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Feminism

Thoughts From a Young Feminist

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my feminist identity and what it means when I proudly declare, “I’m a feminist” in any setting. I do feel like this happens for me pretty regularly. Maybe it is the field of work I’ve chosen or the crowd I run with or the challenges to women today and how I perceive them, but this phrase seems to be rolling off my tongue with increasing regularity.

What comes next? I’m going to vent about my recent feminist frustrations. Feel free to comment about your own struggles and femtastic frustrations.

1) I am totally freaked out by all of the attacks on a women’s right to choose in the US right now.
Every time I read the news it feels like a new piece of anti-choice propaganda has been put forward and the debate is on. I strongly feel that taking away a woman’s right to choose is saying that women aren’t smart enough to choose. That women don’t know what is best for themselves, their bodies or their future. So you don’t personally want to have an abortion? Great. Good for you. But do not tell me that I don’t have the right to an abortion if I don’t want a child right now. It is a choice and it is a personal choice, not the choice I want my government to make for me.

It hurts my feminist soul to read that every single Republican candidate that was even considered in the primary is pro-life and several have expressed interest in the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. It scares me to think that this is a majority opinion in the United States and makes me wonder how this has gotten to be such a popular opinion as of late. The idea that the country could elect someone with a goal of overturning Roe vs. Wade is something that keeps me up at night. This coupled with states deciding not to fund organizations like Planned Parenthood and the debate over Obama’s health care reform’s inclusion or exclusion of birth control access just makes me feel like we’re living in a troubled and conflicted time. On one hand, with all the economic turmoil I feel like people want to return to a more “wholesome” time, yet these choices are sending our country’s women’s rights in a tailspin backwards.

2) I’m sick and tired of folks reacting to the word “feminist” as if it has a permanent “angry” attached to the front of it.
Whenever I say I’m a feminist there is inevitably someone who gives me a look like, “Oh shit… here we go… another angry woman.” Maybe ranting in this post confirms how angry I really am (ha). Just because I believe women deserve equal treatment does not mean I am going to bring it into every single issue nor am I going to immediately start a bra burning in the middle of your office (although it might be fun). Webster’s dictionary defines feminism in two statements: 1) the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes 2) organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. This pretty accurately describes my thoughts and aspirations when identifying myself as a feminist. I do believe that the sexes should be treated equally and I am interested in women’s rights. Sure this makes me angry sometimes, but what really makes me angry is that, on average, women still make less money than men. I think about things like Slut Walk a positive and modern display of feminism: it’s about rights and it’s fun. Feminism frequently takes fun-loving women who share a belief that women should have the right to _______ and allows them to organize and express themselves. Somehow banks lobbying for a government bailout are not seen as angry, so why is it that when we use the f word (feminist) it comes with a dirty and angry connotation? I think feminism is beautiful and wonderful– next time you hear someone declare themselves a feminist, I say high five them! Feminists rock.

3) How do I negotiate my own feeling that all men and women should be equal while respecting that everyone does not share that view, and may be opposed to it for their own moral, ethical or religious reasons?
Recently I was in a training on effective and respectful communication between groups of different backgrounds (races, religions, etc.) and we spent a fair amount of time discussing the differences between maintaining and sharing your beliefs and pushing them on others. I don’t want to be colonial but I do believe in women’s rights. How do I negotiate my beliefs when women choose and love the lifestyle of a culture they belong to? I really don’t have an answer to this one– it’s just been on my feminist thought sphere for a while. I feel like all I can do is work to create change where change is wanted and needed and has buy in. This is a hard internal call but I am doing my best to stick to my gut and internal ethical compass to check me when I’m pushing to far.

I feel like some of this will come with time and some will depend on who we elect and the changes we fight to see made in our world. At the end of the day, I know that I am proud to call myself a feminist and I plan to continue to deal with my struggles in feminism as they arise.

Photo Credit: all4all.org

18 replies on “Thoughts From a Young Feminist”

I’m having all of those thoughts as well, and I think it’s a good thing to have them, because then we are mindul of the people around us and ourselves.

