Sunday, January 31, 2010

Whatever That Means

Some time ago, a member of my family who happens to be youngish and male made a curious remark to another somebody. It had to do with me, my politics and perhaps my life choices.

The remark was something like "we (that person and myself) don't agree because I do not 'believe in' feminism". Huh. I don't think I've ever discussed feminism with that dude so it struck me as odd. He must have made observations about me and attributed my choices to feminism. Interesting.

I've never really thought of myself as a feminist. I still don't. It has made me wonder: what does it mean to be a feminist in 2010?

I think of myself as a person who will, and does, any damn thing I wish and I pity the fool that gets in my way. Feminism, in my mind, is a movement that has accomplished much and from which I have benefited greatly. I can't imagine any career I might have pursued where being female would have been a hindrance, although I think its true that inequalities of opportunity and remuneration continue to exist albeit in fewer and fewer circumstances.

For goodness sake, we've had several female Cabinet members, came damn close to having a female candidate for the US Presidency.... feminism has accomplished nearly all of the agenda feminists have embraced. This is important because I've always thought that I grew up in what is nearly the post-feminist era in the US...not that all the work is done, not that women in other circumstances do not continue to experience discrimination but for this young woman of modest origins, gender has held me back not a bit.

I chose to have a career---because I felt I had something to offer the world, because I wanted to be self-sufficient and yeah, sure, because I knew I was a lot smarter than plenty of men I had met. A fine decision it was, too, because Prince Charming was a bit late showing his face and somehow I had to pay the rent while he took his time. Choosing to have a career, I have made important contributions---some of which were kind of spectacular and many of which helped people in need. I take this to mean that being able to have a career has been a good thing for not only myself but for my community.

I chose to have a family, too. I learned a lot about myself through motherhood; I became much more aware of my creativity, my generosity of spirit, my priorities for living a good life. I've learned much about hope--because there are very few gestures humans make that convey hope for the future quite like creating another generation.

I have learned, however, that some of the feminist agenda is misleading... while women are capable of doing almost anything a man can do just as well I don't think its possible to "have it all"--at least not at the same time. The victory for feminists is that women have the choice to be very engaged in a career, to be a mother at the same time and I've also been fortunate enough to choose one priority over another at various points in time.

So I wonder: what could be objectionable in this? Why would a youngish man object to a woman having these opportunities available to her? What does it mean when a young man says he does not "believe" in feminism?


jill said...

I do think that "feminism" means different things to different people, and like any movement, there will be crazy offshoots, people who are wrong, and mistaken notions. But at its core, I think the feminist movement is still alive and has much to do.

My favorite definition is still, "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." ~Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler. I think there are lots of people - men and women - who have bought into the notion that feminism is about being "better" than men. Not for me, and I don't think so for most rational women who identify as feminists.

And I would disagree that the movement has achieved everything it set out to do. Women's wages are still about 3/4 of men's. Congress does not have anything near equal representation for women. Even in small ways, the way women and women's experience is denigrated shows something that is hardly post-feminist about our culture. Think about it - someone who is cowardly is often called a "litle girl" or an "old lady." The accumulated weight of these sorts of cultural cues tells all of us (or tries to) that being female is something lesser.

This notion is simply wrong. Rush Limbaugh and his ilk have done all they can to turn the word "feminism" from something that women can aspire to into something they run from. But I'm not afraid of pissants like Rush, and I don't accept his attempt to redefine who I am by twisting words.

I am a feminist. It's that simple for me.

Melissa said...

I would agree with both Kathy and Jill. Having chosen a career that I knew would allow me to be self sufficient, by my first condo, car and live alone before ever meeting Dave, I am thankful for the opportunities other fought for me to have. I continue to make the kinds of choices Kathy mentions everyday as I balance being a lucky mommy of two wonderful kids and having a career that I really do like.

However, I do see there is still a lot of work to be done. I work for a company that allows flexibility and treats people fairly equally. But there are always a few. The men who say to a team (that is all male except me) "well, just between us girls" or other things that are meant as an insult to women. I work with many many more men then women. I think some of that is a choice of men to enter this field and not women, but I think there must be other reasons as well. Do women not get the opportunities? Is it in a women's heads that we can do certain things and not others?

