Monday, June 24, 2013

Why I Prefer the F Word: A Letter

Confused? Click here to catch up.
Dear Person-Who-Supports-Equality-But-Isn't-A-Feminist,

I want to talk about the F-Word. (No, not that F-word.) Specifically, Feminists. And I'm going to get a little serious -- but this is important, and I really want you to hear me and understand that this is coming from a place of love.

If you live on the internet and frequent (gulp) feminist blogs like I do, Taylor Swift's declaration that she isn't a feminist is ancient history. OLD NEWS. So why am I bringing it up now? Two reasons: 1) I had a fantastic discussion with some beautiful and passionate people about what feminism is, at the end of which we all went away satisfied and fired up and ready to group hug the world, and 2) I'm really getting tired of having that discussion, because it focuses my energy on the wrong part of problem.

Feminism, like any other movement or school of thought, has multiple facets and ideologies -- denominations, if I may bring my Presbyterian upbringing into play :). The broadest school of thought within Feminism is one concerned with equality for all. Within the current incarnation of feminism, known as 3rd Wave Feminism (Wikipedia is good for a quick catch-up on the waves and general history of the movement), the concerns have have broadened from the too-limited, overwhelmingly white, discussion of women's rights in the 60s and 70s to a fight for the rights of all racial backgrounds and nationalities, all sexualities and genders, all belief systems, and people from all socio-economic backgrounds, etc. etc. -- essentially, the 3rd Wave takes the 2nd Wave's idea of "personal integrity" and seeks to actually apply it for all people.

Some people who identify as feminist choose to continue to focus their energy causes that are female-specific, and this decision can lead onlookers to characterize feminists as only being interested in advancing women's rights. I disagree. Someone's decision to focus on certain issues doesn't mean they're disinterested or apathetic to the other struggles out there - it could be that their chosen issues are where they feel their voice will matter most. Other people choose a more broad-based approach, following their passions across a variety of fields. I fall into this second group - though I focus primarily on abortion rights, body and information integrity, systematized inequality (race, gender, fiscal, social, etc), and obstruction of civil rights, I'm also passionate about preserving the environment, supporting the arts, pursuing world peace, and increasing global education rates. I flit from issue to issue, depending on what speaks to me at the time. Many of these causes take me outside of female-specific concerns, but I still consider myself a Feminist first and foremost - and I believe that all of my causes, and indeed all battles for equality and respect for the individual, can be grouped under the umbrella cause of Feminism. Why? At its core, Feminism is about redefining the way we distribute power in society, and therefore is applicable to many, many systems outside of those thought of as relating to women.

This leads to the question of whether to all people who are passionate about equality should band together under one banner or remain as separate groups. Let me be clear -- a huge aspect of feminism is allowing people to form their own narratives and identify how they want -- and I will never be the person saying someone has to identify as Feminist. I do believe that we are stronger when we come together to support each other and fight on many fronts together, and I'd like us as a culture to get to the point where we're not in the business of tearing down one identity in order to define another. Take Ms. Swift's original comment to The Daily Beast back in October, in response to being asked if she considered herself a feminist: "I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life." I'm not going to get into the history of feminism being maligned or miscast, or how Taylor Swift is likely to continue being a problematic role model. To put it in one sentence, I think Taylor Swift fell victim to a incredibly common misconception, the same misconception that's making me tired of having this discussion: Feminism doesn't mean what many people think it means. Opponents of the F-word have defined it as the opposite of equality, as opposed to a synonym. Even when dealing with the female-specific issues raised by feminism, I think this us-versus-them mentality is a huge mistake. Highlighting one group's suffering doesn't automatically minimize another's, or set one group up as "more worthy" -- it's simply the necessary identification of one specific issue to tackle in order to break down the system piece by piece.

In fact, feminism is arguably the main engine behind men gaining greater freedom, as they are allowed to embrace their whole selves and adopt the non-traditional gender role of nurturer, just as women have become more empowered to adopt roles outside of homemaker and caretaker. My favorite pop culture manifestation of this has been the shift in advertisements I've noticed over the past few years -- Huggies, in particular, has been rocking my world with their depiction of Daddy as a caretaker, without any "Mr. Mom" jokes worked in. More dads are demanding schedule flexibility to take care of their children while more moms are able to hold jobs actually capable of supporting a family on one salary, and more companies are responding to this shift by offering parental leave regardless of gender. Our society's concept of parenting is just one zone to observe feminism's effects, of course, but it's one where I've seen some huge developments firsthand.

As the great Gloria Steinem said,
“We've begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”
We're just at the beginning of that arc, of raising sons no longer limited by their own gender constraints, who are capable to not only perceiving their own privilege but actively working to reach out beyond it to share that power with others (beautifully exemplified by the father mentioned in this TED talk), but I really do believe we're going to get there. While I know that the F-word "feminism" sounds awfully a lot like it's only working for the benefit of women, especially with all the connotations that have been forced on it, I believe that true Feminism is working for the greater good and equality of all.


(Feminist-and-Proud-of-It) Mrs.

No comments:

Post a Comment