March 23, 2006

Help Me Out: What About Actual Feminists?

Sigivald, a commenter who's been active here since I don't even know when, has a question for any non-straw-based feminist lifeforms in the house:

This is only tangentially related to this post, and I've been thinking about it all week without posting. Here goes.

The one thing I've noticed missing from this entire series of (interesting and thoughtful) posts is... a definition of what feminism is.

Pointing out straw feminists (and straw definitions of feminism) is good and proper, but I'm left wondering exactly what we (you) mean when you speak of feminism that is not straw-feminism.

(This is probably a function of my philosophical training and logic background; my position is that it's generally useless to debate something, especially an -ism, unless we're very clear up-front as to what it is we mean by the term.)

Since, as you've noted, feminism is the subject of so many varying and contradictory usages, maybe the best thing we could to to prevent straw-feminism is to define what the heck feminism Really Is?

This is where you come in, especially if you've been getting to this site from one of the feminist blogs that have linked me, because to be honest, I was going to get into What Feminism Actually Means to Me (even though I know it's a little fourth-grade composition-sounding) on Friday, kind of as the cap-off, but I don't have the time, unfortunately, to do it now.

Sigivald! Stay with the group! Damnit, I draw badly-proportioned cartoons in MS Paint to give you a chuckle, and this is how you thank me?


I guess it also bears repeating that I'm no expert. I'm just a woman who read Backlash a dozen years ago and got all kinds of messed-up ideas from it. I feel quite safe in assuming that most of the people reading this have better ideas and more knowledge than I do, and it's also likely you're able to articulate them better than I am.

So give it your best shot: Click the comments link here and tell Sigivald what you think feminism is, so I can get outta this chair and hit the store before starting work for the night. They had the red bell peppers I so crave at 10 for $10.00 last time I was in, and I'm really hoping they're still there.

Posted by Ilyka at March 23, 2006 03:21 PM in blog against the strawfeminist

Feminism, my personal favorite definition: A person who believes the radical notion that women are people.

In a more elaborate sense a feminist is a person who believes in egalitarianism; social, economic, and legal rights granted equally to men and women, without putting a person or a group of persons at a disadvantage because of gender, race/ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and class. A person who understands that women's issues go beyond a western framework and include but are not limited to poverty, racism, globalization, health, colonialism, war, and economics.

The thing is here, for the majority women are technically and constitutionally considered equal. The battle of this generation is now one of culture. We can vote, we can get a jobs, we can earn a living, but we're still expected to be beautiful. We live with the double standard and that constant issue of embracing intimacy and being called a whore, while men pursue it in a much more degrading less wholesome way and get a notch in their staff to wave around proudly. To some, these things appear either very subtle, "no big deal", or natural and not something that needs to be fought against at all. And that's what makes feminism so hard to make noteworthy nowadays. To the majority of people, it feels as if we've won, and although we've come a long way we still have a long way to go.

This is a pretty poor explanation, I know. I'm hoping others will provide much better defintiions. Words are not my strong suit, but I'm new here and thought I'd put in my two cents.

Posted by: Happy Camper at March 23, 2006 06:23 PM

Why are there no comments here? Everyone on vacation? Is this the loneliest blog around? No, actually mine would be, which is why I won't start one.

Anyway, I say I am a feminist, because around in the ninth grade some english teacher called me one. She said she was one too. Fine, sounded good to me, I was angry about being a female in what I learned quickly was man's world.

No, wait.

I say I am a feminist because I am believe that women and men are simply humans who have a shared goal of surviving on this planet. That the construct of patriarchy is just that, a construct, originating from a time when..

No, wait.

I say I am a feminist because I know that as a woman i've been getting the shit end of the stick, being a victim of abuse, rape and of course being subjected to repeated threats or reminders universally and no men have to

No, wait.

Oh to hell.

