What is a feminist? Are you a feminist?

This topic has been floating around in my head for quite some time — ever since I read a blog post which had a laundry list of “things feminists believe,” and if you said “yes” to any one of them, then you were (by their definition) a feminist. The two points I remember most clearly were as follows (paraphrasing): 1) if you think that your husband shouldn’t be allowed to beat you; and 2) if you think you should be allowed to own property in your own right (or maybe it was voting…). After the list, the blogger continued writing saying something along the lines of, “If you don’t want to call yourself a feminist, then ask your husband to start beating you, and give up your right to vote, and the right to own property.” Well, by that definition, then, I guess I’m a feminist. But I don’t call myself that, because my definition of “feminist” includes someone who is socially or politically liberal — the opposite, in many ways, of my conservative viewpoints — most particularly that they are “pro-choice,” or even “pro-abortion.” And yet, there are women who self-identify as feminists who are pro-life, including the group Feminists for Life. So are they “real” feminists? They would be by the very broadest definition, such as contained in that post. In fact, the early feminists (Susan B. Anthony, etc.) decried abortion as being “child-murder,” and “infanticide.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote of abortion, “When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”

Yet I daresay that many liberal feminists (those who would fit my narrower definition of “feminist”) would disavow these other women as being truly feminists. In fact, the Feministing blog wrote a blog post bemoaning the election of Laura Chinchilla, the first female President of Costa Rica, saying it was not truly an accomplishment, because she “hates women.” How does she hate women? — she opposes same-sex marriage, abortion, and the morning-after pill. Somehow, I think that this “female self-loathing” as the Feministing ladies would probably call it, would be an automatic disqualification of the term “feminist.” In their view, at least.

I think part of the problem comes from the varying definitions and indeed the different permutations of feminism through the decades. Most of us would probably fit the definition of the early feminists — the suffragettes, for example, who fought for the right to vote — or to get laws changed so that women could independently hold property, rather than their possessions being legally their husbands’. These early feminists may have been ideologically similar to later versions in some or perhaps many respects; but since one of the (if not the) defining characteristics of feminism in the 60s and early 70s was a strong commitment to legalizing abortion, these two groups may not have thought the other was a “true” feminist. My idea of what a “feminist” is includes someone who looks down her nose at women who choose to stay home and take care of their children — that women who are mothers only, rather than being defined by a job, are somehow less than working women (mothers or not); yet I was pleasantly surprised to find many self-identifying liberal feminists who consider being a stay-at-home mom to be the highest calling. Perhaps the definition of “feminist” has changed from what it was in my formative years, to be broader in some aspects, and narrower in others. Because of the liberal connotations of the term, I cannot call myself a feminist, and do not think of myself as one. Yet others may consider me so.

Now, discussion time! I’m really curious to find out what my readers think of the question: What is a feminist? What do you consider to be some indispensable aspects of feminism? For instance, would you agree that any woman who wishes to own her own property, to vote, or not to be beaten by her husband, is a feminist, even if she opposes abortion? And also, do you consider yourself to be a feminist, and why (or why not)?

Please be kind and civil; no flaming. I daresay that everyone will have a slightly different view on the topic, and my intent is not to pit one against another, but to find out personal opinion (which cannot truly be wrong). I think of the discussion in Pride and Prejudice on the topic of “What is an accomplished woman?” and how that each person in the room had a slightly different angle on the topic.

[Fast-forward to about 1 minute, to where the topic of an accomplished woman really starts.]

Mr. Bingley thought that “all young ladies are accomplished,” while Mr. Darcy said that there were not half-a-dozen women whom he would consider to be truly accomplished. Yet they were best friends, and were not in a heated argument. We can disagree without being disagreeable. 🙂

[Update: I asked my mom, “Are you a feminist?” and she said, “No!” I asked why not, and she said, “Because feminists demean men.” Then she brought up the way Tim Allen’s character Tim Taylor was portrayed on “Home Improvement,” compared to how his wife Jill was portrayed — he was basically an idiot while she had all the smarts; he made the mistakes while she cleaned them all up. She has a point. It seems that a lot of TV shows portray men and women this way — men are dumb while women always come in and save them. Are men now living down to women’s expectations, instead of living up to them?]


38 Responses

  1. Well I think that “feminism” boils down to the freedom as a woman to live the life you want to live. Freedom in the past has been defined as gaining equal rights to men, and gaining the freedom to a life free from abuse and oppression.

    Freedom is now being defined culturally – freedom to choose to raise your kids yourself, freedom to choose not to have children.

    I think that feminism now should be defined as one who respects and supports the rights of women to choose for themselves what life they want to live, and to work towards expanding rights and choices for all women, regardless of political or religious affiliation, regardless of geographic location.

    • I agree with Ukeedog. I don’t even believe one should use the label of Feminist because it (in my opinion) is a human right / humanitarian issue. Its not separate and apart from any other human beings desire to be able to live a full life as they are meant and desire to live it, irregardless of their gender, sexual orientation, political, religious or economic position.

  2. I feel the same way about it as you do.

    The whole stay at home mom thing really gets me.

