In our culture, the F word is a dirty dirty word. TV shows steer clear of it. You rarely hear it on Showtime or HBO. The only time we hear this word is while it’s being vilified on Fox News. I’m not talking about the f-bomb. I’m talking about feminism.
What I’m talking about, is how no one wants to be a feminist. When people hear the F word, their mental image is of pushy, antagonistic women who refuse to shave, and hate men. As a result of this image, even while speaking out for women’s rights, celebrities and public figures refuse to wear this term like the badge of honor their foremothers fought for. In 2009, Lady Gaga, who has made many statements in favor of women’s and gay rights, made the statement, “I’m not a feminist. I love men.” Sound familiar? It should. Madonna, Demi Moore, Angelina Jolie, and many other famous and influential entertainers have made statements starting with “I’m not a feminist but” – yet all these women make statements and live their life in accordance with many feminist ideals. This begs the obvious question, what is feminism, and why is it deemed so threatening?
Whenever I’m asked to define feminism, Rebecca West comes to mind. When asked the same question, West answered this way, “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” Were I to take a stab at defining the movement, I would start with the understanding that throughout history; cultural, political, and religious factors have marginalized and maligned women, restraining us into a subordinate role in society. Feminism is the view seen from this lens, coupled with a commitment to lifting and resisting these forces holding women down.
So now that we understand what It is, why is feminism regarded as so threatening? A part of this comes from an incomplete understanding of 2nd wave feminism. The feminist movement in the United States is broken down into historical ‘ waves’. The first wave took place in the 19th and early 20th centuries. First wave feminism included the first convention of Women’s rights, in 1848, and lasted through the end of the suffragist movement in 1920. In the early 1920s feminism fell out of fashion as first wavers grew older and their daughters, tired of their mothers’ preaching, became flappers instead of activists. The movement lay dormant until 1953, when Betty Freidan published “The Feminine Mystique” speaking out about the widespread restlessness and despair felt by women struggling to find identity and purpose in the roles of perfect wife and perfect mother that society prescribed for them. Publication of this book sparked what came to be second wave feminism. The images in your head of bras burning and protest signs? You’re thinking of the second wave (although the bra-burning is a myth, but anyway…) This is the era known as man-hating-anti-family-ugly-angry-obnoxious-agitators. Are these accusations true? Sure they are, but not for the entire movement, and not all the time – But even if all the unflattering stereotypes are 100% accurate, I’m not writing off or apologizing for it. As author Susan. J. Douglas puts it, “Weren’t feminists these grim-faced, humorless, antifamily, karate-chopping ninjas who were bitter because they couldn’t get a man?” Well, in fact the problem was that all too many of them HAD gotten a man, married him, had his kids, and then discovered that, as mothers, they were never supposed to have their own money, their own identity, their own aspirations, time to pee, or a brain. And yes, some women indeed became bad-tempered as a result. After all, no anger, no social change.”
Do you see her point? Society has trapped women by oppressing us and trying to dupe us into compliance- and when we fight back, they slap us in the face by insulting the one facet of our personalities we’re not only taught to, but shoved into obsessing over – attractiveness. After a history of oppression, we’re essentially told, “Don’t get angry- it isn’t cute.” See the issue here?
Like everything else, feminism has evolved. In the 1960’s & ‘70s, the movement was largely political. Their concerns were the Equal Pay Act, and reproductive rights. While those things are still a concern, today’s 3rd wave has a less governmental, and more cultural focus. Is feminism any less needed? No. 1 in 3 women are still sexually assaulted during their lifetime. Women still make 30% less than men in the same jobs. We are still taught that none of our qualities or accomplishments matters if men don’t find us attractive. So no matter how dirty it is, I’m still using the F word.