My Feminism is Not the Standard Feminism

Popular culture likes to paint the definition of feminism as women’s goal to be equal to men. It’s the sanitized, simplified, and publicly palatable version of feminism. It’s the definition that many are exposed to first, that we see in the media, and what lots of adults will tell you when your eight year old self asks what feminism is. And to be fair, the definiton is not strictly incorrect. As many here know, the definition of feminism is a longstanding point of contention. One person’s definition is undoubtedly the one listed above. Another person’s defintion is all about choice. And obviously, we do not all agree with each other’s definitions. Putting those differences aside is a necessity, because it unites us all as part of a global movement with one overarching goal: to help women.

My feminism is not, and never will be, equality feminism. I agree with the great bell hooks when she says in her book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center that “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” My feminism calls for an end to patriarchy and patriarchal culture that enables sexism and the resulting oppression. I like this defintion because to me, it is all encompassing. It is inclusive of hot-button feminisms like choice feminism and equality feminism, which have been shot down by radicals as not doing any real good. Well, y’all, I’m a radical, and I like it that way. I feel like it is a radical thing to stand up and say, “I realize that you say that this is your choice. What I want you to realize is that you make this choice within a patriarchy and within a kyriarchy.” I want women to make their own choices. I want them to choose to stay at home and have babies or to be a sex worker. I want them to do these things if that is what they desire, because our desires as women should not ever be ignored or pushed to the back burner, and they should not be dismissed or shamed. And because I want these things, I want to end sexist oppression and exploitation, because only then can those choices be made without harming women and people in general.

What do I mean when I say harming women? Well, harm comes in many forms. I’m not just using some self-serving definition of, “Oh, these silly ladies, they’re messing it up for the rest of us real feminists by choosing to not work and parent their children!” While that can be one definition of harm, there are so many more. I know many reading this have experienced stigma and shame because they choose to do something like be a stay at home mother. While I am not a mother, and do not know their unique experiences, I am a friend to many mothers who, to put it succinctly, take a lot of shit. Their career-minded friends look down on them, their former bosses rage because they lost an employee, and they get judged inexcusably. This only exists because of sexism, and it is harmful. Sex workers are shamed from every angle. They are judged from every conceivable angle, from holy-rolling conservatives who deem them immoral, to judgey radfems who villify them for not fighting patriarchy. Well, sometimes you have to work within that patriarchy, and sexist oppression and exploitation are the reasons why. My definition is radical and seeks to end sexist and patriarchal oppression because I want women to stay at home if they want to, and I do not want them judged and shamed for it. I want women to do sex work if that is what they want, and I want them to make that choice without the danger of being raped, beaten, murdered, or judged.

My feminism is not equality feminism because patriarchy and kyriarchy, ensure that men have it pretty rough as well. Men are not just some monolithic group of creatures who conspire to keep the ladies down. Men are actively oppressed by patriarchy, because patriarchy has a very slim definition of what makes a man. You know, the tough manly man with the sports obsession and the muscle car in the garage who loves beer and red meat? Yeah, that guy. That stereotype, really. The same ideals that tell women that we can’t like sports or beer or muscle cars and that good ladies order salads at restaurants are the same ideals that tell men that they have to like those things, lest they not be a “real man.” And it is this concept of a “real man” that routinely excludes the queer identified, no matter their gender. A “real man” doesn’t like other men! A “lady” isn’t attracted to other girls! Gender is in between your legs, not your ears! And let’s not forget, the same fashion and diet industries that exploit and oppress women by telling us we have to be skinny (but with boobs!) and painted and shaved are working pretty diligently to exploit and oppress men by telling them they have to be slim (but buff!) and waxed and tall! If the goal of equality feminism was to make us equal, well we got it. Unfortunately, it went the wrong direction.

Equality feminism makes it seems like the fight is over. The fight is not over. In a world where women still make a fraction of the money men make, in a culture that still demonizes the career woman, and in an environment where we have, after all of this time, still only cracked the glass ceiling, the fight continues, and it will untill we end the sexism. How? Well, I can’t answer that. But I want your help. I want you to join me in ending opression and exploitation. Write your representatives on important bills, volunteer at your local rape crisis center or domestic violence shelter, or just call out sexism where you see it. Our voices are our most powerful tool, and they have been silenced for far too long. Speak up. We need you.

By Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

4 replies on “My Feminism is Not the Standard Feminism”

I appreciate the fact that you call your feminism “your” feminism. They are all so specific to our backgrounds and experiences, which is something most people don’t get about us. Putting aside our differences is essential. Why is it so difficult?

Audre Lorde states that the differences between us are our greatest strengths, if only we can engage in dialogue with one another. “… those differences expose all women to various forms and degrees of patriarchal oppression…” which can only further our cause.

As a compliment to your argument, I would like to suggest that the overarching goal is not simply to help women. Motivated by having a son, I make a conscious attempt to incorporate an egalitarian philosophy into my definition of my feminism because it allows me to acknowledge that sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression do not only affect women. I think a lot about how patriarchy affects children in general but more specifically how it defines for boys what it means to be men. Patriarchy will attempt to shape our sons’ identities by stripping them of emotion and compassion and replacing it instead with the inability to feel a full range of emotions (which has tons of impact on our culture: rape, war, etc.). I also want men to be able to make their own choices. You covered this nicely.

“To imply, however, that all women suffer the same oppression simply because we are women is to lose sight o the many varied tools of patriarchy. It is to ignore how those tools are used by women without awareness against each other.” ~ Audre Lorde

I say all of this while acknowledging men’s privileged position over women. I am hesitant to work toward any radical social change that does not include all of humanity, although I have to acknowledge that women need more “supplementation,” if you will, in order to gain full access to the choices you list above without the accompanying social sanctions.

Well, sometimes you have to work within that patriarchy, and sexist oppression and exploitation are the reasons why.

The overarching umbrella that unites us, then, may be the fight against patriarchy, which is more general than the one you list above. Taking on the state and political economic power structures is something we are all working toward, whether we engage in activism in our daily lives, as radical parents and other radfems who refuse to operate within the existing structures, or in activism in our social lives, protesting, writing, fighting legal battles, etc. Again, you cover this nicely.

Because equality feminism desires to allow women the same privileges as men, feminists in this strain are working toward noble goals of opening up public spaces that have long been closed to women. At the same time, though, such work is a complement to patriarchy because it says we want what men have (heterosexual white men, that is), we envy their position, we want their form of power.

What, then, is an alternative to equality feminism? A society that embraces traditionally feminine qualities as the human qualities that they really are, promotes the love of life rather than the constant pursuit of destruction, puts people above profits and allows for a new vision of power, one influenced by women’s voices and experiences as well as men’s?

Just as internalized misogyny is a tool of patriarchy, we must all continue to work toward our respective goals and be more appreciative of the work being done by others, whether or not we agree with their methods.

“… it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.” ~ Audre Lorde

Thanks for your comments! I appreciate your feedback and I think you raise a lot of wonderful points here. I certainly agree that we need to learn to put aside our differences to work towards a greater good. I really do think that a society which embraces, as you put it, human qualities would be a wonderful thing indeed, and it is my hope that someday we will get to a point where that is the norm.

Also, just to clarify, when I say that I am not an equality feminist, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I am a difference feminist, or that I wish women to be more than men. I only mean that I cannot be an equality feminist while there is still patriarchal/kyriarchal oppression, because it makes equality nearly impossible as a social whole.

Love all the Audre Lorde quotes, by the way! A truly amazing woman if there ever was one.

*edited to fix a major typo!

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