    When I was at a dinner for all the Orthopedic surgeon residents (my husband is a resident), one of the residents asked me what I do. When I answered that I was a mother she smiled and said “well, what do you do?” Ummmm, I’m a MOTHER and GOD FORBID I stay HOME….

    I don’t get offended very easily, so it’s not like I am upset about this. I just find it so sad how our society looks at staying home and “just” raising the kids.

    I don’t want to make women who work feel bad because I think every woman has a choice, but I’m just so grateful I had a mom that was always there for us. I worked with troubled youth for years before becoming a mother and I believe a huge problem in teens is lack of being mothered.

    I watched Oprah the other day and wanted to smack her. I can’t remember what the exact subject was, but it was reference to being a stay at home mom. I could go on and on about this, but I’ll stop there…

    • I totally agree with this. Society makes you feel inadequate and that unless you work, you are looked down on. I have now come to realise that it was the best decision I ever made. I get confused with the definition of feminist and therefore don’t put myself in any category. I do what I think is right and ignore the comments of others.

  3. When I was in high school, I called myself an anti-feminist because it seemed that feminism stood for everything I find most horrible: abortion, destruction of the family, destruction of marriage, man-hating and man-bashing, and contempt for stay-at-home mothers. I’ve met a lot of feminists I love, and each defines feminism as something different – some of those definitions I like, some are like my early understandings of feminism. But no, I wouldn’t really consider myself a feminist… Then again, maybe I would. Just depends on the definition. There are probably as many definitions as there are women! 🙂

  4. What a complicated question, with so many parts. I’ll just say what comes to mind right now…

    Feminism to me is about dismantling the many structures in our society that disproportionately shame, disadvantage, damage, and kill women. This is one of the things that ticks me off when I complain about the sexualization/objectification of women and am told that as long as women are willingly taking part of it, “it’s their choice, and isn’t feminism about choice?” The Onion article Women Now Empowered by Everything a Woman Does sums up my thoughts on that pretty nicely, but I’ll say it here briefly too: No, feminism is not about “choice”. While expanding women’s choices is certainly one of the key parts of feminism, that is not what it’s about, particularly since “choices” are so easily shaped and dictated by those damaging societal structures. As a small example, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a woman who wears a slutty bee costume for Halloween, but there’s something inherently wrong with a society that dictates that on a night that’s supposed to be about imagination and creativity, a woman’s expression is supposed to be limited to thinking of how she can best fulfill a man’s fantasy.

    And wanting to dismantle those structures is why I support reproductive rights. In a different world, abortion would be unnecessary. Women’s lives would never be endangered by a pregnancy, no woman would ever be forced to get pregnant by her abusive partner, no woman would ever be raped, 10-year-olds would not get pregnant, there would be comprehensive sex education and free and unlimited access to birth control and free high-quality daycare and a year of paid maternity leave. These are, to me, highly feminist goals.

    But we don’t live in that world; in this world, unintended pregnancies occur and a myriad of forces conspire to cause them and punish women for them. A system in which abortion is criminalized does nothing to help women; it makes their lives worse. If the only goal is to have somewhat fewer abortions, then banning abortion is probably an effective thing to do. There will still be abortions, of course: women with money will always find access to them, and women with less money will sometimes find a way, safe or unsafe, to access abortions; and sometimes they won’t, and those are the abortions the ban will have prevented. But it will also be causing maternal deaths (unsafe abortion is one of the top five causes of maternal death around the world, and causes an especially large percentage of maternal deaths in Latin America), and their fetuses won’t be carried to term; and when women are caught and prosecuted (and those will almost certainly be the women with less money), their other children will suffer (as so many women seeking abortions already have children). There is an excellent article about the consequences of what a full abortion ban looks like, as El Salavdor actively enforces one. It doesn’t seem like a good solution to me. To me, the feminist act is to dismantle the structures that make pregnancies unwanted, and that hurt women in myriad other ways as well.

    There are about ten other parts to your question that I could answer, but that’s all for now!

    • The El Salvador link didn’t come through; you can re-post it if you want. It’s been some time since I’ve thought of El Salvador, but I remember being in a discussion some time ago in which I found out that they have an abortion ban in place which would prohibit abortions even for ectopic pregnancies as long as the fetus/embryo is still alive. Once fetal/embryonic death is confirmed (or the tube bursts), an abortion or other surgery can be performed to save her life. I think this is a bit too stringent, with the probability of a diagnosed ectopic resulting in a life-threatening if not a life-taking situation for the mother. In abortion cases such as these, the intent is to save the life of the mother, *not* to take the life of the child. It is the unfortunate inevitable result that the baby dies; but the likelihood (probably 99% or greater) is that the baby could never survive, so it is saving one life instead of taking two.

      However, there is some equivocation about abortion. Often, “unsafe abortion” is juxtaposed against “legal abortion,” as if the two were opposite or mutually exclusive, when that is not the case. There are numerous unsafe legal abortions, as there are numerous safe illegal ones. [Safe for the mother, anyway.] Just recently, a woman in New York City died from an abortion when the abortionist lacerated her cervix during the procedure and she apparently bled to death. Legal, but unsafe. Ireland has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the world, and it also has strict laws against abortion. Illegal, but safe.

