It’s fall — or at least that’s what my non-desert-dwelling friends tell me — and that means it’s back-to-school season. And with a fresh new school year comes shiny new school supplies, class schedules…and an opportunity to pack your feminism along with you. For some of you, this might be your first opportunity to be introduced to feminism and its awesome powers. (Well, maybe not powers, but it’s definitely cool.) *This is the first in my back-to-school series.*
First, let’s ask the basic question: Are you a feminist?
Okay, so I’m tackling the tricky part first. But this isn’t a test. I can break the question out in any order I want! (See, I remember school. I’m not that old.) This is the tricky part as even self-identified feminists disagree on the definition of feminism. There are books and studies and rigorous academic debate on the topic. Not to mention scary, mainstream media articles with bold-lettered headlines like, “Feminism is Dead!” and “The F-word.”
Here’s the basics of what I think feminism means:
- Equality for all people (all genders, all sexualities, all… just all… everyone)
- Eliminating sexist and misogynistic principles, actions, stereotypes, boundaries and the like — which only serve to preserve the status-quo and inequality and power-struggles in relationships between people/groups/ideas
- The break-down of rigid gender roles, which limit choices and therefore limit the pursuit of happiness (guaranteed as a fundamental right by the founders of this very nation)
- The right to personal and bodily autonomy
Okay, so that’s a lot. Let’s break it down a little further:
- Equality: This is probably the most straight-forward tenant of feminism. It is the underlying basis for all feminist ideas. We want equality. We want women to be treated equally to men. Paid the same for the same work. Held to equal standards. Not excluded on the basis of our genders. But, even as I think it is a very straight-forward idea, there are always those who will muck it up a bit. Being treated equally does not mean the subjugation of others. It does not mean lifting yourself up on the backs of others. It does not mean swapping a patriarchy for a matriarchy.
- Sexism and Misogyny: Getting trickier here. Sometimes judging sexism and misogyny is like judging art. It’s in the eye of the beholder. The most obvious forms are when a person or entity unapologetically says something like, “Women are terrible at math.” or “Women shouldn’t be allowed to vote.” The danger here is to assume all forms of sexism are so blatant, or that they are always perpetrated by men. There are many small, everyday ways that sexism pops up. Advertising and marketing (“Momma’s got the magic of Clorox 2” because only moms/women do laundry). Children’s toys/marketing (boys toys are about active play, girls toys are about physical appearance and the domestic sphere). Those are just a few examples. I could go on all day…
- Rigid gender roles: Often reinforced by sexism and stereotypes, rigid gender roles are what make men “men” and women “women.” This is the small stuff like pink is for girls (which starts at birth, unless you are paying attention) and the big stuff like women should stay at home and raise the children because they’re better at it than men (i.e. it’s their biological destiny). Rigid gender roles only serve to limit all genders. They are a trap. Men, women, trans…they all get locked in boxes (or kept out, as it were). Men must ignore or refuse their nurturing side and always be ready for a fight. Women must ignore any impulses or strengths they have outside the domestic sphere. And these stereotypes are enforced by not just greater society but by those in our own genders (actually, that’s who does it best). I have experienced this in the workplace (just another bitch because I had ideas and voiced them), in motherhood (what do you mean you don’t like breastfeeding?), in my family (you really waited a looong time to have a baby — because it’s obvious that all women want babies so why would you wait so long to have one?). This also includes actions like lesbian-baiting, in which a hetero women is called a lesbian because she is not conforming to hetero-female stereotypes. This obviously hurts women by reinforcing prescribed gender roles and hurts lesbians by labeling their sexuality as negative.
- Personal and bodily autonomy: Simply put, being pro-choice. I have autonomy over my life/career/future/health when I have the option for safe choices regarding my reproductive health, sexual activity and whether I want to be pregnant, ever. If doctors can’t give me medically accurate information to make informed choices about my body — that’s a lack of autonomy. If I am labeled a whore if I want to buy condoms — that’s a lack of autonomy. If I am forced to carry a pregnancy through to full-term despite danger to my life or health — that’s a lack of autonomy. I need to be able to make decisions about my body and my life the same way that men are. Period. And I need access to all medically viable, safe, legal options. Period.
Those are the basics. So, let’s revisit the question: Are you a feminist? (Hint: Chances are if you are reading this blog, you are.)
Next up: How to be a happy feminist in the real world.