There is a lot of confusion and misconception when one starts talking about feminism and identifying as a feminist. And, before I start with this blog, I should warn you that, yes, I identify as a feminist. But I am not an expert on feminist theory or history, and my word is not the end-all-be-all – just simply my humble opinion.
A Brief (and VERY basic) History
Feminism has changed throughout history in order to adapt to the important causes and goals of the time. Generally, feminism can be identified in three “waves,” periods of time when activism was particularly active towards achieving a particular goal.
The first wave comprised of women’s suffrage movements in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries promoting women’s right to vote, as well as property rights, equal contract rights, marriage rights, and parenting rights. It was an effort to gain political power and ensure that women were being recognized as citizens and subject to the same inalienable rights that had been denied them.
The second wave began in the 1960s and focused on ending discrimination against women. It sought for legal and social equality for women. Unlike the first-wave of feminism, there is no distinct “win” and its goals have been continued through into third-wave feminism.
After the perceived “failure” of the second wave, the third wave of feminism began in the 1990s and continues today. It seeks for the legal and social equality of women. The movement focuses on many aspects of equal rights for women, including (but not limited to): abortion, birth control, violence against women, women’s health, and international women’s rights. Primarily, though, the goal of third-wave feminism is to ensure equality among people, regardless of sex/gender.
So, basically, feminism today in 2011 (nearly 2012) focuses on the equality of all people, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, religion, ethnicity…
It is not about putting one particular group of people above another group. It is about leveling the playing field so that no one group is “better” or has more power than another. Much like the Occupy movement aims to protest economic and social inequality, feminism seeks to change a society that views women and other minorities as “second class” citizens or as people who lack the education, knowledge, and personal drive to be privy to the same rights freely and unquestionably granted to the majority (usually, and I don’t mean to point fingers here, white males).
I would stipulate that there is no “enemy,” no one person or group of people that is completely and utterly oppressive and in the wrong. Instead, I believe that we live in a society that for so long has valued ideals that devalue minorities and grant power to those who have always had it, because that is the way it has always been done and what’s wrong with that. In my opinion, the feminist movement is working to change the views and values of that kind of society, and create a cultural shift from one of exclusive power and prestige to one of cultural equality, mutual respect and recognition, and equal rights for all citizens, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, religion, ethnicity…
Now, some may argue that as United States citizens, we already live in such a culture. However, if you truly examine the ways in which people are treated and look at those who are in power, you can see that the inequality is blatant. We talk a big game in the US about equality for all – but our actions speak much louder than our idealism. I mean, just look at all the Occupy movements occurring across the country, fights for birth control/reproductive health rights for women, protests for gay marriage, and on and on…
Feminism and Men
About a month ago at the UW Women’s Leadership Conference, UW student, Elizabeth Masters-Hiatt, gave a presentation entitled “Understanding the Word Feminist.” During her presentation, Elizabeth outlined the aims and goals of the feminist movement, and what it means (to her) to identify as a feminist.
A male student in the audience felt frustrated by the word “feminist,” and began a debate with Elizabeth about how titling the movement for equality, such as we have, as “feminism” is exclusionary to men.
However, being a feminist and identifying with the feminist movement has nothing to do with gender – and, perhaps, had the movement not been kindled from the flames of women’s suffrage and gender equality rights, it would be called something else, something perhaps more inclusionary.
But there are MANY men who identify as feminists and support the feminist movement. There are MANY transgender individuals who identify as feminists and support the feminist movement. And there are MANY women who identify as feminists and support the feminist movement.
Supporting the aims and goals of feminism has nothing to do with what your sex is, or anything else for that matter. It only has to do with whether you personally support the beliefs and causes of the movement. Hell, you don’t even have to support every aspect of the cause; there are many debates within the feminist community about various aspects of the movement. This does not make any one of them more or less of a feminist. Or any more or less of a man, woman, … etc.
I actually found a group in my research to kind of equalize the feminine nomenclature that ruffles some feathers. A group called “Meninist” is a global organization of men that believe in and support the feminist principles of women’s political, social and economic equality. The following is their platform:
1) We are opposed to all forms of misogynist behavior and sexist attitudes; we respect all women.
2) We believe in a woman’s reproductive freedom and right to control her own body.
3) We oppose all forms of violence against women, including rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence, as well as all negative stereotypes and violence against women in film, television and advertising.
4) We understand the need for men to participate in the women’s movement and help end 2000 years of men’s patriarchy. We pledge to support women in every possible way we can, including sharing responsibilities around the house and in parenting.
5) We believe that women should be paid in parity to men for the same work done and women should be given the same opportunities in the work environment. We oppose the so-called “glass ceiling” (the oppression of women’s ability to advance at the workplace). We oppose the “Old Boy’s Netork.”
Feminism to Me
While I appreciate the support and the idea of this group, they seem to be simply re-iterating those causes that feminist movement is pursuing:
1) We are opposed to all forms of gender inequality; we respect all people.
2) We believe in a person’s reproductive freedom and right to control his/her own body.
3) We oppose all forms of violence against persons, including: rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence, as well as all negative stereotypes and violence against women in film, television and advertising.
4) We understand the need for all people to participate in the movement for equality and help change the current culture that values one group of people above others. We pledge to support each other and the cause in every possible way we can.
5) We believe that people should be paid equally for the same work done and everyone should be given the same opportunities in the work environment. We oppose the so-called “glass ceiling” (the oppression of the ability for minorities to advance in the workplace).
This is what I believe. And what is my perception of the aims, goals, and beliefs of the feminist movement. And perhaps “feminism” is a misnomer as it denotes a gender-based movement when, to me, feminism is about so much more than just gender inequality, but about all forms of inequality and seeking to create a new culture in which we are truly all created equal.