“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?
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
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 . . .
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Images:(2) (inslee illustration)