Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why is "Feminist" Such a Dirty Word?

I had the privilege of seeing Gloria Steinem at Benaroya Hall when she came to Seattle. She was interviewed by Cheryl Strayed, who you probably remember wrote "Wild," the story of her solo trek on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Gloria is 81, looks fantastic and is still out there working for women.

She was a journalist and has been a leader and spokesperson for the feminist movement since the early 1960's and founded Ms. Magazine.

I also saw her on "The View" recently and was struck by the question panelist Paula Faris asked when she asked Gloria what her definition of feminism was.  Gloria replied, "I don't need to define it.  It's in the dictionary."

Good for her, because I felt that question in and of itself was a challenge to Gloria to defend feminism.  Paula, why don't YOU know what the definition of feminism is?  You are a woman!

Anyway, for Paula, here it is:

Definition of feminism:  the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities (political, economic, cultural, personal and social)."

Therefore, a "feminist" is a person who believes that.

That's it.  Nothing scary.  Nothing that should be an issue in the 21st century. 

And yet...

Many American women today would not call themselves feminists and in fact feel negatively toward that word. 

When talking about women's issues, you might hear a woman say, "I'm not one of those feminists or anything, but..." And the most concerning part of that is many of those women are the younger generation.  Is it the fact that they were born with the right to vote, born with the right to work and born with reproductive rights, so they take for granted the strides women before them made and that's why they don't identify with feminism?  Do they not realize that only 50 years ago women had to get permission from their husbands to get a credit card? 

The rights many women take for granted today have come from the hard work and dedication of the women who came before them, like Gloria Steinem and even their own grandmothers and mothers.  So young women should be thanking the older generation of women for what they are able to take for granted today and proudly join them as feminists. They should embrace the word because now it is their turn.  There is more to be done.

So why are women today not wearing the name Feminist proudly?
Pro-life vs. Pro-choice always raises its ugly head in these kinds of discussions, so of course, Paula had to press Gloria about whether or not one can be Pro-life and be a feminist and Gloria responded, "Of course."  She went on to say that each woman is her own decision maker.  No one is making someone get an abortion.  However, the other side of that is, no woman can tell another woman what to do, either.

When asked what she thought of those who considered themselves "anti-feminist," Gloria laughed and replied that it's a good thing if someone actually comes out and tells you that (so you know what you are dealing with), but in general, despite the strides that have been made, we are all born into a society that is still polarized about men being the dominant sex, women the passive, and there are still underlying prejudices about the roles of women that affect our lives.  Young women need to realize that and grab the baton and continue to move the rights of women forward.

So seeing that interview on "The View" and Gloria in person last Sunday, it got my feminist juices flowing. It got me fired up!
It reminded me of my own early days of awakening to my womanhood and the inequities that existed in the 60's and 70's and those who believed women needed to stay barefoot and pregnant -- even other women. 

Back then, I joined consciousness-raising groups and participated in political activities to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (which sadly STILL has not been ratified by all of the states).  It was called "The Women's Liberation Movement" then, and, yes, we were fighting for equal pay for equal work and political rights, but because of "the pill," it also embraced sexual liberation. Let's just say I worked to be "liberated (don't tell my mother)."  But it wasn't easy.  Most men didn't want us to be liberated.  I can't tell you how many times I would voice my views and a man would say, "You ain't one of them womens libbers, are you?" (They might not have actually said "ain't" but anyone who asked me if I was a "womens libber" sounded uneducated and unenlightened to me).

I got my mother a subscription to Ms. Magazine. I wanted to include her in my journey and liberate her too from what I perceived as her middle class notions.  I clearly remember her calling me out onto the porch where she always sat each evening to read the evening newspaper.  She said, "You don't need to renew that subscription to Ms. Magazine for me."  I asked, Why?" and she replied, "Too many bad words in it."  My own mother didn't get it, though I realize now that giving her a subscription to "Ms" was probably not the best way to get her to get it. 
And sadly, today, despite much more progress and sophisticated means of getting the message out than I had to get my mother on board, many people still don't get it.  But maybe we need a new message, an educational one - with "no bad words." We of the older generation, who were in the trenches, so to speak, need to bridge that generation gap and continue to educate the young so we don't lose those rights we worked so hard for.
Young women need to know that instead of bashing declared feminists like Steinem and the activists who came before her, or worse, not caring, they should be dropping to their knees in thanks for their courage in standing up and saying "We demand equal rights." 
Otherwise we women would not be able to vote, we would still be in marriages saddled with children, living our husbands' lives, dreaming of getting out but with no options.  We would be forever in low level jobs making coffee for the male boss and passed over for jobs by the married man with children because he was the family breadwinner and needed the money more than you did.  And when we did have a good job, we wouldn't be paid the same as the men. We also had to deal with sexual harassment, lack of educational opportunities and no reproductive rights.
The feminist movement has given women the right to vote, access to education, more equitable pay, the right to get a divorce, the right to own property, access to contraception and control over our own bodies, things many of today's younger women take for granted. 

I don't know whether Paula Faris considers herself a feminist or not.  As one of the resident conservatives on "The View" panel, and because she asked Gloria that stupid question, I would think not.  Yet, conservative, progressive, liberal, whatever, I can't believe any self-respecting woman would NOT consider herself a feminist.  Who could be against equal rights for men and women?  But it seems, just as the word "librarian" evokes a particular, mostly negative, stereotype, which you know I have ranted about in the past, likewise, the word "feminist" has a stereotype and it's not a good one.
I am not particularly surprised when I hear men make derogatory comments about "feminists" and "feminism," even today.  But I am shocked when I hear it coming from women. 

