Friday, June 27, 2008

Defining Feminism

[Note to readers: As part of our series 'Feminists on Feminism,' we are honored to present this post by Earlgreyrooibos from This is What a Feminist Blogs Like. These are her words...]

Feminism is a movement that has always existed. Even though it was often rendered invisible, it existed. Even though people (women and men both) have often attempted to squelch feminism, it carries on. Whether a large-scale reproductive rights protest or an individual spending money at a feminist bookstore, feminism happens. It can be in-your-face, or it can be a secret, silent act of rebellion, the effects of which might not be felt until much later. Women have struggled against gendered workforces, organized religion, and sexist attitudes of family and acquaintances. This struggle has been happening for centuries, even when it did not have the name of “feminism.” The conflicts may not ever be resolved, but that does not mean that women will give up; after all, we’ve been at it for this long. We’re not going to stop now.

Feminism isn’t about giving birth at home with a female midwife any more than it is giving birth in the hospital with a male gynecologist. Feminism is about women having access to research they need to make an informed decision about their bodies. Feminism is about being able to have important discussions about your birthing choices with medical professionals, trusted friends/family, and your partner in a supportive environment. Feminism is about women being able to consider all of their options so they can choose what’s best for them.

It’s the same with breastfeeding. Feminism is not about breastfeeding an infant any more than it’s about bottle-feeding because using formula is the ideal way for you to balance out the rest of your life. Feminism, once again, is having access to the resources and suppor that will enable a woman to make the best decision about how to feed her baby based on her body and her non-parenting activities.

Feminism isn’t about women being able to wear pants to work. Feminism is about breaking down gendered ideas about clothing to the point where women can wear pants and men can wear skirts. I know that goal might not ever be achieved in my lifetime, but I think it’s important to consider something seemingly benign, like pants and skirts, and consider the gender assumptions behind them.

Feminism means recognizing that the way society is set up is not equal, and that the reasons for those inequalities can run deep, stretching across class, gender, and individual beliefs. In addition, feminism is about extended critical thinking beyond one’s own personal experience. Feminism is not an individualist, everyone-for-themselves movement. Feminism means looking beyond your front door to see the ways in which inequality affects women all over the world. Feminism means taking a stance on both international and local issues. But it also requires using one’s critical thinking skill to prevent oneself from being patronizing, and to force your cultural values on another. Feminism requires that we try to understand everyone’s perspectives.

But while it’s not an individualistic cause, feminism is about protection. Knowing how to and being able to protect yourself from STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Knowing how to protect yourself from battery and rape. Knowing how to protect yourself from an unhealthy lifestyle. Knowing how to protect yourself from people who don’t support you, and only seek to cut you down.

Feminism is a philosophy that you have to practice every day. You’re not just a feminist when you’re protesting. You’re not just a feminist when you’re reading Gloria Steinem or Inga Muscio or Virginia Woolf or bell hooks or Audre Lorde or Susan Faludi or Alice Walker or Sappho. You’re not just a feminist when you’re blogging, or when you’re wearing your “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt. You are a feminist every moment of your life, and your interpretation of feminism should inform even practices that seem non-feminist. That might mean supporting food co-ops rather than grocery stores. That might mean seeking out only pro-woman/feminist sex shops. That might mean not watching certain television programs or reading certain websites. It’s not just what you say or think or study; it’s how those ideas inform the practice of living. You’re a feminist 24/7/365.

Finally, feminism is not an end goal in and of itself. Ursula K. LeGuin said that: “It’s good to have a goal of our journey, but it is the journey itself which influences the goal.” Feminism’s end goal means equality for all genders: male, female, transgender. It means equal rights for all people, regardless of race or sexual preference. But those are huge goals, and we don’t know when they will be accomplished. So instead, we need to focus on the feminist journey. We need to take larger definitions of feminism and figure out how they apply to our lives and goals. We need to love exploring feminist thought, and love every battle we fight. We have to be content knowing that each action brings us closer to that goal, even though we don’t know how far we still have to go. We need to enjoy our journey and allow those journeys to change us. Because feminism is not static. The feminism of today is not the feminism of 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago. We need to change with feminism, and help feminism change, even though the basic goal of equality remains the same.

[Crossposted at This is What a Feminist Blogs Like - please leave comments and questions there]

No comments: