Why Feminism Could Use Some Serious Rebranding
Sometime around high school or college, it occurred to me that equality was pretty cool. So I started proudly calling myself by the label I thought of as synonymous with that cause: feminist. But the more I used the term, the more I heard from friends, family, and people yelling at me from across the street that the term was too old-fashioned, too limited, and just had too much baggage. It's pretty hilarious when, for example, fashion magazines try to rebrand feminism by decrying the very stereotypes they perpetuate, but could they be onto something?
I'm still a feminist. I love what it stands for. I love its core values. But I'm not blind to its flaws. It's because of my desire to see it progress that I think it's important to acknowledge ...
It's A White Women's Club
One thing that turns many people off from feminism is that it's more crowded with middle-class white women than a Sarah McLachlan concert. Not because they're afraid of homemade jewelry -- although you do not wanna catch a macrame bracelet to the eye, trust me on this one -- but because these middle-class white women tend to brush off the unique struggles of working-class and/or non-white women, which are like a triple-crotch punch of discrimination.
It doesn't help that 53 percent of them voted for Trump.
Take the wage gap. Women are paid 79 cents on the dollar compared to men -- if they're white. It's worse for Native women, worse still for African-American women, and worst of all for Latina women (who only make 54 cents on the dollar).
And that's not all. Most women in general are in service or clerical jobs, but a white woman is more likely than a woman of color to work in a professional or managerial capacity. Women of color are also significantly less likely to be promoted. This all amounts to less money, more hours, and fewer opportunities for time off. When white feminists don't understand this, it creates situations like what I saw at the Women's March in Seattle: a woman yelled to the crowd that she wished she could join us, but unfortunately, she had to go to work. The women in the crowd, some of whom would no doubt be confronted by their bosses with some damning news footage come Monday, told her to just call in sick. It didn't even occur to them that, for hourly wage slaves, calling in sick might mean getting fired, or that she just can't afford to skip those eight (or 10 or 12) hours. They might as well ask a person with no legs "Why don't you just stand up?"
"Have you even tried growing a penis?"
Ignorance is one thing, but many white feminists don't even try to understand. Whenever these issues come up, it's all too often pushed to the side in favor of focusing on progress for all women. That sounds great on the surface, but it's outright telling people, "Whooooa, hold up there, girlfriend. One problem at a time. You need a specialty branch of feminism for your problems."
It Doesn't Take Into Account The Full Gender-Identity Spectrum
Back when feminism was invented in 1890, the notion that women are also people was groundbreaking enough that no one even considered that there might be more categories of people besides "men" and "also women, I guess, fine." It turns out that sex and gender are a lot more complicated than those oversized-wheel-riding weirdos could ever have thought, and when your movement is primarily concerned with sex and gender, that's gonna mean some rewriting of the manual. Modern feminism has responded, on the whole, "Don't wanna."
"No vag, no badge."
In theory, it shouldn't be a huge undertaking. It takes almost no effort to mind your own business and not worry if everyone at Stitch And Bitch has the same general pants configuration as you. But there are those who refuse to make that effort, from the most extreme who insist that anyone with a penis is an enemy and villainize trans women as potential predators ... to those who politely explain that someone who was raised as a man couldn't possibly understand what it is to be a woman, not fully. Traumatic memories of having the Hot Wheels ripped from your hand and replaced with Barbies are a nonnegotiable prerequisite for the sisterhood, gosh darn it.
No one should grow up thinking this is normal fashion sense.
But in fact, misogyny is so deeply ingrained in the transgender experience that there's a whole separate, if somewhat uncreative, word for it: Transmisogyny. The societal expectations of women to look a certain way? Your friendly neighborhood trans woman (let's call her Lisa) knows all about that. Gender-based violence? Statistically speaking, Lisa has seen some shit. She can even provide valuable insight that we would otherwise never have, such as, oh, I don't know, the different ways society treats men and women, experienced firsthand. Trans men can be vital allies, as well -- reproductive rights are a concern for everyone with a uterus. Speaking of which ...
It Doesn't Cross Political Lines Effectively
In theory, believing in equality for all genders has nothing to do with your opinion about the ideal size of the government, but you wouldn't know that by looking at the numbers. Today, the majority of feminists consider themselves Democrats, but that split didn't occur until around the '70s and '80s. Before that, the GOP was so down with the cause that they had the votes of about half of all women. Hell, the first woman elected to Congress ...
Jeannette Rankin -- 1916
... was part of the Republican Party. So where have all the Republican feminists gone? What could have happened in the '70s that made them all jump ship? Thinking ... thinking ...