Feminism is a humanist ideal springing from the concept that humans should treat eachother and others on this planet with basic respect. That we all are entitled to safety, security and health and that to achieve such, we need to work together, care for eachother and the planet.

Ok, something like that. But there's more:

That women, nor men are charactures or symbols to be used or manipulated by states, social systems or any other potentially oppressive constructs. Women and men are members of the human race, need eachother and must work together in order to achieve a better condition of living for us all.

something like that. go get your peppers before they are all gone.

I don't know what strawfeminists are either, seems they'd go up in flames pretty damn quick though, so since they aren't long lasting, I won't spend a lotta time worrying about them.

Posted by: kate at March 23, 2006 06:26 PM

I wrote a couple posts on What Feminism Means To Me last spring. From the first:

There are just two pieces of dogma in my feminist tent:
  1. Society deals with gender in a way that, on balance, harms women.
  2. This is a problem that must be corrected.

You'll notice that they have nothing to do with: men, race, class, liberty, religion, teleology, biology, consumerism, violence, sex, or shoes. This is deliberate.

and the second:
Feminism is also about the context surrounding people's choices. Two beliefs pretty much all contemporary feminists have in common are that social, cultural, and economic contexts are really important, and that it's improper to speak of someone's "choice" as if its presence somehow absolves us all of our roles in creating those contexts.

Posted by: yami at March 23, 2006 06:32 PM

I wrote this last spring.

Posted by: bitchphd at March 23, 2006 06:56 PM

Oh, and even though the comment thread says "0 comments," click on it to see what other people had to say about their feminisms.

Posted by: bitchphd at March 23, 2006 06:57 PM

Feminism is one aspect (a part of the whole, but not the whole) of the fight against oppression.

Posted by: Kevin Andre Elliott at March 23, 2006 06:59 PM

Come to think of it, I've never really written anything down defining what I believe feminism is, but I have a few clues in the following:

Feminist Bloggers Say No to John Roberts co-written with The Goddess and several other women

Thank you Rosa Parks, gracias

A question to my fellow feminists, do I have to make a choice?

It was me who said, "let there be a child", not a man nor a god but me, Woman

Flame, Blame & Shame : When Stepford Wives attack BlogSheroes

Posted by: liza at March 23, 2006 09:27 PM

And I forgot this one ...

Rape, torture, sex and social justice

I guess not being American makes me look at feminism from a slightly different perspective. Feminism is not a subset of civil rights. I've never believed it's a "women first" political movement. To me feminism is as fundamental to the whole practice of social justice as racial and ethnic equality. They have to go hand in hand.

So when I hear a Gloria Steinem talking about Hugh Hefner "moslem lifestyle I want to scream ... if not unjustly and oh-so-politically-incorrect, bash her face on the pavement.

I never claimed to be a model feminist.

Posted by: liza at March 23, 2006 09:37 PM

From a post I wrote a while ago:

A feminist:

1) Believes that there is current, significant, society-wide inequality and sexism which on balance disadvantages women.

2) Advocates for the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

I still pretty much believe that. It's actually the same thing Yami wrote, but the way she put it is much better, so in the future I may have to steal Yami's phrasing.

Posted by: Ampersand at March 23, 2006 09:47 PM

I'm 17 years old.

To me, feminism is simple. It's the fact that men and women are equal (except that we get all the biologically interesting stuff). I've spent my entire life expecting people to know this as well as I do, and am always a little bit shocked when people don't.

So to me, feminist activism means informing people of the basic facts of life.

Things That Make Me Shudder In Absolute Horror: Stalling the availibility of the HPV vaccination, roadblocking Plan B's OTC use, and South Dakota.

I'm sorry I don't have a blog or a website to link you to, but I just read things. I'm lazy.

Posted by: Michelle at March 23, 2006 09:50 PM

Feminism is simply the belief that men and women are equal and should be treated as such. But I like the definition that it's that women are people, since the belief that we aren't is at the heart of most feminist critiques. As far as philosophy goes, my main feminist influence was and continues to be Simone de Beauvoir, because she articulated how the whole "men are women are different" thing is usually not a statement of truth but instead the prelude to a statement that equates men with humans and turns women into the Other.

