I recently delivered a group presentation on the role of women in politics for my Political Communication course. For my part of the presentation, I covered the historical context of feminism, discussing the three waves of feminism, and talking a bit about the role of consciousness raising and the idea that “the personal is political.” The rest of the group presented different elements of progress that women have made over time, and what challenges still lay ahead.
At the conclusion of the presentation, I asked the class what they thought regarding the relevance of feminism. Did they think it was still necessary? Is it dead? Do we still need feminism? I thought it fascinating that men and women alike were generally of the impression that equality for women had already been achieved—that essentially, feminism had already reached its goals. Furthermore, perhaps it was worthwhile to “rebrand” feminism in a sense, because “the other F word” has the connotation of bra-burning, man-hating, lesbians who don’t shave their legs. Of course, that’s not what the core of feminism is about; rather, we seek equality and inclusion. It was interesting to note how many individuals agreed with equality and empowerment for women—the whole POINT of feminism—yet still considered feminism a “devil term”, for lack of better phrasing.
I was fascinated by this discussion, and thought it perfectly appropriate when I picked up bell hook’s “Feminism is for Everybody” to read for the Shout Out! Book Club meeting held once a semester. I was struck from the opening lines of this book, where hooks echoed a sentiment I completely connected with:
“Mostly, [critics of feminism] think feminism is a bunch of angry women who want to be like men. They do not even think about feminism as being about rights–about women gaining equal rights. When I talk about the feminism I know–up close and personal–they willingly listen, although when our conversations end, they are quick to tell me I am different, not like the “real” feminists who hate men, who are angry. I assure them I am as a real and radical feminist as one can be, and if they dare to come closer to feminism they will see it is not how they have imagined it.”
This resonated with the reaction I am most familiar with when I tell people I am a feminist. Normally, I get an eye roll, or a mutter, or a sigh, and polite change of topic. On those occasions where they allow me to elaborate, I’m met with gratitude, as if I’ve just bestowed upon the listener some semblance of an epiphany: “but you’re not like a normal feminist, you’re a cool feminist!”
…Not exactly, but I’ll take it. Truth is, I consider myself a pretty pragmatic person in general, and this characteristic no doubt spills over into my feminism. I’m a huge fan of inclusion feminism, and this recent class conversation, coupled with bell hooks’ piece, made me wonder: is feminism really achieving its goals?
Woah, I know, that’s bold, but stay with me a minute. I discussed this with my fellow bloggers, about how feminism is viewed as a bunch of angry, militant, lesbian, bra-burning, man-hating, bitches, and how maybe that’s an issue. Of course, the very valid point was raised that in saying that “I’m not that kind of feminist!”, in effect, we’re “othering” those of our sisters who are more militant. Who are gay. Who don’t shave their legs. Or whatever…the point is, that the more you deviate from the heteronormative rules and regulations for how you live your life, the more strife you’re going to encounter from those who have drunk the patriarchal Kool-Aid. But conversely, the idea of an accessible feminism that incrementally introduces stubborn minds to a preconceived “radical” notion seems more successful to me. One blogger even posed the question: “should feminism be rebranded?”
Realistically, that’s probably not the best option. But I do think it raises an interesting point about the future of the movement. What is the future of feminism? Do we present ourselves in a more “mainstream” manner at the risk of alienating our sisters? Or do we continue to accept the negative “press” with which our movement is associated? Is there a middle ground?
I know these are incredibly difficult questions to ask, but part of me is frustrated with the stark contrast between my in-group and my out-group. I’ve written on several occasions about how my feminism is challenged in the “real world”, and honestly, I’m scared to leave my immediate circle of supportive feminist sisters and professors. I’m terrified to be removed from a nurturing environment that allows me to grow in my personal politics. And I feel like I’ll have to give up my feminism (not really, but I’m exaggerating to make a point. Please don’t close out of the window…) when I graduate, because of how it’s received by the real world. Honestly, it would be REALLY fucking nice if feminism could just be accepted, and people could just understand that we don’t hate men, we hate patriarchy. And yeah, we’re angry. We have a right to be. But what use is this as a movement if I can only express this frustration on a feminist blog, read by feminist readers? How am I creating change by talking about feminism only with my professors and friends? Sometimes, it feels like a shot in the dark.
I want so badly to change minds, and make people who don’t see the value in feminism actually understand its worth. A more accessible brand of feminism seems like the most logical way to approach this problem, but then I run the risk of being a “bad feminist” because I’m othering so many of my more radical sisters. And do I really want to “water down” feminism just to make it easier to swallow?
So, that’s where I am with my feminist politics currently. How can I frame the topic of discussion so as to appeal to those not affiliated with feminism, while still remaining loyal to the movement? Rant aside, I do want to raise these as discussion points. I will never, ever, live down the importance of consciousness-raising in our feminism, but I could go for some weighing-in from my sisters (and brothers!) on this topic. What are your thoughts?