If you guessed "Roe v. Wade," you won half a century of gender in-fighting. This was the beginning of a new era for the Republican Party, one that focuses on fiscal issues and religion -- part of which is a strong pro-life stance -- as opposed to progressive pay and social programs like it did in the '60s. There are still plenty of conservative women putting their literal necks on the line for other women, but if they happen to fall on the wrong side of the extremely complicated issue of abortion, they get dropped as an official partner of the Women's March. With no one wanting them in their clubs, they've started to form their own. What else can you do when the group you belong to ideologically doesn't let you physically join? Even Leslie Knope did it.
Asking "what would Leslie do?" solves 95 percent of my life problems.
But does that really help anyone? Yes, the relationship between the ability to terminate pregnancy and the freedom of people who can get pregnant is inextricable, but should the feminism admissions test necessarily include "draws the objectively arbitrary line where life begins at the exact right place"? Should it include anything other than "generally believes in gender equality"? Wouldn't we all be better off working together? If we don't, where does it end? Eventually, we'll all just splinter into smaller and smaller groups of feminists until it's just us sitting in our homes, alone, yelling at the pet bird we've named The Parrot-riarchy.
We've Somehow Come Back Around To Body-Shaming
At some point, after we'd gotten the vote and all that, we realized that it's kind of bullshit how women are objectified, and decided they should be in charge of their own bodies. But then the idea of objectification got all confusing, and it was decided that Playboy is bullshit but so is the hijab, and the idea of "being in charge of their own bodies" kind of got lost along the way.
Take the recent Emma Watson's boobs "debacle." Short version: There was some boobage during a photo shoot, and some people decided it was hypocritical of her to pose sexily and also call herself a feminist. These people, bizarrely, also call themselves feminists. Ultimately, everyone realized this was a waste of time, but it did give us Hermione saying, "I really don't know what my tits have to do with it."
And they don't. Neither do anyone else's. Beyonce, Rihanna, Jennifer Lawrence -- literally every woman in the public eye has come under the same criticism. At the same time, they're missing the point that Beyonce is the queen of the universe and also a feminist. We won, people.
And it's not just women consensually and enthusiastically showing some skin that are causing issues at Camp Feminism. When 50 Shades Of Grey came out, women everywhere became very openly curious about BDSM, and no one knew how to feel about it. That movie has some serious issues, but come on -- taking a good consensual spanking now and then isn't in and of itself oppression. It's kind of hard to oppress yourself.
Seriously, someone has to help you with the handcuffs.
The ins and outs, as it were, of feminist sexual theory could fill this entire website, but the point is that putting parameters on any sort of freedom of choice is kind of an oxymoron. To say "own your sexuality, but not if you like leather," or "own your body, BUT NEVER LET THEM KNOW YOU HAVE BOOBS!" defeats the purpose.
The Word Itself
Anytime I call myself a feminist, it's guaranteed that someone will say, "Oh, you're one of THOSE." If not with words, they'll say it with their eyes. We can argue until we collapse on our fainting couches that being "one of THOSE" isn't a bad thing, but a whole lot of people sure don't want to be one.
It's like admitting you're a Redskins fan.
Focusing on semantics is just a way of not focusing on the issues at hand. According to a Huffington Post poll -- and that's about as liberal as you're getting, kids -- 82 percent of Americans believe in gender equality, but only 20 percent refer to themselves as feminists. On the one hand, yay! An overwhelming majority of people want the same things as us! On the other hand, there's clearly an issue here, and it's an issue that keeps people from joining the causes that actualize those things, for fear of being lumped in as "one of those." Maybe for a lot of the reasons I've just told you.
I don't know the solution. HeyTreatPeopleOfDifferentGendersEquallyism doesn't have quite the same ring to it. All I know is that, guys, it's gotten way too complicated. I remember when I was eight, playing Star Wars with the neighborhood kids, and telling them that I was Han Solo. It's not that I didn't like Princess Leia -- she stood up to Darth Vader, always knew what was going on, and was the type of badass that made me think it might be fun to be a princess. It just wasn't my scene. I wanted to fly the Millennium Falcon and have a Wookie best friend. One of the boys said, "but he's a boy," and I said, "so I'll be the girl version," and boom, I was Han Solo. Try to stop me. Luckily, no one did, because I'm Han Solo, chief, I'll mess you up.
And I will shoot first.
I keep thinking of that story because it shows how easily I, and other kids at and around my age, could have gender equality. I was a girl, doing what I wanted to do, which didn't stop anyone else doing what they wanted to do, and it was fine. It was simple then, and it could be now. If a name isn't working, try something else. If it turns out the definition of womanhood isn't so clear-cut, adjust. Because we need those women. We need conservative women. We need women who love showing off their bodies. We need women who love covering it up. We need everyone who wants to advance the rights of people of all genders for any reason. Chill the damn out.
Angela Di Filippo cares about a lot of things and is on Twitter.
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