Communicating Feminism

By Kate Feuling

As feminists, I’m sure everyone reading this, has, at some point, been hesitant to define themselves outright as a feminist under certain circumstances. I’m stuck in a class this semester taught by a good instructor, but an instructor that is quite traditional and conservative, who has made jokes about a fear of feminists and has stated that “yeah, they [women] should be allowed to vote.”

There are an innumerable amount of things wrong and offensive with what he said, and unfortunately it does not end at that one statement.

It seems obvious that there is a huge public confusion and misunderstanding about what feminism is. Literal dictionary definitions boil it down to a (I’m paraphrasing) doctrine that fights for social, political, etc, rights for women to create an equal footing with men. In its literal definition, feminism is not a scary thing at all. It is more than reasonable, and many people who argue with it do not do so in a public forum. In a culture where ‘gender’ typically signifies women and not men, it is fair to say that feminism is hard at work, especially considering how often the term ‘gender’ appears in the media and in society.

One of the most interesting questions that was posed in the introductory blog prompt was something along the lines of ‘what is the biggest problem facing feminism today?’ I think there are a huge range of possible answers to this question, but the issue that I keep coming back to time and time again is the issue of women judging, criticizing, and acting condescendingly to other women. To their own allies, counterparts, and members of the same cause.

Part of the goal of feminism should be to provide women with the option of making a whole array of choices and NOT having to defend them. To me, this means decisions regarding whether or not to breast-feed to whether or not you choose to watch (and enjoy) football. The beauty of the feminist movement, in the past and present, is that choices exist to be made without consequences of guilt, judgment, or a fear of constantly having to defend yourself. Audre Lorde would say that the problem with feminism (and she speaks in regard to white women vs. women of color) is not that differences exist, but that we as feminists and as women do not recognize them and therefore cannot really, successfully, move forward as a community working together.

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3 thoughts on “Communicating Feminism

  1. Honestly, I feel as though “feminist” isn’t the word this movement should be using anymore. (We’ve yet to meet – I’m one of your fellow Feisty Femme bloggers.)

    See, I, myself, do not identify as feminist, and I doubt I ever will. The core of it – the very word itself – draws lines in the sand: feminine. And, since humans love contrasts, it puts feminists in direct opposition with the masculine. In earlier times, this opposition was necessary – our positions needed to be stark, to be obvious, to be in-your-face.

    Now, however – and I speak from a United States, Western perspective – we have basic rights. We have these rights violated, yes, but overall, we’re doing much better than we have been. (Is this a call to slow progress? Absolutely not.) This improvement and the shift in the modern zeitgeist regarding gender, however, tells me that we, too, must shift our own psyche to fit with the times.

    “Feminist,” to me, is outdated and needlessly opposing in nature. “Humanist” would be much better – for what we truly want is equal rights for all humans, correct? (I realize humanist can have the connotation of a lack of religion, but that’s another matter.) I’m fairly sure that some men feel threatened when they hear the word “feminist” – the “feminazi” stereotype dubbed by Rush Limbaugh certainly hasn’t helped.

    If we truly want to address this issue, I think we have to address how we call ourselves.

  2. That could be true; however I think I’ll likely call myself a feminist for quiet a while. Some of my problem is how people refer to women as people’s “mothers, sisters, daughters.” When that happens, I think it needs to be stopped and thats where humanism, and the realize that the first thing anyone is, is a human.

  3. I was just going to add that, while the name is imperfect, I respectfully disagree with the idea that changing it would really have a profound impact on how people respond to the movement. In both civil rights, feminism, and really anything concerning discrimination and minority rights, there’s a tendency for those who’ve traditionally had the power to trivialize the grievances of the lower-rung group in order to reduce guilt. I’m sure you’ve all heard the joking stereotype of the whiny feminist or the diatribes about how blacks/immigrants/whoever has it so good here that there’s no need for a rights movement in the first place. I imagine with feminism that opposition is easier to maintain because there are (at least in mainstream discourse) only two genders; with racial and ethnic discrimination the lines are many and much more blurred between groups. Thus, its a lot easier for people to overtly object to the whole idea of feminism to suppress feelings of guilt or shame they might feel in pertaining to the oppressive group. The feminists are thus accused of being “anti-men” the same way that various black leaders today are accused of expressing hatred for whites.

    Of course, the whole problem lies too in the fact that people can’t distinguish between “collective responsibility” and “individual responsibility”. Just because feminists say rape culture exists and that women are often seen as objects doesn’t mean we’re accusing every man of being a misogynist and rapist, just as saying racial discrimination still exists doesn’t mean every white person into a racist. Somehow, we’ve become more outwardly (maybe inside people still don’t accept the idea) accepting of terms like “white privilege” but not “male privilege”. Although, that’s not to say that one discriminated group is doing better than the other (and in any case that would make a pretty useless comparison exercise).

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