“If a woman seems to be the inessential which never becomes the essential, it is because she herself fails to bring about this change.”
– Simone De Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex (XXV, Vintage Books)
I am a feminist. I have NO shame in admitting that. There are a lot of misconceptions that buzz around this word. Some people cringe at it. Some people could care less. Some people believe that it is just a ploy for women to get attention.
There are many people who believe that feminism means that women want to dominate men. Sometimes we might hear something like, “Well, I believe that women should have rights, but I am not a feminist”. There are others that say, “Sure I respect feminism, but I am not one of those feminists”. You know, the ones who are sooo demanding that women get equal pay, be treated fairly in the workplace, not be prey to objectification and sexism, that women are allowed the same opportunities as men, that women should not be confined solely to the role of the housewife. Some people assume that all feminists are against stay-at-home moms, believe bras are evil, and are man-haters.
Are there some feminists that believe these things? Sure. But, at the end of the day, feminism is based in the advocacy of equality.
In a nutshell:
In modern American history, there have been three waves of feminist movements. The first one took place between the late 1880’s up to the early 1900’s in the UK and USA. This is where women began to fight for the right to vote. The second wave occurred during the Women’s movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s. These were the days of the great Gloria Steinem and bra burning. The third wave began around the 1990’s and was largely influenced by Rebecca Walker. In general, this wave sought to acknowledge the limitations of the first two waves, while continuing to fight for the basic tenants of feminism. The third wave of feminism addresses the fact that the first two waves largely catered to white middle-class women, while ignoring the layers of discrimination that non-white, as well as queer, women faced.
Indeed, a major handicap of these first two waves was their lack of inclusion of people of color. In short, they failed to acknowledge the extent of white privilege in them. Both the first and second waves of feminism failed to acknowledge the full throttle of discrimination that women of color faced as both minorities and women. In other words, it catered strongly to white middle-class women, while ignoring other grossly strong threads of discrimination and lack of equal rights for other groups. Black feminists formulated their own movement to bring awareness to and fight against both the gender and racial oppression they faced. A similar movement occurred in the fight for lesbian rights.
Many modern feminists discuss the importance intersectionality in the fight for equality, which takes in the varying degrees of social identities that have faced societal, economic, and political oppression. This includes awareness of discrimination not only on the basis of womanhood, but also race, sexual orientation, body-ableness, gender identity, body size, citizen status, etc.
We cannot pretend we all have the same experiences. But, we still need to advocate for equality.
It is indeed important that we acknowledge how the experiences of women might differ dramatically when accounting for factors such as race and sexual orientation. For instance, my experience as a thin, straight, white female is not laced with the struggles that a larger-bodied, queer, African-American woman might face. Although I can understand struggles against misogyny, I cannot pretend, nor should I, that because I am a woman, I can identify with the struggles of racism and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and body size.
In short, we should not pretend that our differences do not exist. It is crucial that we look at all the ways discrimination exists in the world and the groups that are the most marginalized and affected by it.
Let me be clear. Feminism is about equality. That means that many modern feminists advocate for equal treatment of ALL people, including women, men, minorities, individuals of all religions, etc. It is not a ploy for women to take over the world. I promise you.
All I want as a feminist is for women to have the same opportunities as men do. I also want oppressed groups to be lifted from institutional, economic, and social oppression. For, advocating for equal rights of one group is meaningless unless we fight for all that face the threat of discrimination and oppression.
We must fight for all people that face oppression, lest we sow the repercussions of further oppression and uprooting the very principles feminists fight for.
There is not a one-size-fits-all look, behavior, or thoughts of a feminist. However, the principle remains the same: at the root of feminism is a desire for equality.
There are men that are feminists. Some feminists are gay, some are straight, some are transgender, some are able-bodied, some are not able-bodied. Some live in mansions, while others on the street. Some might be married, while others single. Some might have children, while others do not. Some like Coke and others Pepsi. Do you get the picture?
The major point to remember is not how feminists vary in terms of looks, but how the message of equality for all is carried and that awareness of oppression in varying degrees is acknowledged and fought against.
Feminism allows me to see my value as a woman.
Feminism allows me to understand that the iron fist of patriarchy need no longer oppress women.
Feminism addresses human value by identifying how societal, economic, and political oppression is a problem with human rights.
Feminism allows me to step away from the diet culture ideal and see it for what it is: a way to keep women bodily oppressed and controlled.
By asserting that ALL people have the natural right to equal treatment, no matter their size, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, I can reflect my duty as a human being to identify how others are marginalized and declare it as wrong.
Feminism allows me to feel a part of humanity, rather than isolated from it in the search for material gain, instead of what really matters: love and equality for all.
And this is why I write the things I do and why I call myself a feminist. I want to feel alive in my human body, while understanding that others do too.