The feminist stereotype seems to scare people and includes bra burning, some lesbianism, male clothing lines, man-hating, aggressiveness, humorlessness and shouting.
I have been around many years and have heard about bra burning but never seen it, I know some lesbians who are feminists, feminists who like comfortable clothes that could look like male clothing lines and women who could be considered aggressive who are feminists.  And I know feminists who like to shout and maybe some of them hate men.  But many more feminists are mothers, wives, lovers, wear uncomfortable but fashionable shoes and clothes, are shy, quiet and beautiful and they like men. 

Feminists come in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, nationalities, religions, temperament, clothing styles and they come from all walks of life.  The one thing we all have in common is our desire to have equal rights and opportunities.
In other words, the stereotype doesn't hold water. 
Yes, back in the day when women were trying to make a statement about the lack of equality, some statements needed to be made, some possibly outrageous acts occurred, though I think that whole bra-burning thing was blown way out of proportion and that was almost 50 years ago anyway.  The feminist stereotype is just that - a stereotype.

So here's another definition.

What's a Stereotype?  It's "a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing."  A cliché.

So, people, let's move on.  If you are for equality of the sexes, then you are a feminist.  If you believe women should be paid what men are paid for doing the same job, then you are a feminist.  If you believe women should have the freedom to make their own choices, then you are a feminist. 

"Feminist" is not a dirty word, it's a name I wear proudly.  And so should you!

And here is what a feminist looks like:
(Yes, if they believe in equality for the sexes, men are feminists too).
Yes, Millie is a feminist because she stands up for her rights in a household filled with men.
(Who said feminists are humorless)?

So ladies, wear your feminism proudly.  We have earned it!  But we also can't rest on our laurels.  There is still much to be done.

And no, Gloria never burned her bra.

Thanks for Reading!
See you Friday
for my review of the new movie 
"The Intern" 
The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

and the latest on
My 1001 Movies I Must See Before
 I Die Project."

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  1. I entered the work force in 1979… at a time when a great deal of the hard work of the women who made such headway toward equality had already begun to affect progress. I was lucky enough to have a successful career without ever feeling that I was not worthy, or that I would not be taken seriously. I have always been grateful and indebted to those women who pushed so hard and made such progress…and I didn't even have to burn my bra to get it!

    1. I so get what you are saying, Susan. I certainly was not on the front lines like Gloria but I can remember at my first job at the Bank of America in SF in 1970 when we weren't allowed to wear trousers. Then we could but it had to be a matching pantsuit and I worked behind the scenes at corporate headquarters in the vault.! No one would see me except my fellow (women) workers and the boss (a man). But I was also part of a class action suit against the B of A for not advancing women and was in many consciousness raising groups where the primary activity was looking at our own vaginas and arguing about whether or not you should wear make-up. An interesting time and all part of the process. I remember Gloria saying that she went to a conference about women and all of the speakers were men and she didn't even notice until someone else pointed that out. That's how accustomed we were to men running the show. We never questioned...until we did! Thanks for reading and I look forward to meeting you in person!

  2. Great blog Rosy. I remember about 8 years ago having a conversation with an early-mid 30's co-worker. I don't remember what was going on at that time that this topic came up, but she stated in essence that she couldn't stand the talk about women's rights and she thought it was a bunch of hooey. My blood boiled and I blasted away that she should study up on her history of women's rights, and she should thank those that had gone before. I tried to give her some description of what it was like when I was her age, but she looked totally blank and bored and really had no interest in even thinking about it. Her lack of understanding and respect for how she was able to be at work in her kind of scruffy pants, doing her well paid (and commensurately paid) job, getting to be a spokesperson for our department out in public and being allowed to make her own work decisions made me sad. She did not relate her array of choices in any of the personal issues she was struggling with--like should she marry her boyfriend, should she move to a different state in order to satisfy her quest to be in theater, should she follow her boyfriend if he were to move to Silicon Valley, etc--to a filter of feminism.

    We need to stay diligent to keep these issues on the forefront.

    1. Thanks, Jan. I know, it blows my mind, too, that the millennials don't have a clue about what life was life for their grandmothers or even their mothers. I guess something will have to happen to them directly for them to get riled up! But we need to keep educating them!

    2. Well said Rosy. I could not agree more.

      When Mad Men first came out and my younger friends were so taken with it I gave it a try but it brought back so many bad memories of my early work days that I had to stop watching.

      When I was in my first management position I was able to get a great temp job for one of my deserving operators in the district office. A week into the job I was getting tearful phone calls from her about the old man district mgr sexually harassing her and I didn't know what to tell her to do without jeopardizing her new and better paying job. Somehow we managed to get it to stop but it was unthinkable then to simply accuse and report him for it.

      It's so hard to get younger women to believe it happened as much as it did.

      What also gets me is young women not understanding the symbolism of the coat hanger and back alley abortions. How can we still be fighting that issue as well as birth control? Do you remember "Love With A Proper Stranger"? That's the first I heard of back alley abortions and it scared me silly.

      And yes...I am very proud to call my self a feminist!


    3. Thanks, sazzy. Yes, we women have seen and been through some things younger women won't and don't have to -- BECAUSE OF US! But we need to keep educating them because Roe v Wade is always under attack and women STILL don't make as much as men.