Why Not . . . Be a Feminist?

Jun 25, 2014


“I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and my femininity. And I want to be respected in all of my femaleness because I deserve to be.”

writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, from her TEDx talk We Should All Be Feminists

Upon seeing the post title, some may have unfortunately chosen not to read further as popular talking heads in our culture have demonized the term feminism, frightening anyone who dares believe in equality for all from understanding the truth behind the term. From bra burners, to whiny victims and the most popular – man-haters, the term feminist has been, to the credit of the anti-feminist movement, taken and misinterpreted for the benefit of perpetuating the status quo that refuses to see any opportunity for growth even if, ironically, it may even benefit them as well in the long run economically, never mind emotionally and improve one’s quality of life.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to view or read Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TEDx speech, she shares reason after reason why gender inequality should be a tradition of a former time. With her heartwarming humor, yet poignant poise and experience, she pinpoints how by socializing both boys and girls to behave in a particular way simply based on their sex, we limit the potential of every single child and ultimately perpetuate the suffering that occurs to both sexes – the urging for men to be machismo even if it is not within their nature, and women to be objectified, targeted, and guilt-ridden for not fulfilling societally defined female roles.

So why might you want to consider being a feminist?

1. Equality

While radical feminists may have sparked the stereotype of feminists hating men, misandry is just as deplorable as misogyny. To hate or show prejudice in any form for any reason is disgraceful and inexcusable, but to assume the definition of a feminist embodies the ideals of a misanthropist would be wrong. Just as some feminists are misanthropists, some men are misogynists. In other words, to assume simply because you are one thing doesn’t mean you are the other by default.

The official definition of a feminist is:

a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes

To be treated equally and paid equally based on one’s individual talents, abilities, expertise and work ethic, not one’s sex, age, sexual orientation or race is the platform for being a feminist.

But wait a second, what about equality for men, the opposition may say? Who is fighting for their rights? Part of the reason the term is effeminate is that for more than 300 years it has been the women who have been denied property rights, voting rights, equal pay, custody rights, right to hold office, serve in the military, testify in court, serve on a jury, divorce, protect themselves from domestic violence (in the 18th century, it was perfectly legal for husband to beat his wife as she was his property), you get the idea. But while the term may have originated to seek equal rights for women, it at its core seeks equality for all.

If men who choose a less traditional role in today’s society or for any reason are discriminated against, docked wages or denied parental rights, such behavior is equally unjust, and this too is what feminism fights to prevent. In fact, in the 90s a masculism (not to be confused with masculinism) movement began with great resolve and much support from feminists. Masculists advocate for the equal rights of men whether it be in regards to alimony, custody rights, conscription (mandatory enrollment in the armed forces) and equal pay for starters.

2. Each Individual Can Reach Their Full Potential

Adichie points out that “the problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are.” The argument is regularly made that males are made differently than females, and while reproductively this is true, we no longer live in a world where physical strength is an absolute requirement for survival or success. In fact, the misuse of one’s physical strength can get you into a lot of trouble, and too often that is bred from the expected behavior nurtured into young boys heads that they must be tough, unemotional and wear the pants in the family.

Adichie reminds her listeners that in order to be successful in today’s modern world one must be creative, intelligent and innovative, none of which are exclusive to one sex or the other. Psychologists and historians continue to point out that all sex differences that opponents cite as reasons to maintain gender roles, beyond genitialia are historically documented as socialization – behaviors encouraged or eradicated to promote what was accepted by the autocrats of that particular time. And who’s best interest did most leaders have in mind prior to democracy? Their own. So why wouldn’t they perpetuate the idea of a subordinate sex if it behooved their idealized culture?

3. Be As Feminine or As Non-Traditionally Feminine As You Please

Feminism is about giving all people a choice about how they choose to live, and not limiting their options purely based on their sex. If one women chooses to never marry and another does, we shouldn’t belittle either one, so long as it was their free choice to do so. If one person has children and another one doesn’t, we shouldn’t deprive one of rights freely given to the other simply because they fit into the mold of how one should live as an adult.