      The reality is, that often in countries where abortion is illegal, health services in general and maternity services in particular are horrible, with high rates of death and disease from things that barely raise a blip on the radar of developed nations. I can’t speak for the current climate in these other countries, but I know that in America, about 90% of all illegal abortions were performed by a doctor or midwife, with most of the remainder being performed by someone else who had some medical training (veterinarian, nurse, etc.), and only a small minority being either self-induced abortions or by a complete amateur. [The term “back-alley abortion” does not refer to the place of the abortion, but rather that the pregnant woman would enter the doctor’s office through the back door in the alley, often at night, so as not to be seen and raise suspicion.] These abortions were unsafe, not because they were illegal nor because they were done by unqualified personnel, but because they were unsafe by their very nature. Up until the development of antibiotics, if a woman got sepsis from childbirth or abortion, there was precious little that could be done for her. Maternal mortality dropped like a rock with the advent of sulfa drugs and penicillin, because it gave doctors for the first time the ability to fight infection. Maternal mortality dropped below 600/100,000 in 1934, and was in a free-fall for decades after, dropping to 75/100,000 in 1951 when abortion was still quite illegal, and continuing to fall to 18.8 in 1972, the year Roe and Doe were decided. Legalizing abortion did not alter its safety; good health practices did. MMR did fall below that, but is now on the upswing again — all with abortion still very legal. In countries where antibiotics and other health-saving measures are not easily available, we still see high rates of preventable deaths from all sorts of reasons, including abortion.

      Here are abortion laws by country for 2007. As you can see, El Salvador does not allow for abortion for any reason. It has a maternal mortality rate of 170/100,000. However, what you may not have noticed from those same sources is that Chile also does not allow abortion for any reason, even to save the life of the mother, yet its maternal mortality rate is 16/100,000 — about the same as the United States’ rate.

      While one might say (as is often said of Ireland), that women are merely going across the border to neighboring countries where abortion *is* legal, I would point out that their neighbors (Argentina, Bolivia and Peru) all have abortion restricted only for the life and health of the mother, and sometimes for rape. Plus, all three of these countries have *much* higher MMRs than does Chile: 77, 240, and 290/100,000 respectively. Somehow, even with a full abortion ban, Chile enjoys an MMR comparable to that of the United States.

  5. Feminism and it’s definition hasn’t changed, your perspective has. We have always embraced a woman’s right to stay home or have a career or not have kids or have as many as she wishes.

    I am pro-choice, I choose to support other women’s right to decide what is best for her – including your right to decide that abortion is not okay. I trust women in that regard to make up their own minds, the same way I respect them enough to decide when and how they give birth (don’t you?) To me reproduction needs to be left in the hands of the individual, to take away from that is to deny that person their human rights.

    I am a feminist, I am Christian, I stay home and raise my kids, I am married to man that I respect and love, he does not nor will he abuse me neither physically nor verbally nor sexually – which is why I chose to marry him and to reproduce with him (he’s a great dad too, and husband). My life isn’t right for everyone, yes everyone, as a feminist I also support men’s rights as well – but it is right for me.

    Feminism gets a bad rap because of how it’s defined by those who are afraid or threatened, perhaps by those who had their abuse of power curtailed? We decide what feminism is, you and I, not media. Give it a try.

  6. For me, the most important criterion for being a feminist is believing that your gender does not make you inferior. That you should have the same rights, opportunities and choices as anyone of the other gender (and I’m being non-specific here because gender discrimination hurts men too).

    I do think your definition of feminism is too narrow, and perhaps too associated with your perception of modern feminism (and with the US dichotomy between ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’, which is not found to the same degree elsewhere). Do you believe you are inferior to any man, anywhere, solely because you are a woman?

  7. re Rebecca “on a night that’s supposed to be about imagination and creativity, a woman’s expression is supposed to be limited to thinking of how she can best fulfill a man’s fantasy”

    Imagine you are describing monkeys. Yes male monkeys need female monkeys , and female monkeys need male monkeys.

    Male monkeys will do things to show off to get attention for possible sex&reproduction, and female monkeys will do stuff to get attention for possible sex&reproduction.

    Real feminism is to unionize to get justice, such as the example of working in a factory and women (doing the same job as men) are paid a different wage (lower) because of their sex.

    Then we have women today who willing dress in a hijab, so they don’t feel the pressure that they are being looked at as a sex object.
    “In 1999, the industry’s (cosmetic industry) annual profits grew to $25 billion.”

  8. I’ve seen some great responses and I agree with lots of wonderful points you other women have made.

    Me personally, I wouldn’t consider myself a feminist, but rather a “humanist,” I guess. I don’t think that some of the more radical feminists do any favors to themselves or society by “man-bashing/man-hating” as another poster said. I agree that women should be equal legally and socially to men. I think that because all women are so different, the essence of what a woman is has no strict answer. I think that men should also retain equal rights and I am not in favor of policies that seek to marginalize or degrade men simply because they were the “ruling class” for thousands of years.

