I’m beginning to sense that my attempt at the Women Unbound challenge would be incomplete without a reflection on what I’ve gained from it. At the start of the challenge, I was asked what feminism meant to me. I responded: “To me, feminism is about achieving not only equality, but also liberty: the freedom to be who you are and choose the life you wish to lead, to offer your own unique contribution to the world.” When asked whether I considered myself a feminist, I said: “The term is so loaded these days, and I’m not sure I consciously apply that label to myself. I’m a ‘humanist’, I guess. I don’t support one race or gender over another, but seek to promote inclusion and understanding, so that we might all understand our need of each other. As Desmond Tutu once said, “I am, because other people are.” I’m a ‘thoughtist’ in the sense that I advocate thoughtfulness, not only in understanding others, but also in understanding ourselves.”
Through this challenge, I think my definition of feminism has not really changed, but I am much more inclined to call myself a feminist. I am a feminist in the sense that I care deeply about women’s issues and righting injustices and preventing harm from coming to the innocent.
Though I call myself a feminist, I find myself increasingly disenchanted with a lot of feminist media these days. I’ve been following Bitch PhD and Bitch Magazine, and at first I appreciated their insight…until it started to seem as though “bitch” refers less to “empowered, self-realized woman” and more to the verb: for bitching seems to be just about all they do.
I have a problem with feminism when it says we need to break down societal expectations of what WOMAN should be – only to hiss and moan when women don’t choose their particular “liberated” vision of woman. It denies freedom of choice. It denies individual expression. It denies that there might be some value to the way some things have been done for centuries. And it denies the hard fact of biological proclivities. Women should not be forced to stay in the kitchen if their talents and interests push them into the office. But neither is it bad if a woman actually enjoys what she does in the kitchen. It’s stupid to pretend everything is socially constructed.
I have a problem with feminism when all it does is complain about the media. Bitch Magazine is one long series of gripes about some aspect of popular culture that did something to get their panties in a twist – interspersed with maybe a few anecdotes of examples that suit their ideal. It’s not a call to action; it’s a glorified tally sheet. It doesn’t inspire; it just hits the same button ad nauseum like a Pavlovian dog. It’s not forward thinking; it has become reactionary. Yes, there are problems with today’s media. Yes, there are elements of patriarchy dominating society (75 cents on the dollar, anyone?). But as far as I’m concerned, you can only push the victim button so many times before I lose sympathy – even if I’m in the same boat. There’s only so many times you can cry “victim” before I’m going to ask: Ok, but what are you doing to become a “survivor”?
I have a problem with feminism when it seeks to include minority voices – but then rejects the legitimacy of white, male voices. Far be it from me to be the vanguard of privileged white males! And I’m pretty sure anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis would know that. But I think it’s a false claim of “open, honest discussion” when white males are excluded. Yeah they’ve dominated the discussion for centuries, and yeah I’ll think some opinions are total crap, but that doesn’t mean they should be denied a place at the table when we discuss what we want of our society. (Maybe that’s because my husband is white and male, but I do value his opinion.)
So through a closer look, I’ve discovered that a lot of feminism is pretty much what I thought it was, and that is sad. However, through reading a lot of literature about strong women, I’ve come to remember once again what it is about the feminine voice that is worth listening to. Hearing women’s perspectives on the world and learning more about women’s contributions to society has animated me and activated me to do something more to help where it hurts. I don’t cry foul when girls wear pink, but I do take umbrage when girls give up on an education one week out of every month because they don’t have a bathroom separate from the boys. I don’t think it’s a travesty if women find role models from generations past, but I do shed tears when women are mutilated because it’s taboo to say “stop”. I don’t really care about the messages that pervade pop culture. I do care about the messages sent by parents, teachers, and church leaders, for these are messages sent every day by the people children love. They’re not something that can be shut off with a flick of a power switch. So, I haven’t become a feminist of the academic variety. Instead, I’ve become inspired to pursue my own brand of feminism, for whatever that’s worth.