So when the erroneous assumption is made that a feminist must be bra-less, a lesbian, refrain from wearing dresses, a die-hard sports fan and of all things, be a woman, we need to return to the definition of feminism which has nothing to do with one’s sexual orientation, sartorial preferences, sex, race or a desire to be less confined from time to time. There is no “proper behavior” or way of living one must adhere to in order to be called a feminist; it is simply the core ideology that regardless of sex, human beings should be treated equally.

4. Anyone Can Be A Feminist

The Latin root “fem” tends to scare the misinformed, but as feminism is an advocacy platform for the equality of the sexes, one need not be a woman to be a feminist. After all, if you favor the idea of being treated equally for the work you do each day, given the same civil rights, liberties and protections, regardless of your sex, it would make sense to stand up for yourself. It is only when we lose too-often-taken-for-granted rights that we then realize how we must always be vigilantly speaking up for each other. And the one tell I’ve always used to determine if someone  truly believes in equality for all is if when they have the rights they have sought, do they then help those who still need a voice.

For example, in women suffragist and child labor advocate Florence Kelley’s speech given in 1905 in Philadelphia, she speaks to women to advocate to their husbands, who had the vote (women in the US didn’t gain enfranchisement until 1920), to vote for women’s enfranchisement in order to quell the abhorrent practice of child labor. (Read the speech here, as it is expertly crafted.) In other words, it is those who have the power to do something and don’t, simply to keep the status quo because it suits them, that show their true colors. And it is those who see a great boon to the society at large that exhibit their laudable character in such situations.

5. Benefit Society

Men who work in the United States compared to all other industrialized countries work the longest hours in the industrialized world.  While some may argue that that is merely by choice, as well as it allows women to stay home and caretake, more often than not, that is not the case. In fact, men are working longer hours because, while most families are dual income in the 21st century, they’re making up for their wives lower wages, thus spending more time away from their families.

Yet another argument is that feminism promotes the victim mentality. By paying equal wages, fewer state and federal dollars would be needed for social programs that support women and single mom’s trying to get by on less money that is, at this moment, acceptable compensation for their labor.

6. A Dynamic Movement

 

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With any right or liberty that has been given, it can be taken away. And so as opponents may argue that the feminist movement is over, it’s done, everybody is equal – well, sadly, that is not accurate. Hopefully, it will be someday, but even then, it is not like winning the state championship where you get to bask in your victory and it stands in the record books which nobody can take away. Politics is a living and breathing entity, and to not beware of your rights is probably the most dangerous mistake of all, but the next most fatal is to sit passively by and assume you will always have the rights others, and perhaps you as well, have worked so hard to achieve. Now back to that inaccuracy I noted – the equal wage gap.

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2012, when comparing men and women who worked full-time, women made 76.5% to their male counterparts. Even after “economists control for contributing factors, such as college major, job industry and education level, there is still an unexplained wage gap of about 7 cents”(1). And while the media’s push to blame the working mothers following WWII for society’s ills helped drive the women from the workforce and back into the home, similar shame continues to be shoveled by certain sectors of society upon today’s working moms, but interestingly enough, only working moms, not dads. Neither is fair, but why the female workers? Society, in general, has accepted it as rational. And while the United States has made much progress as a democracy, it still lags behind 19 countries when it comes to paid maternity and paternity leave, although there has been a push for family-friendly workplaces recently.

In other words, whether it’s a battle for civil rights, freedom of speech rights, voting rights or equal pay, remaining aware of how one’s rights came to be and what the motivation for the resistance was is crucial. For example, did you know that while women fought for suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the anti-suffragist movement vehemently argued that voting would make women more masculine, women had too small of brains to understand the laws about which they would vote and that voting would be too stressful for them. In hindsight, this is absurd rhetoric used to frighten the ignorant away from standing up for their voice, but at the time it was successful propaganda.

I don’t expect that every reader after reading this post will walk away wanting to be a feminist, but at the core of being able to live the life of our dreams is being able to choose the life that aligns with our talents, passions and purpose, and it is only when we are in tune with our authentic self that we can do this. And if our authentic self is out of alignment with what society approves as acceptable based on a variety of subjective measures and cultural mores, what does that mean? After all, feminism is solely about giving every individual an equal chance, an opportunity to make their own choice on how they choose to live their best lives; to deny this opportunity is to take away a piece of everyone’s freedom.

~Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TEDx talk . . . 

 

~SIMILAR POSTS FROM THE ARCHIVES YOU MIGHT ENJOY:

~10 Steps to Becoming the Woman You’ve Always Wanted to Be

~Why Not . . . Be A Successful Woman?

~Having It All: A New Definition

Images:(2) (inslee illustration)



13 thoughts on “Why Not . . . Be a Feminist?

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I would also add the necessity of reproductive freedom and the ability to make choices about one’s own body for a truly equal society.

  2. Thank you for this post! There are so many misconceptions of feminism, and today it tends to be either a niche subject or simply taboo to bring up, particularly if you are not running a specifically “feminist blog.” Unfortunately you’re right that a lot of people will just skip this post entirely once they see the title and subject matter, but thank you for pointing out how it really is just common sense to be a feminist, and hopefully some readers will be interested in looking into it further. Also, I appreciate that you mentioned other things that feminism strives to achieve, such as equal parental rights for men, which many people (including many MRAs) don’t realize are one of the goals of feminism, as part of equality.

  3. Thank you! People should really know that feminism is about equality, not man-hating. And you voiced my thoughts on the matter too. I’m very feminine and often I’ve been accused of being “anti-feminist”, but I don’t belive undermining femininity and emulating masculinity is the way to empower women.

  4. I don’t believe men and women are equal. I don’t believe either one is better than the other, but I do believe we are different. We have different bodies, hormones, drives, and thousands and years of biology behind that.

    Men’s testosterone makes them naturally more aggressive. Yes there are some female outliers, but generally across the population, women are less aggressive and more collaborative.

    My problem with feminism is that it tries to force this idea of “equality” and “sameness” on all women. As a result, we are pushed to compete in a man’s world, be as aggressive as men, and all sorts of interpersonal problems between the sexes are created.

    I think when the world acknowledges the real differences in strengths between men and women, and celebrates those differences, we will be in a much better place. Feminism is not getting us there.

    1. @A, June 25, 2014 at 1:13 pm:

      Lots to reflect on today–both from the blog post and your thoughtful response! As for my two cents I think it would be difficult to find anyone these days who would claim that females and males are biologically identical. In my experience and environment, contemporary discussion has moved on from that topic. I try to keep in mind that sex and gender are not synonyms. Of course sex is biologically determined (genitalia, hormones, female, male, etc), but what gender (woman, man, girl, boy, etc) means is culturally created. For me feminism IS also about recognizing differences and strengths between people. My concern is that all too often people who happen to be female are still treated as second-class citizens despite their strengths and accomplishments. In the workplace, my colleague prefers an “aggressive” hardsell business technique and I a “collaborative” brainstorm one, and all other things being equal–education, experience, responsibilities, performance, results, etc–the fact that my good colleague happens to be male should not mean that he earns more than me regardless of whether I happen to be female or male. That is just one example of one aspect of life where I think a lot of the conversation centers on today. And I think it’s wonderful that we are in a position to have conversations because that is the starting point of how cultures are formed, transformed, and hopefully lead to a better world for us all.

      1. I certainly agree that women should not be treated as second-class citizens. But that’s the point: we will be when we are judged on being men’s “equals.” I think if we start acknowledging the differences, we can think about jobs where women can thrive, and value things like nurturing and collaborating. Currently, the aggressive ones will win, there is no question.

        I will add I am pretty sure that gender is in fact biological, no matter what we might wish. When I look at the animal kingdom, I can’t believe that the clear gender roles there are culturally determined. It’s largely instinct. If you’ve ever had dogs, you know that male and female dogs are quite different. And why is it that no cultures around the world have men in the role of raising kids, though we have all sorts of other cultural differences?

        I think there are very real consequences to breaking down gender identities which have been in existence for hundreds of thousands of years, and we are already seeing many of the consequences in the high rates of depression and heart problems among women, skyrocketing divorce rates, the “hook-up” culture, etc. It seems to me that it is women who are suffering the lion’s share of consequences in all of these areas. We need to start asking how women can really thrive, and I’m pretty sure it’s not by slotting into the current environment, even if they earn equal pay.