    I am a somewhat liberal Christian, politically moderate, pro-choice AND pro-life (in my mind, those two are not mutually exclusive) and I am a stay at home mother to my children by choice. I worked before I had children and will almost certainly work again after my children are a little older, but I find the idea of being a slave to a company so that I can consider myself an empowered woman to be detestable. To me, that kind of economic slavery is no different from the oppression women faced before the modern era of feminism shook things up.

    Being particularly interested in birth as a CBE, I also believe that we’ve lost something along the way by making the issue of “reproductive rights” solely about access to abortion and contraception. I think that this is made apparent by how bass-ackwards our current model of maternity care is. I am also saddened when I see “feminists” act as if the issues regarding reproduction and parenting are negligible.

  9. Pretty much what QoB said…

    I don’t believe ANY human being (born, unborn, female in the last stages of her life, female in the earliest stages of her life, handicapped, Olympic athlete, whatever) is inferior to ANY OTHER human being. I know that male physiology means that the average man is more likely to, say, have superior upper body strength to me, but that’s not the same thing as thinking I’m inferior.
    Because I can make another human being come out of a relatively small area of my body.
    Inferior? I think not.

    Other than that, I guess I don’t think too much about it. I do know that I do not want that label assigned to me because of the reasons you stated. (Implies support for abortion, etc.)

  10. Ethel and Rebecca already said everything I think better than I could. My basic view is that feminism means I believe that no one should be denied rights or opportunities that the rest of society enjoys, just because of their gender. I know that there are a lot of women who say that they are not feminists, because they are uncomfortable with what they see as a “liberal” connotation and they don’t want people to see them that way. But feminism isn’t about a particular political perspective. Feminism is about thinking it’s wrong for women to be denied the same rights and opportunities as men. I have a hard time believing that there’s a very large contingent of women who believe that women should be denied the same rights and opportunities as men have. There are certainly a lot of women who believe that women have a different role and purpose than men do, but do they honestly think that means that women should be denied basic human rights? It does bother me when women say they are not feminists. Even though I understand in most cases it’s because of a political motivation, I wonder if some of those women don’t honestly want to deny me rights and opportunities because I’m a woman. Some of them do, and that’s sad. I wish the “feminist” label was less loaded politically, because I think most of the women who say they aren’t feminists actually do believe in equal rights for women. On the stay-at-home question, I get really sick of the bashing by uber-liberal feminists, and I think it’s dumb. The same group also tends to bash homebirth and other choices in childbirth and thinks the c/s is the greatest invention ever because it preserves the pelvic floor. Whatever. You have to take everything with a grain of salt. Even though the “feminist” crowd and blogosphere disparages natural childbirth, I still call myself a feminist, because I am one. I’m not going to let one group with a particular political view co-opt the term.

    • I’m not going to let one group with a particular political view co-opt the term.

      There is some truth to this idea which is appealing… but I guess I think it’s “too far gone,” (at least in my mind, and in the minds of my family and flesh-and-blood friends) to alter the definition of “feminist” from the more vocal radical/liberal view (such as the one espoused at Feministing). For instance, if I announced to my friends and family, “I’m a feminist!” I think they’d think I was joking; and if I insisted I was serious, they would think I was no longer pro-life — simply because that is what their view towards the term would be. Perhaps I should try to alter it, but then I think I would be fighting just for fighting’s sake, and I should just not worry about it, because there are other things that are more important to me.

      In a similar way, I think about the swastika. There is probably a collective shudder that goes through much of the civilized world at the mention of that symbol of Hitler and all the evil he did, especially murdering millions of those whom he considered to be inferior, in an attempt to speed up Darwinian evolution, to eliminate “unfit humans,” and “purify the race.” Yet, the swastika prior to his time was used by many peoples (including, I think, some Native Americans), and was merely a symbol of the sun. [It’s been some time since I’ve heard this, so I’m going on memory — this was mentioned on an Antiques Roadshow years ago, when a woman brought in a quilt that had a swastika on it; I think it was some sort of Celtic or Scandinavian design — not German, and predating Hitler by about a century, perhaps more.] Anyway, though the meaning of the swastika was benign for the most part of human history, it is so strongly associated with Adolf Hitler and murder that if anyone uses that design in any way now, he is assumed to be a Nazi, neo-Nazi, Nazi sympathizer, Aryan supremacist, etc.

      That is an overly strong example, to demonstrate what it seems the common definition of “feminist” is, regardless of the view of those who would just use it to say that men and women should be legally equal. I don’t see the liberal feminists giving up the term, and it makes me uncomfortable using it, because of those connotations, just as it would make me uncomfortable to have a quilt with a swastika in the house, even though my great-great-great-great-grandmother made it with her own hands three hundred years ago.

