Today I was reading MamaMia on a post about feminism and it really got me thinking. The main point of the post was about women not identifying themselves as feminists and the problems associated with that.
As self-described “strident feminist” and my hero Caitlin Moran says in her book How to be a Woman:
“We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad.
When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”
There seem to be a lot of women who are confused about the meaning of feminism. Lady Gaga in 2009 said: “I’m not a feminist. I hail men. I love men.
It made me think … do I consider myself a feminist? What is a feminist? What does it mean to be a feminist? Does feminism fit with the way I see the world and what I see as being important. Hmm … So after going through in my mind about my own ideas of what feminism is and if I was a feminist I thought I would look it up …
What is really … what is feminism? What does it mean to be a feminist?
I think that this word means different things to different people and is something that has evolved over time … and not always for the best.
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. In addition, feminism seeks to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist is a “person whose beliefs and behavior are based on feminism.” Wikipedia – Feminism
For me the best definition I have found on feminism is from Stereotypes about Feminism: Myths About Those Bra-Burning Feminists Rebuked | Suite101.com and is built around the following core principles.
- Women and men should be equal before the law and valued equally by society.
- Changes in the law and in society need to be made to ensure a better life for women.
- Violence and repression against women worldwide needs to end.
- Women need to support each other’s decisions and cultural differences, and stand together as sisters.
So far … All sounds good to me. But is that all feminism is? No its not … And this IMHO is where a large part of the problem lies.
There are lots of stereotypes about feminism but do they reflect what feminism ‘really’ is either. Here are a list of the top 15 stereotypes I could find and come up with about feminism and feminists.
- All people who label themselves as feminist believe in the exact same things.
- Feminists hate men
- Feminists are all lesbians
- Feminists are all like Germaine Greer
- Feminists are masculine and unattractive
- Feminists don’t shave
- Feminists are bra-burners
- Feminists are all socialists (or at least favour the left side of politics)
- Feminists have a single-minded agenda and are only interested in issues affecting women
- Men are not feminists
- Feminists hate the idea of family
- Feminist are angry and whine about everything
- Feminists don’t respect stay at home mums
- Feminists are all pro-choice
- Feminists hate God
IMHO there are 6 board categories of feminism and they can have stricking difference in their outlooks and perspectives. (Types of Feminism: Liberal, Socialist, Third Wave, and Other Feminist Philosophies | Suite101.com )
- Liberal Feminism
- Marxist/Socialist Feminism
- Radical Feminism
- Third Wave Feminism
- Black Feminism
Liberal feminism is characterized by an individualistic emphasis on equality. According to this philosophy, society itself does not need a major overhaul, but rather laws need to be changed and opportunities have to be opened up to allow women to become equals in society. To a liberal feminist, evidence of progress is seen largely by the numbers of women in positions previous occupied by men, especially powerful positions. In the United States and much of the Western world, liberal feminism is the most mainstream form of feminism.
Socialist feminism (sometimes known as Marxist feminism) is different than liberal feminism in that it emphasizes that true equality will not be achieved without major overhauls within society– particularly economic overhauls. Socialist feminists argue that there are fundamental inequalities built in to a capitalist society because power and capital are distributed unevenly. Thus, it’s not enough for women to individually work to rise to powerful positions in society; rather, power needs to be redistributed throughout society. Liberal feminists focus on individual empowerment, while socialist feminists focus on collective change and empowerment.
Radical feminism is similar to socialist feminism in that it emphasizes the need for dramatic social change in order to achieve genuine equality for women (and sometimes these two philosophies are grouped together). Radical feminists believe that society is extremely patriarchal, and until patriarchy is transformed on all levels, the system will remain unjust. A minority of radical feminists are separatist feminists, who believe that men and women need to maintain separate institutions and relationships.
Third Wave Feminism
Third Wave feminism is popular among younger women, many of whom are children of feminists from the 1970s (who are referred to as Second Wave Feminists). Similar to liberal feminism, Third Wave feminism is very individualistic. Although it does not reject political activism, Third Wave feminism is focused more on personal empowerment as a starting place for social change. Third Wave feminism celebrates the construction of individual identities in a complex, postmodern world, and invites women to define themselves as they wish from the smorgasbord of possibilities.
Ecofeminisim draws from and links together both the women’s movement and the environmental movement. Ecofeminism draws parallels between the domination and exploitation of both women and nature.
Black Feminism posits that sexism and racism are inextricably linked, and that sexism will never be overcome while the system is still so fundamentally racist. This movement grew out of the discontent of African Americans women during the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s, who felt their particular needs as minority women were not being addressed. The term “Black feminism” is often used to encompass the needs of all women of color.
So in the end what do I think? To be honest I do not know. I know I agree with the core principles of feminism … but I am not sure which if any of the categories I subscribe to. I know that many of the stereotypes of feminism don’t relate t me … but maybe I am a Liberal feminist or a Third Wave feminist. I don’t know and to be honest I don’t want another label. I prefer to think I am an independent thinker that has views on a range of social issues and cares about openness, fairness and equity for all. But in saying that does that make me a feminist? And in the end does it matter?
What do you think? Do you think supporting the idea of feminism is important? Do you think that it is important that women (and men) identify as feminists? Do you have to subscribe to an ideology in order to believe common goals?