What sorts of images does the word “feminist” conjure up? A quaint picture of women in lace-up boots with romantic hairstyles rallying to get the vote? Hairy women eschewing the demands of fashion and cleanliness? Lesbians? Or does your imagining incorporate the “modern woman”; a working mother who kicks ass by day and snuggles babies by night? Maybe. But I know that for many women, the word is antiquated and meaningless. It makes sense, we grew up learning about the women’s rights movement as though it were a thing of the past. For many of us, women’s rights have always been thought of as a solved problem.
The post has been in the works for a few months now, after a couple of things happened. The first wast last fall, during election season when several women that I know and many many that I don’t came out against the protection of women’s reproductive rights. These are intelligent, hard working women who think that the level of control they have over their bodies is unimportant. Some were politically motivated against Obama and therefore willing to forgive a lot in Romney, but it was really hard to wrap my brain around.
The second thing that that happened was a few months ago on facebook. A friend of mine posted a link to a page for women who believe that they are beneath their husbands and openly discuss their belief that women should relinquish all control to men. Who the group was is not important, they have a right to express their beliefs and I’ll not publicly call them out for it; they’re not the only ones who feel this way apparently.
So I’ve been listening carefully and reading up on the subject and it seems to me that the problem boils down to femininity. There are women who feel that if they were to identify as a feminist, or be outspoken for women’s rights, they would have to give up their femininity, their very womaness.
Somewhere along the line, for many women, “feminist” became a dirty word.
That’s because we came to think of feminism as being opposed to femininity. Understandably in the fight for women’s rights, we want to get as far away from gender biasing stereotypes as possible. Women want to be seen as the strong, independent and capable human beings that we are and so we reject many of the labels that we see as weakening to our selves and our sex. “Emotional” is a big one. For years women’s emotions have been cited as reason for excluding them from positions of power. So as women, if we want to avoid being defined by gender stereotypes, we tend to avoid those traits that have been given a negative connotation. But when those traits are a part what makes us a woman, by refusing to acknowledge that part of ourselves we are cutting away a part of what makes us who we are in order to fit into the world, when we should be shaping our society to fit us. Men are portrayed as being cool, emotionless, logical creatures and since they hold the power that women want to share, we emulate what society tells us are the positive traits.
But isn’t this just another facet of the same sexism that has kept women down for years? Aren’t women just cutting out the middle man and imposing a sexist view on themselves?
I know that I am making generalizations here. Women vary as greatly in their level and expression of femininity as they do in their interest and political beliefs. But generalized examples are necessary to express how destructive it is for anyone to reject a part of themselves. Women who believe that there is something wrong with who they are can’t live the free life that every human deserves; she will always be hiding her true qualities in shame.
Not to mention the millions of women in our society who embrace their feminine qualities and therefore think that feminism has no room for them. There are hundreds of blogs and articles written by women who refuse to be labelled as feminist because they think that it somehow makes them less of a woman. They seem to think that if they care about equal pay for women, they can’t care about having a good bikini body. Or if they stand up for women’s reproductive rights their husbands will love them less. Or they won’t be able to find a husband. And let’s not pretend that just because women have jobs and own lives, we no longer want to fall in love.We do. It’s just that somewhere along the line, some women decided that in order to retain their femininity, they had to remain beneath men. As though it is an inherent female quality to be less than.
Women are very different from men. We’re amazing in our differences. Are we better than men? Absolutely not. We are equals. But there’s room for all of us at the top.
And why should we relinquish our femininity? It is what makes us surprising and different and special. And yes, we express it in different ways and to different degrees. People are varied and crazy and amazing. And those traits that “define” a gender? total bullshit. But some people are still buying into it.
So how do we fix that? You can’t force people think the same way as you, and who would want to? But when any people are actively outspoken against their own well being, they need help. They need to be empowered because often, it’s a matter of self-esteem.
The feminist cause is not over. There are still deep biases and inequalities in our country that need attention. And who better to fix it then the women these injustices effect? Women of the United States, people of the world, it is time to accept that being a woman is an entirely different but equally valid expression of life as being a man. Women and men coexist for a reason: to use our skills and intelligences in harmony to make a better world. But we can’t do that until feminine qualities are embraced, glorified and striven for to the same extent that male qualities are. And ladies, no one can do this until we do. We must embrace our femininity, while working towards a better future. Femininity does not equal weakness. When we embrace womanhood as a reason for equality instead of a hindrance to it, then we will be on the road to a better future.