Tuesday, October 15, 2013
What is Feminism?
One evening as my daughter (Girl #1) was putting frosting on the cookies, I said to her, “You know that’s sexist, right?”
“Huh,” she answered, caught off guard at my remark.
“It’s sexist—baking cookies for the football players. They don’t bake cookies for your field hockey team, do they?”
Before she could answer, I added with a smile, “It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with what you and the other girls are doing. It’s actually nice—but it’s still sexist.”
Sometimes I wonder if I’m setting my daughters up for possible difficulties when they settle into a committed adult relationship and marriage. During their short lives, I've pointed out to them numerous acts of male dominance and female docility; many involving traditional roles. Hopefully, they understand that I’m not always telling them what or what not to do, but to know why they are doing it; not to fall into a pattern of life just because Mom, Grandma, or all the other girls do it that way.
Continuing to ponder the seeds that I’m planting in my three daughters, I recalled a few blog posts that I've written that question “the role of the woman,” which is also the name of one of the posts. It’s about the things we do for our spouses and partners based on love, traditional female duty, and/or practicality. Other posts (Cheerleading and Athletic Uniforms) touched on women and girls performing in clothes that add to the male entertainment factor. And the Two Shall Become One asks if the woman in the relationship or marriage loses some of herself as a result of letting the man rule the roost. And then there is my Cooking post where I wonder if I’m missing a gene that would make me enjoy cooking. The last straw: Mr. and Mrs. Etiquette – me hating to get mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Michael Jones. What happened to my name—Anita! My name is not Mrs. Michael Jones.
Hmmm… Could I be… uh… a feminist? I don’t know. I don’t think so. What exactly is a feminist anyway?
Dictionary.com defines the adjective usage as: advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men, and the noun usage as: an advocate of such rights.
Surfing the web for thoughts on feminism produced myriad interpretations. The site, Who Needs Feminism? listed reasons for feminism from 15 young people. One says, “I need feminism because the first time I met my friend’s parents, I was SURPRISED and CONFUSED that her dad stayed at home and her mom is an executive with a six-figure salary. I was raised in a relatively traditional family—dad works, mom stays at home (though she has a job teaching now)—but this shouldn't be startling to anyone.”
A second says, “I need feminism so I can get tattoos in places that are considered ‘for tramps.’ Like my hips, breasts, and lower back. My body should be mine to ink as I please.”
Another source is an NPR interview in which Debora L. Spar, president of Barnard College, talks about her book, Wonder Woman: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. NPR describes the book as Spar’s call for a new feminine agenda.
“I think we need to continue some of feminism's earlier fights,” Spar said. “We still don't have good child care in this country. We know we still don't have pay equity. ... We still don't have support networks for working families.”
On beauty and brains, she said, “Just pick up any magazine off the shelves: Women are expected to be beautiful and sexy and to revel in those things really from the time they're quite young to the time they're quite old. That expectation is just out there. It's in the ether; it's in the music we listen to; it's in the books we read. I think it's unrealistic to assume that just because a woman shows up in a business school or on a trading floor or for an internship that somehow those other pressures are going to go away. So women really are feeling the pressure to be hugely successful professionally, and really sexy and attractive, in addition to being good mothers and everything else.”
I went from one site, to the next, to the next, and I still can’t answer the “feminist” question. Maybe I just don’t want to answer it.
I was a girl when the “bra burning” stories were in the media, and as I got older, I’d hear about those “Women Libbers,” often in a negative tone; one that implied that “those women” were all man-haters, manly, or wild and loose. Also, I was told that it was impossible for black women to be feminists because they didn't have all the choices and options that white women had.
So as I grew up, I stayed away from the label.
My feelings on women’s issues and roles, via my blog posts, are mostly related to domesticity; however, I am fully aware of the plight of women all over the world, and things need to change. While many of us in the good ol’ U. S. of A, and some other countries, are free to educate ourselves, hold political office, dress as we please, etc., don’t feel as much of the brunt of inequality as women in a country like Afghanistan, we opt not to make a huge issue over working all day, coming home to cook, do laundry, and take care of the kids, for example.
And women who are older and maybe retired, are not about to shock their men by going out with a girlfriend and leaving dinner in the fridge for him to microwave on his own—and that’s okay.Why change things now? *smile* Younger women might be the same, or more likely, not.
In a nutshell, whatever feminism is, the scales will continue to be tipped back and forth in an attempt to form a balance between women and men. Life goes on.
Do you have a definition for “feminism?” Other thoughts?
Mention of web sites, articles and books are not intended as an endorsement.