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definition of feminism

I keep seeing definitions of feminism float around that do not really gel with me:
  • Do you think men and women should be equal? Then you're a feminist!
  • Do you want women to control their own lives? Then you're a feminist!
  • Do you think women are just as smart as men? Then you're a feminist!

While these are feminist-y things, I think they really leave the question open about why we don't just call ourselves equalists. When the word doesn't make sense people aren't likely to sign up for it - even well-meaning, non-woman-hating people I know. When the word doesn't make sense others may redefine it in ways that are totally wrong... like the idea that feminism is about female supremacy or reclaiming what's ours or choosing whatever shoes we want.

I realize I don't own feminism, but if I were to work the door for this party I'd set the bar a little higher and have some other requirements for people to call themselves feminists.

For one, you have to admit that men have some privileges. This doesn't make them bad people, as individuals. They were just born into a system set up that way. It's a world where, until about 50 years ago, women were very busy having babies. Men still hold most of the political and economic power throughout the world. If you think women are "in control" because we get to shop for groceries, you're not a feminist. You are not understanding what power means. Although we'd love to see a woman president, men aren't lining up to switch with us when it comes to picking out breakfast cereals. Men have something valuable, and just saying "we should be equal!" glosses over the fact that we aren't.

Then you have to admit that some of the bad things happening to women around the world aren't just coincidences. They're linked. Domestic violence, pay inequality, media objectification, rape, sexual assault, lack of maternal health resources, underrepresentation in political forums, the unique and unfortunate stereotypes applied to women of color, poverty... they're caused by a system of marginalization. If it was easy to stop rape by just throwing rapists in jail, we'd do it. It's illegal in the US, right? But what stops rape victims from coming forward with their stories? Is it the same thing that stops women from leaving violent intimate partners? Is it the same thing that makes young girls want to starve themselves to be thin? Feminists believe in looking for the common threads, in addition to the simple "throw bad guys in jail" solutions... give a name to things like "victim blaming" and see where else it's hurting us. All of us. As a society.

Feminism is about admitting that these things are complicated... all the more reason why we need the word "feminism". It's a journey. If it was bumper-sticker simple, we wouldn't need a word to collect what we're doing here. We'd just do it and be done.

Feminism: the willingness to explore whether common struggles across humanity could be improved by eliminating the systemic marginalization of women.

A little wordy, I know, I'll keep working on it. But it's got to be more than just giving a woman a high-five, friends.

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
sandokai
Jan. 10th, 2014 01:56 am (UTC)
I love this post!
You might add "and girls" to your definition. And maybe a stronger verb than explore?
browngirl
Jan. 10th, 2014 01:58 am (UTC)
I think that's an excellent definition and that this is an excellent post, from the problems with slogans onwards. (Seriously, I'd add something if I could think of it but right now I'm just cheering.)
aparecida
Jan. 10th, 2014 04:05 am (UTC)
I also think the definition ought to entail opposing race & class based oppression & transphobia. I realize not everyone's feminism does, but. Yknow. It should. :)
mrs_dragon
Jan. 10th, 2014 04:26 am (UTC)
Two thumbs up.
mrs_dragon
Jan. 10th, 2014 04:30 am (UTC)
I agree with you and I love the definition that you've come up with. I will say this though "Do you think women should be equal to men? Then you're a feminist!" is a great open door to feminism. It gets people in who never thought about these things before.

Yes, there is a lot more and yes, I want people to dig deep and challenge themselves. But even just saying "I wouldn't treat a man that way so I won't treat a woman that way, that's not equal" is more feminist than many people ever get. And we all have to start somewhere. It's like acknowledging that kids who like to add like math. Sure it's not diff-eqs, but it might be someday, if they are encouraged in their early interest. I don't want to shut people down for not being "feminist enough". Instead, I want to say "You think men and women should be equal? Awesome! We do too! And while we're on the subject, here are some other things that we believe which you may want to think about."
spacefem
Jan. 10th, 2014 12:47 pm (UTC)
The problem is I've never in my life had someone say "Women should be equal, oh that's what feminism is? Well shoot then of course I'm a feminist!" Instead they say, "Well yeah I think women are people too, that makes me *not an asshole*." or "Sure men and women should be equal, that's why I'm glad they already are."

I just haven't found it to inspire thought when it's brought up.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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