Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What is Feminism?

My daughter has been baking desserts lately—nothing fancy, just the ready-to-bake cookies and brownies that can be mixed in five minutes. The treats are for Jack, a football player at her high school. One of the team's coaches thought it would give the guys a mental boost for the game if they received these motivation-filled goodies laced with the feminine touch.

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.


joeh said...

I think of a feminists as women seeking the option to be what they want to be. The "traditional" female role should be one of those options. The biggest issue for most women is balancing the need to fulfill their potential in many areas with their biological desire to procreate and nurture. Often both these needs are at odds.

I always say, "It is good to be a man" and it is good mostly because of women.

Mage said...

I woke up one day at a bank when they wouldn't give me my own credit card. I could have one as Mrs. Paul Hawkins, but not as me. Pissed me off. LOL I tore off my bra and liberated my mind in the 1960's, and I have never looked back.

When I married this lovely G man 30 years ago, I became a hyphenated woman. Kept my own name with his as a symbol. It's proved long and burdensome ever since, but I am glad I did it.

Shelly said...

I'm with you in that I don't identify with the radical, men-hating feminists that were in the news when we were girls. However, gender fairness and equality, particularly in nations where women are less than livestock is something important to me. So maybe I can call myself a modern feminist.

Tabor said...

I think feminism is humanism where we treat each other by the golden rule. It is moving that way...little by little. It is OK to do something that is sexist as long as you know it and they know it and there is room for reciprocation.

Barb said...

Gosh - I'm a little shocked that in this day and age a coach would suggest that the gals "treat" the guys by baking for them! "Mental boost" indeed! I came of age at a time when women struggled to be individuals with their own identity. Gender biases were the norm and career options were limited for females. I don't want to go back there - ever! I don't fault your daughter for baking - but, I'm glad that you raised the question of sexist expectations with her. Perhaps only those of us ancient enough to remember when our choices were limited are reluctant to be recast in that old mold. Gosh, Anita, how is it that you sometimes get me in such a lather? PS I never burned my bra - except symbolically...

yonca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
yonca said...

It means to me,equality between men and women..Since women and men work both, to seek healthier, gender-balanced cultures.
Great topic again! Thnx xx
Happy Wednesday!

Linda Hensley said...

We need a new word for women's rights and the fight to get them. How is it still possible that it's legal to pay women less than a man for the same work? Throughout my life I've been told that men don't have to include me in their meetings, give me promotions, or whatever else they want to keep with other men -- and deride sexual harrassment as something women have screamed about so much that now men have to take "sensitivity" courses about -- while they turn a blind eye to the actual harrassment that still goes on. But the thing that makes me craziest is that women don't stand up for other women and continue to hobble themselves with high heels while batting their eyes at the boss. Unless we value ourselves more and stand together, we're never going to be treated fairly. To me, that's feminism.

But then, I've baked cookies for men before too -- but it should be my right to bake cookies!

SuziCate said...

I've always shied away from the title "feminist" as to me it provokes and image of female men haters of the 60's and 70's though I won't name those celebrity faces that come to mind. Anyway, I'm all for equality...I just think we need a new name to put to it. I admit I'm surprised the school had the girls baking for the football players. -i wonder if any male groups are encouraged to do "male gender specific tasks" for the females.

Abby said...

I also shy away from the term "feminist" because of the man-hater connotations. I do feel that, in general, men and women are wired differently. And it's good to take statistics (like those on pay) with a grain of salt.
If I had daughters, I would want them to be comfortable in their own make-up less skin, no matter their bra size (although with me as their mom, genetics isn't in their favor).
Looking at my and my husband's roles in the marriage, we're pretty traditional. But that's because we choose to be. I think that's my "feminist stance" - that we always have a choice.

Margie said...

Hmmmmmm the coach thinks she should bake cookies for a football player well, I agree that it's sexist.

I have never considered myself a feminist but I have always been for women's rights.

Such an interesting post, Anita.

Thanks for the visits and kind words.
I am glad to know you.

Haddock said...

Well written. I too don't like it when some one writes mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. ........
All the personal touch goes out of the window.

Peaches Ledwidge said...

Another good post, but I'm am already sorry for your future son-in-laws. Your girls will be strong wives.

Linda said...

Hi Anita, great thoughtful post. I think we have come a long way as women, but I am still hearing that even in this day and age men are getting paid more than women for doing the exact same job.

Thank you so much for your visits and kind words on my posts. You are a great encouragement to me.

Arlee Bird said...

I've always considered "feminism" to be an activist movement with somewhat negative connotations where it comes to family and male/female relationships. But really I haven't dwelt on the concept of feminism.

I have three daughters whom I primarily raised on my own since their mother was not a big part of their lives much of the time and continues in their adulthood to be a bad example to them. I raised my daughters to be independent and to believe in themselves. They seem to be doing very well now that they are adults and raising daughters of their own. I don't think I gave them any activist feminist mindset, but a sense of their self worth. I'm pleased with the results and they're doing okay. I just wished they hadn't moved so far away from me--that's maybe more independence that I like, but it seems to be working very well for them.

A Faraway View

Rebecca S. said...

I completely agree with your last paragraph. I think the human race continually plays a game of push me, pull you in order to maintain some sort of balance, and we are always evolving with things like feminism. Feminism meant something a bit different in each of the decades I have been alive. To me, feminism means the equality between men and women, in an external sense (equal pay, equal rights, etc.) and this requires a buy-in from men as well. You cannot have feminism without men agreeing it is important and supporting it as an idea. Women started the movement, but men help keep it alive by being supportive and helping their wives/partners/coworkers to realize their full potential as women, as human beings. I think that is where we are at with feminism in this age, and I am glad we women feel empowered to do what we need to do as women, for our families, for our communities, and for ourselves. Women in some other parts of the world are still seen as property of a male-dominant culture, and it is my hope that with globalization, these cultures will move on to a phase of empowering and encouraging their women to realize their potential. I laughed over the 'sexist cookie making'. I do that sort of thing all the time with my girls - just keeping them aware. I think that's a good thing :)

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I love how you clued your daughter into the knowledge that it was sexist to have the girls baking treats for the boys -- not because it wasn't a nice thing to do for someone (as you noted, it WAS a nice thing) but because it didn't go both ways.

I have a like/dislike relationship with feminism. On one hand, it keeps me aware of things that need to change for equality and fairness in our culture; on the other hand, it can become a male-bashing opportunity, and building ourselves up by tearing down others is a poor design for equality.

myletterstoemily said...

i LOVE this post, because it forces me to
think what i am. i am a feminine force
for good (or i try to be.) sometimes
that includes fixing my husband a yummy,
homemade tomato soup, because he loves

other times it means i remind him that i
am going to choir and that might be a good
night to take his mom out to dinner.

i want my daughters to shoot for the moon.
one is domestic, one is pursuing a music
career (with her brother), the last one is a
complete feminist.

i'm ok with that, as long as their hearts are
in the right place.