More and more lately, I’ve been hearing revulsion to the term “feminism.” I’ve heard folks (both male or female) called a feminist, only to respond to the effect of, “I’m definitely not a feminist!” I’ve heard guys saying, “I don’t think I could ever date a feminist.” It’s left me wondering: What do people think Feminism really is?
I actually didn’t self-identify as a feminist until a course I took Freshmen year of college at the University of Denver. On the first day of class, the professor asked us to raise our hands if we considered ourselves a feminist. About 8 hands went up in a class of maybe 30, and they were all women. The teacher then asked us to raise our hands if we:
- Think women should be paid the same amount as men for equal work.
- Think women should be able to wear whatever they like without fear of sexual assault.
- Think women have the right to withdraw consent for sex at any point in a sexual encounter.
- Think women should be able to make their own decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health.
- Think women should be free of leering and cat calls at all times.
- Think women should have equal access to jobs and educational opportunities as compared to men.
- Think women should be equally represented in business and political offices.
- Think that both men and women are hurt by restrictive gender norms that define how we should act, dress, and talk.
- Think that above all else, men and women are equal and should be treated as such.
I raised my hand to all of them. In fact, almost everyone in the class raised their hand to just about every statement. The professor then said, “If you’ve raised your hand to any of these statements, you are a feminist.”
The room erupted in debate. We then did an exercise where we had to write down what we thought the term “feminist” meant. On the paper were words like “feminazi,” “dyke,” “ugly women,” “butch,” “tom boys,” and “bitches.”
Clearly there’s a disconnect. Most of us in the class associated the term feminism with something negative or undesirable, yet when we looked at the core tenants of feminism, ones that stress equality and respect, we all could be considered feminists.
As I’ve looked into this phenomenon over the years, I’ve come to realize something. Those who don’t truly value gender equality have hijacked the term! Rush Limbaugh is famous for having claimed that a fundamental truth of life is that, “Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.” We hear that feminism is taking women out of their true place, the home. Essentially the message: If a woman is assertive and dares to question the idea that she is an object, she is a bitch, and bitch and feminist are synonymous.
For me, though, my true feminist awakening came through verse, through a poem by Andrea Gibson. Though I’ve shown this video on my blog a lot, I want to show it again because Andrea’s final question is truly what being feminist means to me.
Warning: though incredible, this poem has the potential to be triggering for survivors of sexual violence.
What will we teach our sons? Could there be a more profound question in feminism?
Now, I clearly have my shortcomings in my efforts at being a feminist. However, as part of the many brave voices who declare themselves a feminist and who want to reclaim that word from those who have stolen it, here is my declaration of feminism:
I am a feminist because
- There are far too many women in my life that I love very much not to be.
- Sexual violence, by in large, is perpetrated by men, so it is our responsibility, as men, to stop it.
- Though I personally do not know the pain of being a survivor of intimate partner violence or sexual violence, I know far too many women who do, and we can no longer be silent about this reality.
- I hate the way that the restrictive box of normative masculinity kept me from doing things that I loved when I was younger (like dance class or cooking).
- I hate the way that the restrictive box of normative masculinity keeps me from truly living as myself, the fully realized person I know myself to be.
- Truly communicative, consensual sex is by far and away the best kind of sex.
- Women should be able to love their bodies without having to meet a restrictive ideal of beauty established by men.
- It’s absurd to realize that the women I know who work just as hard as I do are going to make less than I do for the same work.
- I’m sick and tired of hearing men describe women in demeaning and objectifying ways.
- I look forward to celebrating our first female president.
- I want to see more women in politics and in business.
- I think that women should be able to dress and act as they like without being called a slut or skank.
- I should be able to cry or feel vulnerable and afraid and not be told that those are women’s emotions.
- I want to know a world where both men and women can live and love whomever they wish without fear of violence and ostracism.
- I love myself, my sisters, my brothers, my father, my mother, my friends, my nieces, my nephew, and the rest of my family too much to allow us to be hurt by restrictive gender norms any longer.
Now, part of working for social justice sustainably is knowing that you’re never alone. Please join me in courageously sharing your reasons for being a feminist!