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?]