Thursday, March 21, 2002

Defining Feminism

A little post-blog-sisters-political-bashing reflection.

A few posts back, Jeneane made the remark that she didn't really consider herself a feminist. I threw in my little comment to that post, mentioning that I didn't particularly consider myself one either. Then this person named Deb Gussman followed up with this comment:
I'm new to reading Blogsisters, and I'd be interested in hearing more about why you don't consider yourself a feminist. It seems to me that nothing that goes on here could be considered "anti-feminist," at any rate.

Excellent comment, and though that may perhaps have been directed at Jeneane, I'm going to respond to it anyway.

Yesterday, I was reading something on Anita's blog, and she had a quote from the estimable Burningbird:
Anyone who believes that women should have equal opportunity for work, equal pay for said work, equal opportunity of religion, equal opportunity to education, equal opportunity to medical care, equal opportunity to speak, equal opportunity to vote, control over what happens with her body, equal say with what happens to her family and her children is a feminist.

I think that is probably the most positive definition of feminism. Now go watch a flick like I Shot Andy Warhol and tell me what the definition of feminism there is. ;-) Even better, you can read this manifesto online.

"Feminist" is a political word. Just like "Democrat" or "Republican", it implies a particular political agenda, an approach to society, economics, and governmental ideology. Unfortunately, all those three words do not contain any absolutes. You can have Democrats ranging all over the political spectrum on different issues, Republicans that believe that, say, abortion should be legal and Republicans that believe it shouldn't. The same with feminists (it's not a perfect analogy-- feminists aren't necessarily a "political party" like the other two). Some feminists believe that men are disgusting pigs and should be wiped off the face of the earth, some are like Shelley and genuinely want equal treatment. Some claim they want to be treated like equals, but then still want the door held open for them, too.

I've done some very pro-feminine things. I've been a part of women's discussion groups, I've been in Take Back the Night Marches, I've lived in a Christian women's community in college. But I don't like the "feminist" label. For me, I don't consider myself a Democrat, just like I don't consider myself a feminist. I do consider myself politically liberal/left-leaning. I do consider myself interested in women's issues in politcal and other arenas. I shy away from the labeling words, however, because it's so nebulous. I don't want to describe myself to other people in a way that has so many conflicting definitions, especially in such a divisive way.

Like Anita, I like to think of myself as a humanist. If I make the mental distinction of feminist, I find myself slipping into the trap of everything being "women this and women that" or "men blah, men blah blah." I've schooled myself to think "person" instead; not because I think that gender should be completely ignored, but because I don't want it to necessarily be the significant defining characteristic when I first look at someone.

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