You had to know this was coming.
It’s time to talk about the F-word
No, not that F-word, this one:
There are a lot of misconceptions out there regarding feminism and the feminist movement.
I am (sometimes) proud to call myself a feminist. (Other times, it is difficult, and I’ll talk about why today)
So, let’s start with a little bit of history.
The feminist movement began in the 19th century (that’s the 1800s for those who get confused by the century numeration system) with women fighting for rights like being able to own property and, like, be treated as humans. The actual start of the first feminist movement is debatable. It is my belief that the first-wave feminist movement (in the United States, at least) came after the Civil War, when women whose husbands, brothers, fathers, or other important male people died in the war had to fight to receive their fallen companions’ pensions. The first-wave feminist movement (as we now call it) carried on through the early 20th century (1900s) with the women’s suffrage movement. Many of the people who are admired as members of the first-wave feminist movement would not have called themselves feminists. The term wasn’t really developed until later–they would have been known as women’s rights activists. The first-wave feminist movement encompasses a lot, from fighting for the right to own property to the right to vote. Some of my favorite feminists from this time are Clara Barton (educator, Civil War Nurse, founder of the American branch of the International Red Cross, and much more), Mary Wollstonecraft (author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women), Lucretia Mott (abolitionist, quaker, women’s rights activist), Sojourner Truth (abolitionist, women’s rights activist), and Sonia Kovalevsky (first woman to earn a PhD in mathematics).
The second-wave feminist movement began in the middle of the 20th century (1900s, y’all), after WWII and Rosie the Riveter brought women into a new (to them) sphere. Prior to WWII, most women were expected to, and did, remain in the home. When WWII occurred and all the men were off fighting, and women had to step into the factories to do all the work that the men weren’t doing since they were away, they realized that they kinda liked not being home all day every day and so after the war, when all those who had been fighting came back and wanted their jobs, these women were like “yo, I want to have a job still, too” and so the feminist movement grew to encompass women’s right to work outside the home as well as other important topics, such as reproductive health (I’m talking Roe V. Wade, birth control access, family planning, etc. some of this was part of the first wave movement, but became more central to the second wave). Much like the first wave of feminism, this was often referred to by another name: the women’s liberation (lib) movement. Some of my favorite second-wave feminists are Betty Friedan (author of The Feminine Mystique), Simone de Beauvoir (author of The Second Sex), and Oprah Winfrey (she’s considered part of the second wave, though she is still active today).
The second wave of the movement is where a lot of the criticism of feminism began.
The third wave of feminism is what’s occurring right now.
It’s not perfect; no movement is.
[in case you don’t want to click through to those articles, the first is about Taylor Swift’s “squad” not actually being about women’s empowerment, since it’s kind of a big group of the kind of girls that intimidate you in high school ganging up on another girl, also the term “squad” is one she appropriated from black culture; the second article is about Amy Schumer being foolish and making a really bad parody cover of Beyonce’s “Formation,” a song by a black woman, about black women’s lives, for black women. Not for Amy Schumer.]
This is why it’s sometimes hard to be proud to be a feminist.
But here I stand, and it’s quite clear that I haven’t disowned the movement for the problematic actions of some. So I’m going to talk about what feminism means to me, because the criticisms don’t have to be true of everyone.
First, feminism, to me, is about gaining equality for all people of all genders. The word “feminism” is kind of misleading, because it seems to imply that the feminine should be considered better than the masculine. This, however, is not what the intent was when the term was coined. At the time, women were just trying to get to a place where they could be seen as humans and taken seriously for who they were. Over time, the goals of the movement have changed to be more inclusive of those who don’t fall into the strict male/female binary but still want to be treated equally and taken seriously. My feminism embraces individuals of any and all genders and seeks to be inclusive of those who haven’t had the opportunity to be heard in the past.
Second, I believe feminism needs to be about accepting and embracing people of all races and colors. Sadly, there is a huge lack of what is referred to as “intersectional” feminism in today’s movement. [that link is a great article about why intersectional feminism is important]. Everyone deserves to be seen as equal, but that does not mean that we can ignore the different places that individuals come from. The whole idea of being “colorblind” is super offensive to, like, everyone that isn’t white because it ignores the horrible conditions that have been faced by people of other races in the past. Yes, everyone should be seen as equal, but that does not mean that everyone is the same. By claiming not to see or care about race, some white feminists are effectively trying to erase the experiences of millions of people whose ancestors faced challenges such as slavery and internment at the hands of white people. That is not okay and needs to be stopped.
Third, my feminism is inclusive of anyone and everyone who needs help. It understands that bad things can and do happen to any person of any type. Some of the issues that people say feminists ignore are actually part of feminist discourse, but people don’t want to accept it. Toxic masculinity, that thing that causes people to be like “why are you letting your son watch princess movies” is a huge feminist issue. Because the patriarchal way society is set up is harmful for everyone, even those whose gender qualifies them to receive higher wages, better jobs, and to be taken seriously.
Feminism can and should be about eliminating the harmful societal structures that have put people into boxes that we’re not meant to fit in.
It’s not about hating men. It’s not about burning bras and refusing to shave (though I definitely support not shaving bc like what a waste of time). It’s not about harming anyone.
It’s about helping everyone. The goal of feminism is to ensure that future generations will have a better, more equitable society than the one that we have, as past generations have worked to make our society more equitable than the one in which they lived. We just have to start by helping those who are the most harmed by how our society is currently operating, and sometimes, that’s girls, sometimes that’s people of color, sometimes that’s boys who are told they can’t cry because boys don’t cry.
The Fierce Feminist