a monster you can see than one that hides inside people, pretending to be the characteristic “easy-going,” pretending to be “chill.”
Feminism isn’t a state of agitation. It isn’t me agreeing that it’s OK for men to pay cover charges at bars when women get in free. It isn’t me saying that women are better because they are less violent, or that women are better because they have to carry the future in their bodies. Feminism is the crazy idea that women are people too. Feminism isn’t playing Robin Hood with gender dynamics, and isn’t trying to restrict men’s access to anything. Feminism is the freedom to stand up and deliver a presentation in your high school government class without the social pressure to berate Hillary Clinton because she has a vagina. It’s the freedom from the social pressure to berate yourself because you have a vagina. If you have to stand up in front of your peers and announce that you know your place, and that you will stay there, you aren’t very free.
Wikipedia says the following of feminism:
- Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. In addition, feminism seeks to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.
- Feminist activists campaign for women’s rights – such as in contract law, property, and voting – while also promoting bodily integrity, autonomy and reproductive rights for women. Feminist campaigns have changed societies, particularly in the West, by achieving women’s suffrage, gender neutrality in English, equal pay for women, reproductive rights for women (including access to contraceptives and abortion), and the right to enter into contracts and own property.
- Feminists have worked to protect women and girls from domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. They have also advocated for workplace rights, including maternity leave, and against forms of discrimination against women. Feminism is mainly focused on women’s issues, but because feminism seeks gender equality, some feminists argue that men’s liberation is a necessary part of feminism, and that men are also harmed by sexism and gender roles.
Where is the bad? There is nothing in feminist ideology that says anything about suppressing men in favor of women. Feminism does not come with a set of specific policy goals, but rests on the broad idea that women are people too, and on the economically proven idea that increasing women’s participation in national economies will increase the overall wealth and prosperity of a nation.
Where is the bad?