      But I am enjoying this discussion — it challenges me in some ways, and confirms that my thoughts and experiences are more than “just me” in others. It has really made me think that I need to make sure how *others* are using the term, and not just to think that my definition is the one that they are using. Although I will say that in my life and in my memory, there have been few or no women who identify themselves as feminists who have not been liberal in the above-mentioned ways, so although I may have the wrong connotation for the word, it is the one that has been consistent with what I have seen. But, frankly, the term “feminist” usually only comes up in a political discussion, or when somebody from NOW or NARAL or other similar group gets on TV, so it is certainly a skewed perspective.

  11. there is debate among feminist activists too, about the term ‘feminist’. Some prefer ‘womanist’.
    If you agree in principle with feminism, then it’s a pity that you don’t feel like you can call yourself one, because you don’t agree with what common media depictions of that term means (e.g.: pro-choice), and @Nora makes a good point when she says “I’m not going to let one group with a particular political view co-opt the term”.
    It also annoys me when female friends of mine disavow feminism, when feminists have worked to do so much for them; access to education, voting rights, access to contraception, etc. I feel like asking them if they’d like to go back to being property!

  12. Feminism ties into the right to make educated choices about pregnancy and birth. The momevent to reclaim birth from hospitals and re-establish birth as an empowering event for women is a feminist cause.

    It seems like just because you don’t like abortion, you’re uncomfortable being associated with feminism at all… and yet you are participating actively in a feminist cause.

    • Yes, I think you’re right! I admit to not liking the term, because of the connotations I have of it; but I do not oppose every thing that anyone who calls herself a feminist supports, simply because someone who calls herself a feminist supports it. 🙂 I try *not* to have knee-jerk reactions, though it is always easier to react than to stop and think. Where there is common ground, I’d rather make friends than enemies, regardless of labels.

  13. I do not call myself a feminist, for a reason that honestly does not require me to define “feminism.” If I look at a list of potential feminist beliefs, all the ones I agree with also happen to be tenets of Christianity. Christianity teaches that men and women are inherently equal (though not the same). Moses was the first to allow women to hold property. Jesus is *certainly* not in favor of men beating their wives. Etc. Everything feminism may (or may not) teach that is *not* a part of Christianity, I don’t agree with. Because of that, it’s enough to simply call me a Christian — the label of feminism is completely irrelevant.

    Another point for me is that, because I am a Christian, I believe that my decisions and actions should not be based on what is good for *me*. In fact, what’s good for me should be my last concern, with God being first, and everyone else next. Of course, I am concerned about what is good for my daughters and other women, but as far as choices about my family and how I will live my life, I just think my “rights” are unimportant.

    • I do not call myself a feminist, for a reason that honestly does not require me to define “feminism.” If I look at a list of potential feminist beliefs, all the ones I agree with also happen to be tenets of Christianity… Because of that, it’s enough to simply call me a Christian — the label of feminism is completely irrelevant.

      Very well put!

  14. *raises hand* Pro-choice, pro-woman, bleeding-heart liberal (leaning so far to the left I might as well bite the bullet and call myself socialist) right here….and I squirm at the thought of identifying myself as feminist. Here’s why.

    In my eyes, the idea of feminism seems to centralize around making a woman be exactly like a man in order to have worth. And to me, that seems to be the exact opposite of what feminists are actually trying to accomplish, in fact, it perpetuates the very notion that women themselves are not worth anything, just because they’re women.

    I reject the notion that I have to close up my womb, go work in some office, and burn my bra in order to be considered important. Ancient cultures across the globe operate on the same men = hunter-gatherers, women = homemakers system, yet these tribes revere their women BECAUSE they play such a vital role in their society. They honor childrearing and domesticity as the incredibly crucial duties they are. It is absolute folly to claim that raising the next generation is not important or to do so is lowering oneself. I think this is part of why our own American society is so screwed up, because we demean and downplay the importance of nurturing as a mother and wife.

    I say that women should be celebrated no matter what they choose to do in life, and should be granted the freedom to do so without feeling that they have to conform to any certain set of standards that might make them unhappy. That was what initially spurred the original feminist movement, because women were unhappy being forced to stay home barefoot and pregnant and being second-class citizens, but as time passed it has revolved around to being forced to NOT stay at home and make babies even if that’s what women would be happy to do.

    Everything a woman does is important. Every woman deserves respect. I think all feminists can agree on that even if some of them would think less of me because I have no desire to go out and get myself a career.

    • And we both know all too well how feminism has twisted itself around in the realm of childbirth: women demanded drugs during labor because they did not want to be forced to suffer as their subjugated ancestors had been. What started out as liberation has just put us right back into a patriarchal system where women are voiceless victims of powerful men, broken, unable to do the very thing that makes us women: give birth. It is incredibly important that we regain that power. If women deserve the right to abort their babies, they deserve the right to birth their babies as they see fit, under their own power, without the forceful hand of a power-and-money-hungry system shoving them along like cattle.

    • In my eyes, the idea of feminism seems to centralize around making a woman be exactly like a man in order to have worth. And to me, that seems to be the exact opposite of what feminists are actually trying to accomplish, in fact, it perpetuates the very notion that women themselves are not worth anything, just because they’re women.

