I know a lot of people get turned off by the “f” word, I have to admit, I was skeptical during my high school years. Even at Oberlin, it took some self-educating to discover what it really meant. For me, it was women like Cherie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Audre Lorde that got to me. They spoke about their sexuality, passions, struggles, and hope that connected with my experience. I wasn’t into burning my bras or not shaving my legs (although I have nothing against either of those forms of expression, just not my thing), but I am from a generation of women who grew up with Title IX, the right to vote, and with more access to power than my parents’ or grandparents’ generation. It is so easy to forget where we come from, to forget that the most privileged are still white, male, and heteronormative.
I sort of “grew into my shell”, if you will, during high school. I was part of the Varsity Cross Country team and found myself making new friends (I was a bit of a hermit before then), gaining self confidence, and trying new things. Athletics was always a part of my life, but cross country was something I felt a strong passion for. It wasn’t easy running and training 6 days a week, but I loved it. It helped me focus, gave me motivation to do well in school, and I had a group of pretty awesome girls to support me through it all. I think about where I would have been without that experience and I cringe. I remember participating at an alumni event at Oberlin College only for cross country folks and being shocked at the 95% male representation. One guy said he was equally as surprised to see so many young women since, in his day, women weren’t allowed to run. Gave me a reality check.
The majority of my experience has been in nonprofit work and teaching, both female dominated fields. I sometimes lose sight of what that implicates, and what it is like to be a woman in a male dominated field. My mother and aunt (a doctor and an engineer respectively) know all too well what that entails, and hearing their stories reminds me how much they went, and still go, through.
A few months ago the infamous Katy Perry gave a speech accepting a Woman of the Year Award (the implication of what that means for American society will not be discussed, but, umm, REALLY?! WOMAN OF THE YEAR?! What did she do to deserve this?? Phew, rant done) and made it very clear that she is NOT a feminist. Mish wrote a solid piece discussing the implications of women dissing feminism. I would like to modify her argument a bit and say that feminism is not just about strong women, but gender equality. Not just strong men or strong women, but strong people. It is about creating a space where people do not have to worry about their gender or gender expression deciding their job, partners, or anything else.
I get that feminism has gotten a bad rap as a man-hating ideology, but read deeper people! While some people may have twisted it to be about hate, it is really about acceptance. But there is anger there, don’t get me wrong. You start to educate yourself about how long this whole disenfranchisement of women has been going on and it’s hard not to get angry. I am angry. But I don’t hate. There is a meaningful difference. I am angry that all across the world women are more heavily critiqued for their image and not their ideas, they are not respected, they are treated as objects, they are raped, they are killed (many before they are born), and all because of their gender. If that doesn’t piss you off a little bit, maybe you are a sociopath and you should see a doctor. Just kidding, but really, if men and women aren’t sympathetic to this anger, and expect change to come peacefully then think again. That’s just more submissive and passive, umm, crap, that is part of the problem.
A somewhat masochistic activity I indulge in on occasion is reading Fox news reports. On one of those occasions I ran across this article titled “The War on Men” It intrigued me to say the least, and as I read on, in between laughter at the absurdity of it all, I sort of saw where this woman was coming from. While there are a ton of great one liners, this one about sums up the argument: “women aren’t women anymore”. What does that mean, you ask? Well, women aren’t submissive and making less money than their male counterparts, and this scares men away from marriage. I find this insulting as a woman, and I would hope that men also find this insulting. This argument assumes that men cannot view women as equals and that they need to be in a position of power in career and financial arenas. I see a connection between this and the victim-blaming rape arguments. Men are just animals that cannot control their instincts and it is up to women to satisfy them in marriage and not tantalize them in the streets if we our out by ourselves. Why is it our job to “tame” men? Again, my feminism is about respect for all genders, and I do not want to treat a man like he is an animal. That just seems wrong to me. But hey, maybe I got it all wrong. Except I really do not feel that way.
Miss Representation was a documentary that came out in 2011 that examines the bias in media’s representation of women. While some of it was a tad preachy, in general, I think this film brought to light issues that many women (of privilege in particular) want to ignore. I highly recommend checking out the documentary, as well as others the organization continues to produce (one about women in the military and one to come about the culture of masculinity and its effect on boys and men). I would like to see more people getting on this bandwagon, and bringing about another wave of feminism that highlights gender equality, not just women’s empowerment (which is a crucial part of the fight, but not all of it). Boys and Men and other gender identified folks are all a part of this discussion. We need to think about why our gender determines our behavior, social, and economic options. We need to think about why there is so much violence when people try and challenge those norms.
Rachel Maddow. Sonia Sotomayor. Roberta Chisam. Gina Pérez. Aida Maldonado. Yvonne Maldonado. These women fought the good fight, and continue fighting. They are my inspiration and I aim to do right by them.
I am a feminist. Let the gauntlet begin. I’m ready.