I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism. What it means, both personally and generally, its role today versus historically, where it’s going. Everything really. I have no concrete answers. From a personal level it’s a work in progress. Is anything required though? What is a necessary component? I know that my feminism cannot exist without bodily autonomy. It is necessarily pro-choice. This also supports my belief in sexual rights and the freedom of sexual expression, which lends itself to support of queer rights. For me, it all starts with the body; ironically, where so many battles are fought.
What else? What about the macro level? Are there deal breakers for what’s truly feminist? Is there a global definition? I recently attended some discussions on feminism, one on conservatism and feminism, and the other on feminism in the Middle East. Like any good discussion on such topics, nothing was decided by the end. We weren’t talking about problems that needed to be solved, like a mathematical equation. Nor were we on any deadline. These are the discussions that are meant to be continued. Still, I can’t help but think that, at least for my own peace of mind, that I need a working definition of what it is to be a feminist. What are the building blocks? What is feminism’s elevator pitch? Who gets to wear the shirt?
As previously mentioned, a person needs to be pro-choice. Even if you wouldn’t ever have an abortion, and it makes you uncomfortable, you need to support a woman’s right to be in control of what happens to her, all of her, body included. Beyond this though, the encapsulated concept isn’t as clear. At the risk of going too general, a person needs to support policies that help other women. For example, since women are disproportionately represented at the poverty level, we need to support policies that help these women and their families. So we need to support Medicaid, WIC, SCHIP, and food stamp programs. Women live longer than men, so there are a lot of elderly widows who are women (whose own lifetime incomes have been affected by the wage gap). So we need to support social security and Medicare. Women are still experiencing far too much domestic violence and sexual assault. So we need to support the laws that help protect these women. Support is not synonymous with blindly throwing money at these programs, but it does mean approaching them from a standpoint that recognizes their necessity and how it affects women.
Feminism should also include action. If you’re a rally goer and a regular donor to feminist organizations, great. That’s action that we need. That’s not the only action though. Feminist action also includes casting women in roles that are gender neutral, not assuming that women don’t want to be engineers, writing letters to your local and national newspapers and asking why there is such a disparity in bylines between women and men. Feminism is dressing your baby boy in pink and letting him play with dolls if he wants to. Feminism is not always asking your female colleagues to get the coffee. Feminism is for everyone, even men. There are smart, thoughtful, pro-choice men out there who do not think that men can be feminists. To this, I kindly say bullshit. All movements need allies. I can and should support gay rights, and work to eliminate racism, in part because I am a heterosexual white person. There are conversations about feminism that will go father and be more effective if men have them with each other.
Women’s History Month might be coming to an end, but this thought process will continue. Feminism is like language in the sense that it’s a living thing. It needs to be able to evolve and reflect the times in which we live. Women are everywhere, so feminism should be too. And by feminism I mean that thing that supports women and our ability to live as whole people. You know, pro-choice, supportive of others, and so on…