      That is one of the things I’ve thought about “feminism” as I define it, which is another reason why I wouldn’t call myself that. I think of the ’80s business women in their “power suits” with shoulder pads that basically tried to get women to look as masculine as possible, because that look somehow equaled “powerful,” and a woman couldn’t be a woman, couldn’t be feminine, couldn’t be a proud woman, without being some sort of masculine, macho type person. This idea of pretending like there is no difference between men and women (except for the genitals) doesn’t serve either men or women very well, and I think has harmed our society in general and women in particular.

      I’m glad to find that there are many women saying this, and it’s not just us hated, backward conservative types 😉 that find the label of “feminist” (or at least, how it is played out too often in society) unpalatable.

    • Thank you! I had been reading all these responses and really thinking hard about how I felt but was struggling with one idea that I couldn’t quite put into words… but you did it for me!

      “In my eyes, the idea of feminism seems to centralize around making a woman be exactly like a man in order to have worth. And to me, that seems to be the exact opposite of what feminists are actually trying to accomplish, in fact, it perpetuates the very notion that women themselves are not worth anything, just because they’re women.”

      Many feminists would say that working for equality is the ultimate tenet, however I would have to say that if what we are working towards is simply to be equal to men then there is something wrong with that. Of course there’s more to it than that, but since everyone here has already seemed to comment on everything else I’ll leave it at that. Thanks Jill!

    • well said… glad I finally came to recognize this…

  15. Very long! but this really got me going.
    I will say up front that this comes from someone who has repeatedly described herself as “more mysogenistic than all my male friends” and happily say I am “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen”.
    What ‘feminism’ means to me:
    Political Feminist (those that insist on spelling ‘women’ as ‘womyn’ come to mind): Women who are primarily concerned with relegating men into a submissive, cowtowing role by insisting that they can do ANYTHING a man can, they should be allowed to do ANYTHING a man can, and that society should bow to their needs by making legal everything they might want (or similiarly legal everything they might need to get what they want, like abortion on demand so they can have sex indiscrimitately like a man without the side effect of pregnancy), illegal everything a man might want, and by vilifying or crimializing any voice that stands against them, especially the reglious right (and specifically the Christian right). My husband and I refer to these people as ‘fem natzises’, I think there are a lot less of them then there seems to be because they are so vocal, but because they are so vocal anyone who uses the name ‘feminist’ risks being associated automatically with them.
    Leftist Feminist: Probably the vast majority of people who would call themselves feminist (in my experiance), they seem to be generally reasonable in the acknowledgement that men and women are different, but insist that they be treated the same and that the laws should change so that all aspects of society give women whatever assistance they need to obtain ‘equal’ standing with men (like different requirements to ‘pass’ basic training, police training, etc or hiring/promoting requirements). They are highly likely to fall on the other side of the fence to the religious right in politically charged moral concepts like abortion, homosexual rights, and religious freedom.
    Traditional Feminist: People who believe that men and women should have the same basic rights to life, liberty, and freedom. Women should be able to own property, be independant if they so choose to be, work or stay home, have children/not have children, not be in fear of physical/emotional/sexual harm from society (be that other women, their spouses/significant others, parents, or bosses/figures of authority). These people know that, since men and women are different, there are things that men do better (in general) than women just like there are things that women (in general) do better than men. They think that both men and women should be incouraged to pursue that which they are best at and, given a level playing field, those that are best (regardless of gender) will achieve. Traditional feminists know they they have, with few exceptions, already won the battle and that a woman is free to live with the same rights as a man. These feminists probably think that abortion is okay, even necessary, in some cases, but shouldn’t be availible on demand, feel like men should be held more responsible than they usually are for children they seed outside of a stable relationship, and may fall pretty much anywhere in the political/religious spectrum. They praise those that marched for sufferage but probably dislike the radical ‘political feminists’.
    And, finally:
    Conservative (or Religious or Old fashioned or, to many, Anti-) Feminist: These are in the minority in today’s day and age, and most (if not all) are probably either Biblical Christian, Conservative Muslim, Orthodox Jew etc, or belong to more ‘traditional’ cultures. They think men and women have healthy, defined, and correct places and that trying to push either gender outside of those roles will be detrimental to the individual and society. Men belong in the work force, the protector role (warrior/fighter/soldier), and in leadership positions. Women belong in the home, the caregiver role (mother/wife/healer/comforter), and lead by the axiom ‘the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’ or ‘the head is turned by the neck’ (remember, when women gained the right to vote it was men who had to vote for it). They feel like it is societies job to do what’s necessary to support these roles and that the post-industrial society has failed miserably (single mom’s have no support system in their communities and must leave their children to work outside the home, a single-income home is nearly impossible given today’s post-industrial economy, and there is great social pressure to limit the number of children etc), and, given that failure, probably admit that ‘traditional feminists’ are a necessary if unfortunate part of the current post-industrial world, but they will do what they can to avoid even that in their own life (making do with one salary, having many children, even living in set apart communities). These people feel empowered and satisfied by their gender roles and unique contibutation to society, not pigeonholed or held back as most feminists would insist they are. These people follow the athropological view of the vast majority of societies and cultures throughout history and those that still exist today in a pre-industrial environment and, in general, believe that this is the ‘correct’ way and other ways are determental to society. Because this mindset rarely flurishes outside of traditional, conservative religious beliefs or traditional cultures these people will almost certainly be very politically conservative.

