“You gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice…”
-U2, Running To Stand Still
Be firm, but be polite. Be funny, but tactful. Be hard, yet soft. Be strong, yet understatedly so. Be direct, but soften it with a smile. Be smart, but don’t be too obvious about it. Run the board room, but do it with humility. Isn’t this what we’re taught? Those of us of the “fairer sex”? Not necessarily by our parents, although sometimes that is the case. But by society. We have surely come a long way in the last century. While there are still these unwritten rules by which polite society would like for us to abide, we are far better off than we used to be. Women are CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies. Women hold key positions in national government. We have opportunities and options and choices that women of the early 20th century couldn’t have dreamed of. They couldn’t have imagined these things because many of them were fighting simply to be considered a relevant member of society. To have the right to vote. To be land owners.
You may wonder why, in the waning days of 2013, I feel compelled to write about this. It all started with a blog post I read a few weeks ago. The writer was a mom of young children. She was lamenting the loss of control of her life and her body to her children. She was speaking to the lack of sleep, the forgone plans, the neglect of one’s self to care for young children. I read this with a little smile on my face as I drank my morning cup of coffee. I am for the most part past this stage of motherhood, but I remember it all too well and the moment one of my children is sick I’m right back there in the trenches with stained clothes and un-brushed hair, forgoing all hygiene and sleep, not fit for public consumption.
I was then taken aback when she equated her devotion to her children as anti-feminist. That is goes against feminist teachings. She ends with,”Maybe that’s why by far the majority of women today reject the label feminist. We kind of like being happy.” I actually had to re-read the entire post to see what I missed. I am no morning person and it can take me a while to be fully functioning in the morning. I assumed that I had misunderstood something. But no. The fact that it took me a second reading to realize that she was implying that feminists can’t or don’t believe in being devoted to their kids, that perhaps they can’t choose to be stay at home moms…. this doesn’t speak to my ignorance or even my groggy morning fog. It illustrates her warped view of the definition of feminism.
I’m not sure when feminism became a four letter word. And I don’t know why so many people have collectively bought in to it.
fem·i·nism noun 1. the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
This is what feminism means. That women are equal to men. I naively thought that this was a non-issue, that this is one that had been resolved. That we’d all collectively agreed on this: women… men… equal. I thought this was filed away in the annals of history as one of those things that no longer warrants discussion or debate. Then I read this. Then I started seeing other writings, articles and videos on the subject of feminism. I don’t know if it was a weird coincidence or if my antennae was raised, but either way I realized that some how this was still a thing.
Can a word have a public persona? If so, then I think this is one word that has become so twisted in the public consciousness. How else do you explain celebrities who shy away from it? Katy Perry: “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women”. Taylor Swift, when asked if she was a feminist: “I don’t really think of things as boys vs girls”. Marissa Mayer (CEO, Yahoo): “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist.” Lady Gaga: “I’m not a feminist, I love men.” Let’s just consider for a minute that none of these women would be who they are and even quoted in a blog post if it weren’t for feminism.
I would like to clear up some misconceptions about feminists. This is an attempt to dispel the myths that seem to abound. To quiet the fear that if we all declare ourselves feminists that we will all grow out our armpit hair and shave our heads and start kicking all the men in the balls.
- Feminists aren’t man haters. Men are awesome. The world would be boring without men. I know a lot of great guys. In fact, I’m married to one.
- Feminists aren’t butch. There’s nothing wrong with being butch, if that’s your thing. But this former tomboy has embraced her “girly” side. I enjoy being feminine.
- Feminists aren’t anti-marriage. I like being married. I got married because I fell in love and wanted to. I didn’t hand over my feminist card on my wedding day.
- Feminists are allowed to be stay at home moms. We are allowed to be anything we want. That’s kind of the whole point of feminism. If you’re a stay at home mom, a working mom, or not a mom at all, embrace your choices. Be proud of your choices. And never, under any circumstances judge another woman for her choices .
So, for all of you feminism apologizers or deniers- you don’t have to tattoo it on your forehead. But for the sake of your daughters, your Mothers, the women who went to jail or were beaten so that you could have the options you have today, please don’t be ashamed of it. Please don’t quantify it with a “but”. Please don’t let someone else’s misguided notion diminish your staking of your claim of what’s yours in this world. I am a feminist. It’s part of me. I believe in the equal rights of women. And I’m in good company. There are feminists all over the world, fighting right now for the most basic of rights:
- On October 26th dozens of Saudi Arabian women protested the ban on women driving in their country by getting behind the wheel of a car and risking arrest.
- There are women fighting right now against female circumsision, a barbaric and mutilating act designed to inhibit a woman’s sexual feelings. This horrific mutilation is common throughout parts of Africa and usually performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 8. It is still, in this day and age, performed on about 3 million girls a year. Brave women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Waris Dirie are fighting this, often under constant threat of death.
- Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese writer, was arrested and beaten for wearing pants. She asked to go to trial, refusing immunity offered her as a U.N. press officer. She risked 40 lashes and imprisonment. Despite death threats, she continues to speak out on women’s rights in her country.
- Malalai Joya, of Afghanistan, helped to set up secret schools for girls in her country. She now lives in a series of safe houses and travels with armed body guards for her protection. She rarely sees her husband for fear of him being killed by his association with her.
- Rana Husseini, a Jordanian journalist, is fighting the act of “honor killings” by reporting on every case she came across, even though these killings were largely ignored by the media. She has won numerous awards for bravery in journalism for her work.
- Malala Yousafzai. She spoke out about the rights of girls in Afghanistan to an education and the Taliban saw her as a threat and shot her in the head. Her story is one of undeniable courage, strength and grace. She addressed the U.N. in July, “Here I stand not as one voice but speaking for those who have fought for the right to be treated with dignity, their right for equality of opportunity, and their right to be educated,” she said.
- Sampat Pel Devi, and her Gulabi Gang. They are a vigilante force of women who are fighting injustices against women in India. They have stormed police stations when officers refused to register complaints of violence against women. They have attacked men who have abused their wives. They have stopped child marriages. Devi travels around Northern India on an old bicycle holding meetings and recruiting members. The Gulabi Gang now has over 20,000 members.
So, the next time you feel the need to demure about your feminist leanings or hear someone diminishing this word- perverting it’s meaning by whittling it down to a caricature- think about these women. Think about the women who fought to give us the rights we enjoy today. We no longer have to have our ass groped in the work place. We no longer have to defer to our husband’s opinions on matters of politics. We no longer have to shelve our dreams because society doesn’t allow it. None of this just happened by chance. There were women, and sometimes men, who fought for every little bit of it. There are women right now, who are fighting for the most basic rights. To be treated as a human. To not be abused, forgotten, traded, mutilated, attacked, killed. Feminism is alive and well. It’s heavy weight is being carried on the backs of these brave women around the world. We have come so far, here in the U.S. We have come so far that so many of us have forgotten what this word really meant. Maybe some of us never really knew. What a luxury to not have this as part of our everyday lives. What a luxury to enjoy the options available to us and not consider the pain and sacrifice that made it possible. What a luxury to be a CEO of one of the largest companies in the world and reject the word and the women on who’s shoulders you’re standing. What a luxury to be able to write a blog about being a mom and the sacrifices it entails and not have to parse your words or fear for your life based on the things your write. We have many luxuries for sure, here in the west. The very least we could do is not forsake the very thing that is giving strength and power and possibly inspiration to those who are still in the midst of the fight. We can at least honor the people who came before us by not withering under some false notions. The least we could do is to own this word, to take back the meaning. Equality. Nothing more. Nothing less.