This is a great column by Leonard Pitts about how the meaning of “feminism” has been twisted beyond recognition–and how we should be working to reclaim it.
Some spot-on observations:
“Feminist,” it seems, has ended up in the same syntactical purgatory as another once-useful, now-reviled term: liberal. Most people endorse what that word has historically stood for – integration, child labor laws, product safety – yet they treat the word itself like anthrax. Similarly, while it’s hard to imagine any young woman really wants to return to the days of barefoot, pregnant and making meatloaf, many now disdain the banner under which their gender fought for freedom. They scorn feminism even as they feast at a table feminism prepared.
We have, I think, lost collective memory of how things were before the F-word. Of the casual beatings. Of casual rape. Of words like “old maid” and “spinster.” Of abortion by coat hanger. Of going to school to find a man. Of getting an allowance and needing a husband’s permission. Of taking all your spirit, all your dreams, all your ambition, aspiration, creativity, and pounding them down until they fit a space no larger than a casserole dish.
“I’m not a feminist, but…?” That’s a fraud. It’s intellectually dishonest. And it’s a slap to the feminists who prepared the table at which today’s young women sup.
That phrase is not only fraudulent, it’s a wee bit hypocritical. I wonder what would happen if the next person who said it was met with, “Okay, you can give me back your right to vote, your birth control, any car or home loans you may have gotten in your own name, and your college degree, since obviously you’re going to marry some schlup and have his kids and won’t have any use for any of it.”
This is what feminism has earned for us. The right to think beyond the box and–if one wishes–pursue it. The right to be taken seriously in said career and not be harassed for daring to compete with men. The right to live free of a man if one wishes, beholden to no one, and not be reviled. The right to be treated as a complete human being, gender be damned.
Not that this feminist world (and it’s not “post-feminist”; that’s just another ridiculous hypocritical phrase designed to hide how much more work we have to do) is perfect; I hardly think we’ve gotten past the prevalence of “casual rape” at all. (If that were true, the rate of rape convictions wouldn’t be so low, and there wouldn’t be crappy articles about ridiculous concepts like “gray rape.”)
But we’ve certainly progressed beyond the blatant discrimination of my mother’s time, when she had to give up a welding job she’d trained for because, y’know, the GI’s are coming back from Europe, and they’re guys, and they need the work. She was just expected to marry somebody and get over it.
Do the “not-feminists” really want to go back to that?
If this sounds perilously close to “if you’re not for us you’re against us”, well, so be it. I don’t think you can straddle the freaking fence. At the very least, it would be nice to acknowledge all the mountains the women who came before you have climbed, and appreciate all the barriers they knocked down. Because of their efforts, you can go to college, delay childbirth until you feel ready, get school and home loans in your own name…and, just maybe, be elected President.
Considering this, saying “yes, I am a feminist” seems a small price to pay.