Simply put, the patriarchy defines women as existing as objects to be used by others.

Feminists say women are human who exist for our own reasons.

The patriarchy says we are sex objects.

Feminism says we are sexual subjects, who have desires of our own that should be respected like a man's. (Thus rape is wrong.)

The patriarchy says we are breeders.

Feminism says that motherhood is an undertaking like any other and not the center of a woman's being.

De Beauvoir's feminism was existentialist, though--like me, she believed life is what you make it and she protested that society demanded of women that we live our lives by our physical functions, specifically those that differ from men's, instead of given the opportunity to reach for transcendence.

That said, there are a lot of religious versions of feminism that are perfectly commonsensical and certainly more consistent with reality than religious traditions that are heavy on gendered role-playing. If god wanted women to be men's servants, then surely he would have made women lesser than men somehow--made us dumb, made us less ambitious, whatever. In fact, many patriarchs argue just this, that women are naturally inferior in our minds and desires. They are lying; any woman knows that we live lives like men's and all we desire is the same social respect for it.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte at March 23, 2006 10:02 PM

I'm so blogging this one ...

Here's the thing : I am with Amanda in my influences. I am waaaaay more French academie and Latin American Theology of Liberation than any flavor of feminist Americana. But I am a post-structuralist feminist and I believe that not only are women and men more than different but Other.

It does not mean that in the eyes of the law, men and women are not equal. But mothers are at a greater disadvatage in the work force because the policies of forcing women away from their children in order to keep their jobs are predicated on exactly the belief that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Anybody who has gone through the pain of childbirth knows that 6 weeks is not enough time to recuperate from 9 months of pregnancy, countless hours of labor and then the emotional and hormonal turmoil that comes with bonding with your newborn child.

I stayed at home and it has cost me professionally in spades because physically and emotionally i could not put "The Corporation" before my children. And believe me, not only financially, but the social stigma of being a SAHM I have received from both men and women.

That's why I do not believe the needs of women ought to be considered in this case equal to the needs of men. On the contrary, in this case DIFFERENCE ought to make out needs far superior than men's needs. A new mother's physical and emotional needs are far different from men's.

It's time we treat women's difference as valuable instead of trying to make us "normal" by treating our needs as the same as men's.

Posted by: liza at March 23, 2006 10:43 PM

Feminism is not only a theory, a practice, a discipline, a world view, and a call to action to give women a shot at full equality --

it's also, I think, perhaps the last best hope for men to escape their crushing patriarchal roles.

Posted by: Hugo at March 23, 2006 11:19 PM

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all People are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

That equality should be in practice, as well as theory. It must extend beyond the legal. Legal equality is great and a necessary starting point. Women and non-white men in this country haven't always had the right to vote or the right to own property. Women in certain other countries don't even have those basic rights.

Beyond that first step of legality, though, barriers to entry should be merit-based. Which they are not, even in countries where there is legal equality. Choices should be respected, not demeaned. [Provided, obviously, that those choices don't directly harm others.] Women should be viewed as our own agents, capable of and free to act in this world just like men are.

Posted by: Lesley at March 24, 2006 03:58 AM

Feminism is the notion that women are people, yes. It is the notion that issues affecting us are important, that our rights are important, and that our voices deserve to be heard. It also questions the status quo of male power and seeks to level the playing field.