    Since I fal strongly into the last category what I wish feminism meant was an acknowledgement of the unique and necessary roles that women play in society and a striving towards changing society (back!) to a social acknowledgement and support of those roles. I feel that any attempt to force an ‘equality’ or ‘sameness’ of women with men (instead of acknowledging their differences and uniqueness and understanding that ‘different’ doesn’t mean ‘less’) only undermindes women’s natural abilities and ultimately tells society ‘women are so weak that they can’t function unless we give them a hand up’. I think it is this dicotomy of current feminism (we’re just as good but we need society to change so we can prove it), which mostly goes unnoticed except subconsciously, that has led to the exploitation of women in such situations as pornography, birth rights, and sexual situations (among many others!)

  16. sorry about the spelling mistakes guys, fussy baby and proper editing don’t go well together!

  17. I don’t think that being a strong supporter of childbirth choices and a complete dismantling/revamping of the US maternity system makes one a feminist.
    I also do not support circumcision of neonate males.
    I also support a complete dismantling/revamping of the medicare system, the elder-care system, the foster care system, and many other things that do not in any way really directly affect me.
    I care deeply about various causes. I don’t think one can honestly look at the maternity care system in a typical US hospital and think, “Yeah, that’s perfect.”
    Our fetal and neonate mortality rates are abhorrent. The care we provide to mothers is substandard and based on dollars and doctor convenience. Anyone with a conscience can see that’s wrong. My husband cares very deeply about this subject, too. He reads, watches all the “maternity” documentaries, etc. Is he a feminist? Nah, not as the term is generically used today. Rather, I think that he’s a caring human being who sees an entire oppressive and unfair system being forced down the throats of women at their most vulnerable time of life.
    It wouldn’t be fair if it were happening to men, either.
    Human beings have inherent dignity and the way they are treated in this country when they are sick, dying, too young to fight back, and pregnant is unacceptable. Fighting to change those things doesn’t require a label – it just means you’re paying attention.

  18. I’d like to point out that Christianity is as complex a self-identification as feminism – probably moreso. Different denomintions of Christianity have extremely different values to live by.

    At worst, Christianity has been used as an excuse to cause grevious harm to others; yet I do not assume that those who identify as Christian are therefore out to judge or harm me.

    I see a lot of old-school, second wave feminism goals being held up in this conversation – women trying to be like men in order to succeed in the male-dominated society, women judging other women who choose to stay at home to raise their kids etc. At one time lesbians were considered to be the enemies of feminism and called the “lavender menace”. These are throw backs to the 80s, and feminism has long since evolved past this point.

    I think that instead of using 30 year old rhetoric to denounce feminism, that perhaps you should investigate what feminism has become today.

    “Feminism is for Everybody” by bell hooks is a great primer and covers a variety of topics. I just feel that your hang ups on feminism are based more on a stereotype rather than actual feminism today. I think that since you’re interested enought to introduce this topic that you’d enjoy and benefit from some reading.

  19. I know there is a small faction of pro-life feminists out there. I am aware of the group “Feminists for Life.”
    The fact that they have to have a special “group within a group” which denotes that they are different (i.e. “for life”) is generally evidence that they are differentiating themselves from the accepted thinking of the core group.
    People who identify themselves as “feminists” are usually associated with groups like NOW, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the like. If you hear the term “staunch feminist”, you can safely assume that person believes in abortion rights. Yes, there are “feminists for life.” There are also Jews for Jesus.
    I UNDERSTAND why women symbolically burned their bras. I UNDERSTAND why women fought to be paid on an equal scale with men. I UNDERSTAND why women fought for the right to do any job they were capable of.
    I UNDERSTAND why Susan B. Anthony took to the streets. I have no problem with “the feminism of yesterday.”
    It’s the feminism of today which I do not want to associate myself with. I am ex-military. I am in a profession dominated by men. Believe me, I’ve lived my entire adult life on the front lines of the gender wars.

    I understand the abortion issue inside and out, and I’ve lived it from both sides of the fence. I am in a constant battle to brush back the demons that still haunt me from my time on the other side. And as proof that life really is a circle, every day I get to look into the eyes of my daughter, adopted after the young woman who gave birth to her canceled *three different* abortion appointments, one mere hours before it was scheduled.
    Abortion is, to me, not a woman’s issue. Yes, the devastating after-effects of the “choice” are generally borne by the women, it’s the woman who fights the breast cancer and incompetent cervix and uterine scarring and the myriad of other health issues after the fact, etc. But in the bigger picture, this is a human issue.

    I don’t have “hangups” about feminism. I have hangups about abortion. But the book sounds like something I would definitely be interested in, so I’ll check it out. Thanks for the recommendation.