        1. Thanks A., for your comments on my comments of June 25, 2014 at 5:44 pm.

          I’ve never kept dogs, but I have kept pet mice and hamsters; and female and male mice certainly behave differently, especially when it comes to offspring. I had to remove the male from the habitat for the safety of the pups and it’s the female who raises them. As I write this there’s a doves nest outside my window and the birds do things quite differently from mice. The male and female doves take turns and alternate between sitting on the eggs (now chicks) and scavenging for food for the lot of them. Completely opposite of my mice, in the wild lionesses do the hunting and lions look after the cubs. Male seahorses are impregnated, gestate and bear the offspring…I could go on and on about the animal kingdom (I love watching nature documentaries) but at some point it will become apparent that comparisons between animals and humans don’t get us very far given our cognitive abilities and intricate lives and societies. After all, a shark isn’t brought to trial for battery or murder.

          Sex is biological, gender is not. But in my society (I live in the USA) and in most if not all societies, the two are without a doubt linked because here gender constructions starts with a sex category assignment based on what genitalia look like at birth. And as soon as a pink or blue bow is affixed to the baby’s head, a lifetime of socialization begins. Gender refers to the socially constructed ideas of what it means to be “woman” or “man,” “girl” or “boy” in this society. Western societies and cultures have only two genders, “woman” and “man.” Some societies have a third gender: in India there are hijras, there are the xaniths of Oman, the berdaches of Native Americans, the koniag of Alaska, the tanala of Madagascar, the mesakin of Nubia, the chukchee of Siberia, etc. Hijras, berdaches, and xaniths are biological males who behave, dress, work, live and are treated largely as social women. Thus, they are neither men nor are they female women. To use the vocabulary of our society, they are male women. There are African and Native American societies that have a gender called “manly hearted women” who are biological females who work, marry, live, and raise children as men. And I say all that simply say that gender is constructed and socialized by us and in us–both on conscious and unconscious levels–out of human interaction, social life, and the organization of that social life. Which I understand for most people is hard to believe and can empathize with why that may be.

          That gender is socially constructed is evidenced by the constantly transforming and changing roles of women and men throughout world history including the short history of the United States. Today fathers are taking care of children, children are getting the same education, children are playing with all kinds of toys, women and men are working the same jobs, etc. The point is people as individuals thrive under all sorts of different circumstances. I believe that everyone ought to have an equal chance of creating those circumstances in which they can live a fulfilling life. It’s just that throughout history the chance has by default systematically been better for some over others. If I understand Shannon’s post correctly, I think that this equality in chance is what she states is at the heart of feminism.
          -M.

  5. Thank you for this read and for pointing out, that there is not a one and only kind of feminism.
    Intersectionality is important, too.

  6. Shannon, thank you for addressing this topic. As I have read your blog over the years, I have been grateful for your inspiration in embracing my femininity and developing inner-strength and confidence. It has been exciting to see blogs like yours and magazines like Verily and Darling that celebrate the art of womanhood, rather than the objectification that is all too common in our society.

    As a new-wave feminist, however, I have serious reservations about the woman’s movement today that has been reduced to the right to abortion. “When our liberation costs innocent lives, it is merely oppression redistributed.” We should be working to compassionately meet the needs of women so that our fellow sisters never feel forced to choose between their success and their child.

    Although most gender differences are socially constructed, I find it superficial to view the entirety of history as men keeping women inferior for their own selfish purposes. Furthermore, while the differences between men and women come down to biology, biology cannot be reduced to our genitalia. The unique biological ability to be a mother does not only mean that women gestate babies, but feed them and respond to them in a way men do not. The differences of male and female biology are important in the role they play in parenting and therefore, in building society.

    Women are indeed equal to men in our inherent dignity, but this equality should not be confused with sameness. There is beauty in our differences and the unique contributions we offer to society should not be dismissed.

    On a lighter note, you may enjoy Kate Beaton’s comic on “Straw Feminism”: http://www.harkavagrant.com/?id=341

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