But when it comes to people being afraid of calling themselves feminist, from my experience it has had to do with  media turning its true meaning into something bad, choosing to portray the feminist movement in a way that isn’t true. I it has to do with the troubles it has had such as racism etc, I believe (this is just my own personal opinion and I might be very wrong) just like with any other ideology there is more than one kind of feminism. Of course we can’t deny that white, upperclass women have a very different reality and face very different challenges from women in the developing world – BUT they don’t define feminism, as it exists all over the world. That’s why I personally eel that that is an odd reason to choose not to call yourself a feminist. And today, with the world coming to be so very close to us wherever we are in the world (for those of us lucky enough to have access to internet) I believe, as someone else said, it’s hard to be a feminist and not be intersectional. That is my feminism, what I believe to be true. We can no longer choose to have women’s rights just for some, because that not what the world looks like. We can’t close our eyes to the troubles going on all around the world, as you could years ago – now we know enough to be certain that the feminist movement is needed all over the world, and that even though our struggles might be different, they all stem from the same place – patriarchy

I would just like to point out that a lot of us choose not to identify as feminist for reasons beyond the negative “angry” connotations or not understanding it. In both the past and the present, feminism has had some issues (such as racism and transphobia) that have turned people off from it and prevented them from wanting to label themselves as part of it. Some people are able to reconcile these things and continue to call themselves feminist and some people are not.

Most of the time, when people respond “oh let me guess, angry/bra burning/rage against patriarchy,” I’m all like, “no way guys! I’m totally not scary like all those OTHERS feminists you hear about” (I’m joking about this, I generally tell the story about where that rumor came from… but just go with it).

But what I relaly want to say? FUCK YEA I’M ANGRY. NOW HAND ME MY FUCKING HAMMER AND LET’S SMASH SOME PATRIARCHY BITCHHHHEEEEEEEZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Great piece. I think another part of why many young women don’t identify as feminists is because our lives truly are better than those of our mothers. My mom graduated high school the year Roe v Wade was decided and, therefore, has actual memories of women having unsafe abortions in high school. The physical realities of women even twenty to thirty years older than me were drastically different than they are today. The second wave has done so much great work that we must continue to build upon. The history of female experience is only generically taught in schools, and many people don’t have the desire or ability to reach out and seek the knowledge themselves.

The negative association with the f word is just a product of ignorance. My bestie will not call herself a feminist because she knows some who (like me) don’t like being called ladies. This offends her as a strong southern woman who attends pro choice rallies and is, in general, extremely open minded. She likes being called a lady. We’re all, then, collectively stereotyped, and her mind shuts down. What do you do?

I don’t want to be colonial but I do believe in women’s rights.

I understand this sentiment. I don’t want to (over) impose my beliefs on others, while I also feel a strong urge to make others aware of my alternative perspective. For me, feminism comes with a strong desire to create positive social change. Although (IMO) the most direct and effective means of accomplishing social change is to start with the way we treat other people, especially our children and other loved ones, we also have an obligation to speak up publicly in instances of injustice, whether it’s internalized misogyny, obsession with beauty standards, blatant sexist and/or racist discrimination, whatever. I work with 5 conservative women, and our lunches are interesting, to say the least. It’s fund to break up the group think. Women need to be called out for hating on themselves far too often.

And please don’t disregard your anger. It has perfectly good uses.

There is so much I love about your response. It could be another article in itself! Love love love. Thanks for responding.
I love that you brought in the generational gap created by previous generations of feminists. Maybe this is why I’m a feminist- because of growing up with an awesome feminst aunt (she still has a “keep abortion legal” bumper sticker on her car). I think about this all the time but totally omitted it from this article. You’re so right- we do live in a totally different world today than our mothers and grandmothers lived in. I am so thankful for that- but I still see so much change that is needed.

“the most direct and effective means of accomplishing social change is to start with the way we treat other people, especially our children and other loved ones, we also have an obligation to speak up publicly in instances of injustice, whether it’s internalized misogyny, obsession with beauty standards, blatant sexist and/or racist discrimination, whatever.”- YES! YESSSSSSS! YES! This is an awesome statement.

I have to share this with you: one of the last times I spoke out publically on injustice was on Facebook (bleech) when a man I did not know responded to a post by a friend of mine (a single mother who works retail and is struggling to get by) that said “Is chivalry dead? I feel like there are no men who treat women with respect anymore”. This unknown man said something like “Women need to make up their minds whether they want to vote or to be respected”- I laid into this man and we had a full on comment battle on her wall (like 60+ comments deep) over his rude comment. The icing on the cake was that my friend called me towards the end and begged me to stop arguing with this guy because “he was just joking” and “you’re blowing this out of proportion”. It made me so mad she didn’t want me to argue with him- grrrrr. I say- speak out about injustice, because I’m totally willing to go down fighting.

yes. all of these. But especially the complete and total horror of attacks on women’s health rights lately. In NH they recently passed legislation stating that if a woman has a child when she is already on a welfare program, her child is not eligible for the usual assistance for children. You know, that way all those welfare moms will stop using the system to get more assistance by having more kids- those greedy sluts… Not at all punishing the child. This in the same week that they are planning on not renewing Planned Parenthood’s state contract to distribute prescriptions (it happened last year, too, for a few months until the protests encouraged enough legislators to allow PP to continue for the rest of 2011). Friggin. Ricockulous.