  20. Thank you C for your comment. I get so frustrated hearing about the two options that women have. Abort or not abort. What about the third option…adoption (which I think is the most selfless and best option in most cases). It KILLS me to know so many women who cannot have children and want them more than anything they have ever wanted in their life. There are so many mothers out there who are such incredible women who have so much love to give, yet they wait. They wait for a woman to make the choice that isn’t talked about. They wait for a woman who cancels that abortion and gives the most incredible gift anyone could EVER give. Oh how I wish this option was given more publicity and honor. God bless the women with peace to make that choice!

  21. be a woman be a feminist. a good feminist do not agree with abortion.

  22. I think that there is a difference between equality and equity.
    If I am working, become pregnant and am to get 6months maternity leave, I’ll take it.
    Now, by “equal rights,” standards, I should not take it because men don’t get 6months of paternity leave. I wonder if women who desire everything to be equal would gladly give up their maternity leave since men don’t get it.
    I wouldn’t!
    Sure, it would be nice if men and women got it. But, That just ain’t happening folks.

    I read the person’s comments that said that we should understand that feminism has evolved.
    Maybe that is true. and, honestly, I hope so. But we all remember (and still know those who espouse) the old mantras chanted by the very political faction. To dismiss these ideas is not to live in reality. they still exist and there are still people who believe them. And, however distasteful, this activism has shaped women’s history and the history of feminism and can’t be shrugged off just because we don’t either agree with them or like our past. But, frankly, I do know women who still believe and espouse the “if men can do it, then we can too,” mantra to justify their promiscuity, desire for status/income/career at the expense of their family and generally behave badly. In this context, they saw/see men as having the rights and privilege to behave badly and instead of fighting against the behavior, they fought to have the freedom to behave just as abhorrantly.
    And, disabled women were excluded from the feminist movement because of what they “couldn’t do.” check out Simie Linton and Adrienne Ashe’s articles.

    Can we be equal while assuming different gender roles? Yes. We don’t have to change our gender roles to be respected as women and I think that many in the feminist movement thought that in order to claim their respective roles and in order to assert our intelligence etc, we had to downplay the very fact that we were women. …. as if all of us should live in a gender nutral society. I think that the early feminists and even some fems now, in their quest to be equal, strive to make us gender nutral. And, anyone who did not confine to their strict definition could not forward the “movement.” that is the thing about movements. They want to make a statement and everyday lives and decisions get lost in the political movement and appearance of the whole.
    And, I agree, abortion is not a woman’s issue, it is a human issue.
    That was very well said.

  23. I am not a feminist. I am a full-time working mother and my husband is a stay at home dad. I handle all the finances and have complete control over the money. All of our assets are in my name. He does most of the housework and childcare and has my supper ready when I walk through the door at 5:00.
    He is my best friend. A feminist would think I was living a dream. However, I do not agree with most of the basic principles of feminism in that:
    1. I believe that God is a male.
    2. I got married when I was 19 (20 years ago) and was proud to take my husband’s name.
    3. I do not believe women should be promiscuous.
    4. I believe that abortion is a mortal sin (because it is. You can dress it up anyway you want, it is still taking a life.)
    5. I am not at all concerned about the rights lesbians and prostitutes (two of feminism’s favourite marginalized groups).
    6. I was a virgin when I got married and it is very important to me that I was.
    7. I love men.
    8. I don’t like women. (Blame that one on the mean girls in junior high school).
    9. I do not believe that women’s advancement has made for a better society. I think that most of the social problems we have today are a direct result of women entering the workforce and being brainwashed by feminists to abandon everything traditional.
    10. I don’t give a crap what other women think of me or what feminists think.
    So, That is why I do not consider myself a feminist and I never will.

  24. Turts, you’re right. You’re not a feminist. [Flaming, expletive – deleted]. You watch way too much Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. You’re not much of a true Christian though, because Jesus was very concerned with the prostitutes and the sinners. You don’t like women, so it sounds like you have some self-loathing going on as well. Yikes, sounds like you’ve got a lot more problems than feminism.

    Actually, ceidson, it sounds like she’s read her Bible – too much, I guess, in your opinion? Jesus was also very concerned with morality and doing right. He did not command the people to stone the woman caught in adultery, but He did tell her to “go and sin no more.” Part of being “concerned with the prostitutes and the sinners” is not to leave them wallowing in their sin, but to lift them out of it, or to help them get out of it.

    Why is it, that whenever somebody says they don’t like this or that about some group who may have something in common with them, that the retort is that “you have some self-loathing going on”? I view many YouTube videos and read many politically conservative blogs and articles written by people who happen to be black, and they are constantly getting comments that they are a “self-loathing black man/woman” because they have problems with stuff Barack Obama (or some other liberal black politician) does. What??? It has nothing to do with self-loathing, but with not liking how someone is acting.

  25. In fairness, shde didn’t say that she didn’t like some characteristic about a group, she said that she didn’t like the entire group that, she, herself, actually belongs to — and the decision “not to like this group” was because of behavior perpetrated upon her in junior High School.

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