For both my daughter and son, I do hope to see more and more options for continued successful women. And by success, I mean for whatever they wish - having a career as a scientist, a teacher, a software sales manager, being a mom, being an elected official. As long as girls have the opportunity to be educated and make their own choices, then that is a success in and of itself. I include my son in the first statement because I also think it is important he be raised to see that women are equal in all ways (although he should still hold the door and be a perfect gentlemen!)

Lyman said...

Hearing "I don't believe in feminism" is like hearing "I don't believe in racial equality." That's just my knee-jerk reaction.

While reading you're post I was reminded of one of my old Forensics coach's Masters Thesis when I was at Ball State. She was very liberal, very PC, and very feminist. She was writing about conservative female leaders who believed women should stay at home, raise kids, save sex for marriage etc. She came to the post-feminist conclusion that these women were feminists themselves and that if women wanted to live that way who was she or anyone else to tell them they shouldn't?

So yes, feminism means different things to different people. I'm guessing whoever told you this had feminism defined to him by a man and had never really explored the subject with actual feminists at all.

KHM said...
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KHM said...

I was really stunned by the remark. Like Lyman, in my mind, not "believing" in feminism is like not "believing" in racial equality. Or weather or cars...

This post was a tough one to write, likely because I was a little hurt by the remark. Of course Jill and Melissa are right: there is more to be done. Not only are there inequalities in the professional world but we've not begun to touch the objectification of women as sex objects. The only change I've seen in that particular regard is that these days, men are subject to a bit of the same objectification. That doesn't really advance the feminist agenda.

I find it also interesting that in my neighborhood, mothers who have careers are regarded as somehow morally derelict. While I know that the quality of my parenting has changed immensely since I left the workplace, it WAS and IS my decision. And there are a great many arrangements to be made for children whose parents are working outside the home... I personally loved the diversity my children were exposed to when we had paid caregivers in the home.

Bah. The remark was made by a clueless someone; one whose opinion is indeed shaped by the older men in his life---and those men have always controlled their wives, children and homes to an astonishing degree. In the end, I don't think much of HIS ideas because they reflect so much naivete that may well be undone as he makes his way to independence.

Melissa said...

Kathy - I hope for his sake (and maybe a future family's sake) that his ideas are undone in the future.

About 5 years ago, I had a conversation with two teenage girls who consider themselves to be feminists. They talked about their rights to do anything and how they were as good (and maybe better then men). Then they proceeded to talk about their dislike for a very senior female government (unelected) official. I, like them, do not agree with this someones politics. However, I find it interesting that you can be a 'feminist' yet bash a female who has broken the glass ceiling, is well educated, well dressed and well respected regardless of the side of the aisle she sits on. It made me wonder what we are teaching our girls about feminism and their responsibilities to each other. I think we often mistake feminism for being bitchy or difficult when in many ways it is protecting our rights to be ourselves and do as we please.

I feel you on the working mom thing. I have had some discussions in the past were someone said that if you are going to have children, it is your responsibility to stay home and raise them. Really? It is my responsibility to take care of my children and give them every opportunity they can have. It is a choice we all have to live with, but its just that - a choice.

You are a good mom with amazing children who have all the opportunities they can think of in front of them. Feminist or not, that is success.

KHM said...

I suppose I am something of a feminist---I'm certainly not anti-feminist. Truthfully, in my lifetime my energies have been much more consumed with gay rights, apartheid, AIDS activism...I do think I've not paid much attention to feminism and whether or not I am one. Clearly, I am.

Special K said...

I was surprised to hear you don't call yourself a feminist - I've always thought of you as one (glad to see your last sentence in comments!) (:

I'm proud to call myself a feminist and call do it frequently. I think it's worth reminding folks, like Jill up there says, that, at the basic level, it's merely the radical belief that women are people. *waves hello to Jill*