Over the last several months. I’ve had occasion to read articles and some rather seething e-mail responses to online news stories that have contained disturbingly derogatory references to what is quickly becoming the new “F” word in today’s language - “feminist.” Just where and when, exactly, did being a feminist equate one with the darker side of life? Somewhere along the line, feminism suddenly became responsible for the decline in two-parent families, the lack of respect and support for stay-at-home moms, the increase in world hunger and the decline of peace as we know it in the free world. Sheesh!
Being Openly Feminist
Being openly feminist (which, for me, is kind of like saying I’m “openly woman”), I had a hard time understanding the reactions people gave when I answered their question, “You’re not a feminist, are you?” with an unqualified “Yes!”. Men began reaching for necklaces of garlic cloves to hang around their necks and younger women would get a kind of glazed look in their eyes - sort of the one I imagine one would get when introduced to an alien - “Huh?”. I learned quickly to answer their question with a question - “Well, that depends. What is your definition of a ‘feminist’? If you think it means that I dance by the light of the moon, don’t shave my legs and hate men, I guess I’m not a feminist.” Why are we so afraid of this word, and when did its definition become so stereotypically sinister? I want to know, because I want it back for what it really is - nothing more, nothing less. The dictionary defines feminism as “the principle that women should have political, economic and social rights equal to those of men; the movement to win such rights for women.” Or, as my bumper sticker proclaims, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
Stereotypes Can Be Dangerous
Stereotypes can be dangerous things, and those who aren’t too thrilled about women achieving equality have managed to successfully twist and turn feminism into something unrecognizable from what Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony envisioned. It’s even far-removed from what the 1970's crusaders were seeking. This convoluted view is not just a shame, it’s a tragedy. Young women who don’t comprehend that their freedom hangs from such a very fragile thread recoil at the notion of being a feminist and don’t take the time to understand that progress and history can be changed at the drop of a vote. It wasn’t so long ago that want ads for women were divided into “Male” and “Female” categories.
The first woman to own a seat at the New York Stock Exchange in 1967, Muriel (Mickie) Siebert, wryly relates the story of how no man on the floor would tell her where the women’s restrooms were. After 2 ½ years, she finally discovered it on the 6th floor - built during the Korean War days. Alice Paul, the noted crusader for the right of women to vote, was jailed in 1917 and placed in a psychiatric ward for her work in picketing in front of the White House. She staged a hunger strike that resulted in prison authorities force fed her through a tube down her throat. Today, women are still asked during job interviews if they plan to have children. Before you cringe at the next woman who defines herself as a “feminist,” you might want to pull your own beliefs into the light of day and discover what you associate with the word.
A healthy revision of your pre-conceived notions of feminism is probably in order before you leap to media-driven and ill-intended conclusions. Gee, just think - you might be a feminist, too.