When the majority of our congressional leaders, politicians, executives, and religious leaders are men, there's a power imbalance. When you've got words like slut and skank for sexual women and none like that for men, there's a power imbalance. When the state and private citizens have the right to deny women medical treatment and/or perscriptions (which doesn't happen to men), there is a power imbalance. When you still have a wage gap and double-standards about bad mommies who work as opposed to noble daddies who take out the garbage once a month, there's a power imbalance. When you've got people who pooh-pooh rape and violence against women, (since they either ask for it, are too careless, or lie, OR they are deemed paranoid about men because they are careful), there is a power imbalance. When women are expected to put up with intrusive, boorish, and violating behavior from men (and men don't have to worry about this sort of thing), there is a power imbalance. When when the fastest growing segment of the poor is women and children, there is a power imbalance.

Posted by: Sheelzebub at March 24, 2006 07:54 AM

New here but I recognize a couple of the names.

What's a feminist? I'm a feminist.

However I decide to live and whatever I decide to get up to -- whether or not straw feminists approve :) -- I'm it.

I've worked. Not worked. I was a feminist the whole time.

I waited until my late 30s to have kids. I had them. I was a feminist the whole time -- before, during and after pregnancies.

I've managed a home business -- sending DH off to do the "work" while I figure out the rest. I've lounged at the beach. I was a feminist the whole time.

I simply expect people to get the idea that this is a non-issue -- a non-negotiable reality -- I am in charge of me. They are not. As Michelle mentions, it IS shocking when someone thinks otherwise. But they can be dealt with.

South Dakota will be dealt with. All manner of ignorance and power grabs will be dealt with. Maybe that's part of being a feminist -- not expecting that there won't be idiots. But knowing they won't triumph.


Posted by: Nance Confer at March 24, 2006 08:10 AM

I put my ideas on my site, Persephone's Box, in the post, The F-Word Revisited. (I'm new at this, and still figuring out links, sorry for the inconvenience.)

[Here is sage's post: The F-Word Revisited. For sage or anyone else who needs assistance with links, Meryl has a concise how-to within this post; just start at the second paragraph. --Ilyka]

Posted by: sage at March 24, 2006 08:21 AM

Been reading for a while, and now I want to comment. Heh.

I am a feminist by example. I grew up in a house where my parents treated each other as equal partners. I was born in the Reagan era, and for my father, a salesman, that was an unstable time for his line of work. My mom is an RN, so she always had a job, but the hours were not ideal for a family with three children under five, even with my grandpa helping to take care of us. So when I was a toddler, my mom got the opportunity to become a consultant for an insurance company. This meant regular hours and much higher pay. She took the job, and from that time, up until very recently, she's been the main breadwinner for the family. And it never, never struck me as odd that my mom should make more than my dad, because my dad never made it an issue. In fact, because my mom had a steady job, he was able to take the risk to start his own business when I was in high school. Because of her job, my brothers and I never had to worry about whether or not we could go to the colleges of our choice.

My parents shared household duties. Both parents can cook and bake. Both parents took an active role in the schools for my brothers and me. And both of my parents live by rather feminist beliefs: My mom left the catholic church when our bishop said women have no place making decisions for the church, and my dad supports Planned Parenthood -- and I've heard him get into heated arguments with his conservative brother and say, "It's a woman's body, it's her choice!"

I was well into high school before it really occured to me that there are those who believe that women are lesser than men and that "feminism" is a dangerous construct. My parents made equality of the sexes so much the norm that it was naturally offensive to me when I ran into my first real case of sexism. I'm now in a field where it's the unspoken norm to be sexist, and it's been interesting to realize how deep my feminism runs. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Posted by: tetetetigi at March 24, 2006 09:52 AM

My first college opinion column as editor was about feminazis. I don't know if that's the same thing as a strawfeminist. Enjoyed the pictures.

Posted by: The Holywriter at March 24, 2006 10:09 AM

I had a whole big long comment here, but it got too rambling even for me. I'll try to finish it and stick it on my blog, but here's the short version: if feminism means “Live your own life / don’t let the patriarchy get you down”, what do we call the folks at NOW, the Andrea Dworkins and Kim Gandys of the world, who I would argue take it a good bit further than that? Because to many, that has become the public face of “Feminism”, and is why many people are so reluctant to self-identify as feminists.