Also feminist frustration: when a conversation with a male friend generally goes-
Him: I totally support feminism! *insert pretty sexist comment follow-up*
Me: Are you kidding me?
Him: Oh come on, it was just a joke. You know I think you’re awesome. Lighten up!
UUUGGGGGHHHH- what do you say? How do you come out of that in a good way?

I normally go with: no, I don’t know that it was just a joke. And while I understand that we do know one each other well, perhaps well enough that I should be able to trust it’s a joke, but you have to understand that I get fed lines like that — in fact, sometimes that exact line — every day. And even though it’s not what you’re doing, they are intended to keep me at an arms length, at best, away from where “the boys stand.” So I get it. It’s a joke. But I hope you can see why it’s a sore spot to me. Not everyone is in on that it’s a joke like you and I are.

Or probably less long… but yea. =)

Great response!

And I didn’t know all the details about the NH welfare thing. That is ridiculous (I am now removing NH from my “states I’d like to move to” in my job searching- haha but seriously). I really hope they refund PP. They do so much great work. I hate that they’re under so much scrutiny as of late.

What makes me sad is the fact that legislation does not happen in a vacuum: there are actual supporters of those politicians, both lobbyist and citizen, who support those things.  The fact that they pass suggests that it is a majority opinion.  So how have we arrived at a point where we have lost the discussion?  What do we do as a community to get the conversation going again and educate people?

I am in a very similar position to you, in many ways. I feel particularly sad when some female friends say they’d never be feminists, I’m assuming due to the negative stereotype, when I know that they pretty much believe in what feminism stands for and promotes.

I also think that some women don’t like what it stands for (as another commenter wisely pointed out) or supports but also that they’re not always thinking about the work of feminism through history and how it has shaped our world as women today.

I totally respect folks who don’t identify as a feminst for a good reason- like past exclusion of racial, ethnic groups as well as non-heteronormative people- that makes sense to me. Women who preach respect but don’t want to be labeled a feminist just “because” they don’t understand what it means…i just don’t get it.

I love the reality of this post.  I also have a hard time with that last point, not just with the issues of feminism but with my desires to see our world become more sustainable and less cruel.  So how do I negotiate between how strongly I feel about the cruelty of the animal industry and the right for a meat-eater to disagree with me?  On one hand I feel like I should never let an opportunity to say something go by, while other times I feel like I am alienating people who might eventually see the light on their own.  With discourse on feminism in male circles, though, I face a lot of resentment.
As a male feminist I also find myself in interesting situations with women.  I can’t say for certain, but a lot of times I feel like woman feminists question my motives or just don’t feel my sincerity can be trusted.  Then there is the reaction of non-feminist women, who see my feminist ideals as masked mysogyny.
Thanks for the rant!

 

Some of the most awesome feminists I know are men. I volunteer regularly with some male feminists that are so sincere and knowledgeable that I can’t imagine questioning them or their motives. I do think that men who identify as feminists have to sort of “prove themselves”- as in they need to validate that they’re committed and knowledgeable about what they’re claiming. I am not saying that’s right but it’s probably true.

Your first point was really great too. I loved how you said:
“other times I feel like I am alienating people who might eventually see the light on their own”
I think that’s a really great way to phrase that idea. The animal cruelty example is a great one- I can honestly say I am not a vegetarian but have been blessed with so many fantastic and patient vegetarians and vegans that have really educated me about animal cruelty in a way that hasn’t scarred me but instead has made me extremely conscious about mean eating (when I do eat meat, rarely). But someone who tries to force me to watch an intense and graphic video- not going to work as well with me. I think this translates well to encouraging folks to make any change, frame your point as clearly and factually as possible and there is a good chance folks will respect what you’re saying and consider making a change.

Yes, it saddens me that we have become so caught up in information that many organizations have resorted to “shock” messages to try to get their point across.  We don’t need to appeal to people’s conscious with extreme portrayals of cruelty (disproportionately making it appear that every instance of slaughter for food occurs in the most cruel form possible) or hiring famous women to “get [photoshop] naked” for cruelty (thanks for making things things worse PeTA).  Though there is definitely a lot of traffic to combat in the Information Age, we certainly don’t have to accept the shock culture to get messages across, the same way we do not have to accept glass ceilings or inequality.  We can make our case in all things with love, peace, and patience.

As for your meat-eating status, all I ever ask people to do is be conscious.  I talk about things like ahimsa (non-violence) with those who wish to listen, but any person who tunes in with their body and the earth and tries to live in harmony with both will do great and wonderful things for mankind, whether they eat meat or not.  I cannot deny the clear evidence that humans evolved as omnivores, I simply am no longer willing to be one.  Kudos to you for consuming meat in moderation, though!

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