Monday, April 6, 2015

The F-Word

“The first resistance to social change is to say it’s not necessary.” – Gloria Steinem

I don’t offend people on purpose. In fact, I am a very open-minded person. I hold my beliefs quite strongly, and I am (more than) happy to share those beliefs, but if someone does not agree with me, I don’t turn into a “hater”. I may not choose to surround myself with people who disagree with me, but I also will not dispute their right to their own opinions.

But every now and then, I say something that offends people without meaning to. For instance, what if I dropped the F-word right now? Would you shame me? Run away and never read my blog again? Let’s find out.


Oh dear. There it is. The big bad F-word. Oh. Did you think I meant something else? That other F-word? That other one might be less offensive to people. “Feminism” bothers people. It scares some people (but they won’t admit that). It makes a lot of people extraordinarily nervous.

It’s the word that does it, really.

If you asked people if they support the idea that men and women should be treated equally, most would respond positively. If you asked people if one gender should be placed in domination or a position of power over the other, many – if not most – would say no. You have asked these two questions without ever using the term “Feminism”, yet this is precisely what Feminism is. It is the idea that men and women have equal rights and sovereignty.

That’s not so frightening, is it? Looking at that, why on earth would anyone – man or woman – not be a feminist? How can you look at your own mother, your sister, your aunt, your wife, your daughter, and think she is not human enough to deserve every right and privilege that someone with an XY chromosome enjoys? Feminism is such a simple concept. It is not a scary idea at all.

So why the bad rap?

Well, it’s complicated…and it’s not.

Let’s start with the simple story. For a long time, Feminists didn’t have the despicable reputation they have had since the 1970s. In fact, Feminists in America have been around since the 1840s. But in the late 1970s, Phyllis Schlafly swooped in to destroy the Equal Rights Amendment and taint the term “Feminist’ as a whole. She called Feminists “radicals” and claimed they would destroy the traditional American family. She convinced conservative America that Feminists were mostly concerned about abortion, they were chafing against their roles as wives, and that the ERA would mean daughters would be forced into the military draft. Because of her efforts, the ERA was never ratified in the states and Feminists were now viewed with suspicion, often with hatred, and always as man-haters.

Thanks, Phyllis. You're a peach.

The truth of the Feminist movement is much more complex, and ties much more closely to the changes the country was going through. Typically, the Feminist movement is seen in three waves. The first wave dates from the Seneca Falls gathering in 1848. This was the first Women's Convention ever in the US. This was with beginning of the women's suffrage movement in America. Clearly, Feminism is not a modern concept. The question then, of course, because of the time period and the tone of the country, was whether to push for women’s rights or for civil rights. The Civil War saw the emancipation of slavery (in theory), and Feminists began pushing harder for women’s rights, yet the right to vote was not achieved until the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920.

The second wave of Feminism has an early date from WWII when masses of women flooded the workforce. Sixteen million men had gone to war, and women were called upon to leave the home and keep the economy functioning. This had never happened before. Men, who had always ruled the country and the employment roster, had never invited women into the workforce. But now, Rosie the Riveter showed them the way. Suddenly, women were taught that they could be productive, earning members of society. They were valuable. They had worth beyond the incubating power of their wombs. Those chains that bound them to ovens and dinner tables were no longer entirely welcome, and when the boys came home from ‘over there’, the women in the workforce didn’t necessarily want to leave the jobs they’d come to love.

This WWII date, though, was almost a default start date because of the war. By the 1960s and 1970s, though, it was no longer default. It was active. Women were eager to take control of their own bodies and their own lives. There were protests in Atlantic City outside the Miss America pageants. Many women were tired of being seen solely on the basis of appearance. Bra-burning, the motto of the powerful Sojourner Truth "Ain't I a Woman?" began to gain popularity. Society was changing, and everyone could feel it.

Back in 1923, Alice Paul (all hail Alice Paul… “hail!”) introduced the Equal Rights Amendment stating that no one can be discriminated against in the United States based on gender, be that person male or female. This amendment failed to pass. It was reintroduced every year, and every year it failed. However, in 1972, it hit its time and suddenly took off. It had incredible support. It passed in federal congress, which meant that it now went to the states. It needed to be ratified by both houses in the states in 38 states in order to be added as an amendment to the Constitution. In no time at all, 30 states ratified it. Suddenly, support slowed. Support crept to 33 states. Then out of nowhere came Phyllis Schlafly and her anti-ERA campaign. By the deadline in June of 1982, only 35 states had ratified the amendment, it was 3 short, and the ERA was dead. Each year, the ERA is re-introduced in congress, and each year it fails to re-ignite. This needs to change. The time is now.

We are long overdue to guarantee the rights of all the people.

Feminism’s third wave began generating in the late 1980s, around 1988ish, but is often given the official date of 1993. A new generation of thinkers, writers, artists, and activists were coming of age. Having grown up through the machismo of the 80s, a decade where Feminism took a heavy hit, this new generation took the time to rework it, give it a facelift, and add their own touches. Feminism in the past had often been thought to pertain only to upper class white women. This newer generation brought to it the idea of women of color, immigrant women, lower class women, working women, and stay-at-home women: “Feminists” in all meanings of the word. Feminism was individually driven, looked at and considered on a one-to-one basis, and communicated on a singular level. 

Then we arrive at the controversial and much-contested "Fourth Wave". Has it dropped, people wonder. Are we living in the fourth wave? Yes, we most certainly are. As of 2008, this is a Fourth-Wave world. As each wave has before it, the Fourth Wave gathers strength from the previous three. The Fourth Wave is tech-heavy and inclusive. Third-Wave Feminists saw the inclusion of People of Color, immigrants, all classes, and all jobs. Fourth Wavers include all people. Those in the Fourth Wave understand that feminists include men, women, and the LGBTQIA community because it is all about equal rights. That's all a feminist wants. The Fourth Wave dates from the first generation who has grown up with the Internet as an integrated part of their lives; it wasn't learned after the fact. It was lived. This allows for a more inclusive life and more information to spread with the push of a button. 

Feminists are not plotting to take over the world. Feminists are not “man-haters” or anti-man. We are in favor of equality, of justice, of parity. The Equal Pay Act does not quite work. I still make less than my male colleagues, despite our matched qualifications. Males still tend to be promoted over females. These are facts. I cannot blame for this. People are raised a certain way and a certain type of thinking takes time to change. I can only educate and hope the general framework changes.

What is the point of this long-winded lecture?

Feminism isn’t a bad thing. Equality isn’t a bad thing. And you don’t have to be a woman to be a Feminist. Men need to take up the banner as well. Being a Feminist doesn’t mean that we don’t need the support of our men. We most definitely do. If any ideology is to change, it takes the support of the entire community, not a community divided against itself.

When I’m asked if I’m a Feminist, my answer is, “Of course I’m a Feminist. I’m all for equality. Why aren’t you?”

I love this shirt, despite the terrible grammatical mistake

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