Posted by: francis at March 24, 2006 04:29 PM

To me, feminism means I don't think I should get shut out of things I think are fun or interesting just 'cause I'm female.

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at March 24, 2006 09:02 PM

if feminism means “Live your own life / don’t let the patriarchy get you down”, what do we call the folks at NOW, the Andrea Dworkins and Kim Gandys of the world, who I would argue take it a good bit further than that?

Are they doing any more than providing a focus and a theoretical framework for a mass action movement making sure that "WE don't let the patriarchy get US down"? It's fair enough to argue their rhetoric/tactics/strategy, but is their goal any different?

Posted by: tigtog at March 25, 2006 12:44 AM

Amanda wrote: Feminism is simply the belief that men and women are equal and should be treated as such.

The problem is that lots of MRAs and anti-feminists would sincerely say this is what they believe, too. The difference is, they think society hugely privileges women and discriminates against men.

For that reason, I think any definition of feminism has to include some version of what Yami said: "Society deals with gender in a way that, on balance, harms women."

Posted by: Ampersand at March 25, 2006 09:25 AM

I think that feminism means "women being on top while having sex". Thus, feminism is the realization of a Hegelian-Marxist conflict between men and women: it ends when the patriarchy ("men being on top while having sex") is overturned. Homosexuality and pregnancy are excluded from this analysis, because Hegelian-Marxist thinking is reductive, turning the general into the categorical and presumes that men and women are equal in all respects save in culturally constructed power relations.

Posted by: True Feminist at March 25, 2006 09:21 PM

As an oldfashioned equity feminist, my belief system is quite straight forward. I recognize the reality of the inherent differences between the sexes while demanding that each individual person be free to choose where their talents lead them.

As Mary Wollscraft wrote over 200 years ago:

Children, I grant, should be innocent; but when the epithet is applied to men, or women, it is but a civil term for weakness. For if it be allowed that women were destined by Providence to acquire human virtues, and by the exercise of their understanding, that stability of character which is the firmest ground to rest our future hopes upon, they must be permitted to turn to the fountain of light, and not forced to shape their course by the twinkling of a mere satellite.

When the authenticity of a woman is questioned because her definition of "feminism" doesn't match that branch of contemporary feminism that has appended all manner of "progressive" ideology to it, then IMHO that branch of "feminism" has lost credibility in its claim of being for the "equality" of women.

Posted by: Darleen at March 25, 2006 10:56 PM

oh shoot... I should use "preview" more often

Mary Wollstonecraft

Posted by: Darleen at March 25, 2006 10:58 PM

It's cool, Darleen, I knew who ya meant. And I knew that you knew and that it was just a typing spaz. And I suffer from all manner of those myself so I could hardly be judging.

That aside . . . I don't see where anyone in the thread questioned anyone's authenticity?* The closest otherwise we might get to anything like that is Ampersand's qualification of Amanda's statement, but even that, I don't think he's attacking anyone's authenticity, but rather just differentiating feminism from the MRAs' line. Which is fine with me as I tend to see the MRAs' line as a bunch of self-serving hooey, but that's another matter entirely.

*Ignoring of course "True Feminist," aka "John Smith," who is just trolling for lack of anything better to do on a Saturday night, bless his wee lil' heart.

Posted by: ilyka at March 25, 2006 11:16 PM


My authenticity statement wasn't specific to this thread. I've just encountered the "you're a traitor to REAL women if you don't believe [insert Leftist rather than feminist ideological point here]" over and over again in numerous venues.

Heck, I listened to a professor interviewed on the radio once who specifically said ANY educated woman who would chose to stay home with her small children should NOT have that choice! That colleges should think twice about admitting women who would chose such an option.

I don't find that a "feminist" POV, in the sense of an equity feminist.

Posted by: Darleen at March 26, 2006 09:46 AM more thought and this is where I agree more with Liza than Ampersand.

