December 11, 2014
There seems to be some real confusion about what feminism is for some folks. This includes the Twitterverse, where some very ignorant women somehow got #WomenAgainstFeminism trending last summer. So let me clear it up.
First of all, being ignorant does not mean you are a bad person. We are all ignorant about more than we are knowledgeable about. I do not know Swahili, nor do I know how to bake a flambé. I am also ignorant of federal tax code and how to potty train a child. But let’s not be ignorant about what feminism is.
In her vital book, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, author bell hooks very clearly states, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” This is my favorite definition because it implies that someone who is not a feminist does not want to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression. And we know who those people are.
It also establishes what feminism is not: man-hating hairy armpit lesbianism that could care less about men’s lives (Shout out to my hairy armpit lesbians!). It is not about free abortions, getting fat, destroying the family and blowing up the make-up counter at Macy’s.
I argue in my classes that every woman is feminist, whether she identifies as such as not. Every woman understands the double standards. Every woman understands street harassment and the constant threat of rape. Every woman understands unequal pay for equal work. Every woman understands that society says you are less attractive each day you age. You might not call it “patriarchy,” but you understand it exists.
Feminism is a huge tent. There are radical feminists, liberal feminists, Marxist feminists, eco-feminists, psychoanalytical feminists, transnational feminists and even free market feminists. There are Beyoncé feminists, Taylor Swift feminists, and, yes, Sarah Palin feminists. Queer feminists, Suzy Homemaker feminists, and CEO feminists. There are feminists who oppose pornography and those who support it (if it’s done right). There are feminist who oppose Rush Limbaugh and… well, I guess there are feminists who don’t know he exists. After all, this is the cretin that said, “The feminist movement was created to allow ugly women access to the mainstream of society.”
Forty years ago, the core of the feminist club was a small clique of upper middle-class white women at private universities with subscriptions to Ms. magazine. Now it’s open to everyone. Women of color have a voice and so do men, as well as transpeople and rural people (and rural transpeople). I try to get copies of bell hooks’ 2010 book, Feminism is for Everybody, into people’s hands as often as possible. Feminism is now addressing how patriarchy hurts men as well as women and that’s the work that I do as a sociologist. Men die at an alarming rate for doing things just because they are “manly.”
When I was a graduate student at Emory, I was teaching Intro to Sociology at Dekalb Community College. I would get a lot of working-class (often black) women who would say, “I’m not a feminist, but…” and then say something completely feminist, about abusive men, unfair work situations, or unreal beauty standards. They were feminists but that term had been both stigmatized by anti-feminists, like Mr. Limbaugh (and all the men sympathetic to his cause), and made obtuse by academic feminists who favor 10-dollar phrases over opening the door to those outside the academy.
Here is one of my favorite quotes by one of my favorite academic feminists, Dorothy E. Smith – “The relations of the ruling are rationally organized. They are objectified, impersonal, claiming universality. Their gender subtext has been invisible.” It makes perfect sense to me but I am a university professor. Smith’s thought might send anybody else running for the comfort of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
The point of this piece is this. When I say I am a feminist and I will raise my daughter as a feminist, don’t blow a gasket if you don’t even know what feminism is. If you want my kid to grow up in a world where she is appreciated as a full human, with her own dreams and desires and rights and freedoms, welcome to the feminist club.
These books are available at Powell’s by clicking the covers below.