Showing posts with label Gloria Steinem. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gloria Steinem. Show all posts

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!
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"The Intern" 
The Week in Reviews
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 I Die Project."

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