When society treats men and women as the same and holds the male template as the authentic one, THEN women get the short end of the stick.

That's what MRA's are attempting in their "Roe v Wade for Men" schtick.

Posted by: Darleen at March 26, 2006 09:53 AM more thought and this is where I agree more with Liza than Ampersand.

Actually, I agree with you and Liza on this one. When it comes to childrearing, women and men aren't identically situated, and a society and economy that treats male anatomy as the norm is going to inevitably screw many women over.

Darleen, I agree with you that the prof you heard on the radio was being a jerk. But so would tons of feminists who you'd probably say are "gender feminists" rather than "equity feminists." (Although I think those terms are also strawfeminists).

Posted by: Ampersand at March 26, 2006 11:29 AM

Heck, I listened to a professor interviewed on the radio once who specifically said ANY educated woman who would chose to stay home with her small children should NOT have that choice! That colleges should think twice about admitting women who would chose such an option.

I don't find that a "feminist" POV, in the sense of an equity feminist.

I'm with Amp. I don't find that a "feminist" POV in any sense. It totally devalues that which society has generally considered "women's work". The minute someone holds up traditional male roles as being superior, I don't see how that person can seriously claim to be a feminist. That's just a different way of buying into the patriarchy. Women have to effectively become men in order to be equal? Not feminism.

Posted by: Lesley at March 26, 2006 01:45 PM

Darleen's example, and others like it I've heard over the years, are why I made a point of linking Sivacracy's roundup of responses to the Linda Hirshman kerfluffle here--because what is more interesting to me than the Linda Hirshmans of the world, the "feminism police," to borrow from Lauren again, is the pushback from other feminists. If you can judge the health and vibrancy of a movement by how well it accommodates diverse viewpoints and allows some issues (preferably less-essential ones) to remain debateable, fluid, unsettled, instead of carved into stone tablets, then I'd have to say feminism's doing just fine. I'll worry that feminism might actually be dead or oppressive or intolerant or Hijacked by Leftists or what have you when it starts behaving like Scientology, but so far I'm not seeing it do that.

I am seeing Hoff-Sommers attempt to force a false dichotomy with that gender vs. equity feminists business, but I'm content to throw her in the pile with other aspiring feminism police, including the professor on the radio, Hirshman, etc., and just say to hell with her. It makes my life easier and works wonders on my blood pressure.

Posted by: ilyka at March 26, 2006 02:29 PM

It's not trolling. It's called irony. I actually like the website. Get a sense of humor.

Posted by: John Smith at March 27, 2006 06:37 PM

If you can judge the health and vibrancy of a movement by how well it accommodates diverse viewpoints and allows some issues (preferably less-essential ones) to remain debateable, fluid, unsettled, instead of carved into stone tablets, then I'd have to say feminism's doing just fine.

What about abortion?
What about John Roberts/Sam Alito/Justice "X"?
What about war?
What about school vouchers or school choice?

Those aren't strawfeminists, either, especially w/r/t abortion. They're completely separate from the essence of feminism, but those who get to decide who is or isn't a "correct" feminist would say those of us who have the "incorrect" views on those issues aren't feminists. We're evil, or something.

I'm a feminist, but I detest Feminism, Inc. because they beat up other women (!) who don't think abortion is about controlling other womens' bodies. (And that's just one example.) That's where Darleen is spot-on where she says:
When the authenticity of a woman is questioned because her definition of "feminism" doesn't match that branch of contemporary feminism that has appended all manner of "progressive" ideology to it, then IMHO that branch of "feminism" has lost credibility in its claim of being for the "equality" of women.

...and I can't tell you how many times I've seen specifically Darleen attacked by those who worship at the altar of Feminism, Inc. (I have been too, but not nearly as much as I've seen her attacked--only because she discusses it more than I do.)

Posted by: Beth at March 28, 2006 07:33 AM