What IS Feminism? WTFFeminism Part 1

“I myself have never been able to find out what, exactly, a feminist is-~-I only know that I am called a feminist when I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute”-~-Rebecca West

This quote has always been one of my favorites about feminism, because it captures the vagueness and diversity that has come to define feminism as a scholarship and a movement.  And feminism is both-~-it is sociologists and sexologists and anthropologists studying and questioning gender norms; it is women teaching their daughters to be more independent; it is women burning bras or marching in the streets; it is rape counselors combating victim-blaming and scholars publishing about the myth of the slut.  It can be loud and it can be quiet, a career or a way of life.

And that’s why I asked the question, what is feminism?  Because it is a lot of different things, and to different people it may not hold the same meaning.  Feminism is an umbrella term used for a mix of movements and branches of scholarship that all focus on gender norms and gender equality, and deconstruct the role that gender plays in shaping society, economics, politics, and culture, and vice-versa.  From a scholarly perspective, there’s Marxist feminism, radical feminism, peace feminism, feminist standpoint theory, feminist empiricism, and a whole bunch of OTHER approaches to feminism…and from a lifestyle standpoint, there are a myriad of issues and levels of involvement.

But that’s a textbook definition of feminism, coming from someone who studies gender issues and studies feminism itself. That’s a great definition if you’re at a university…but maybe not so much for real life.

“To be a feminist is to know there is inequality in our world based on gender, to understand that inequality is unjust, and to want to change it”-~-Liza Wolff-Francis, Matrifocalpoint.com

“To me, being a feminist is all about questioning: questioning standards, questioning sexism, questioning inequality”–Sophie Rae, Grrrlbeat.com

“A feminist is someone who believes all people should be considered equal both in every day life and under the law. I think feminism’s role is to keep pushing the envelope on what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother. These are traditionally secondary roles, but I think as feminists we should be standing up and letting others know that these are actually primary roles, and society would crumble without us”–Erin Kratina, State University of New York at Old Westbury ’13

Every one of these answers is completely valid. Sophie Rae does a great job of pointing out the critical nature of feminism-~-from a scholarly perspective it is one of the most important aspects of this field.  Liza Wolff-Francis alludes to it as well.  Erin’s point is a little different, however-~-but feminism’s dedication to challenging and altering perceptions about gender is just as important as its role in criticizing the underlying assumptions in scholarship.  Feminism’s academic form should not be so divorced from the way it manifests itself in activism and in people’s life choices that they do not appear to be the same field, the same movement.  Some connection should be apparent.

Unfortunately, critical movements are often ill-received, and especially as feminism addresses issues like female sexuality, which society often wants to ignore, there can be backlash against feminism.  On top of that, there are a lot of different branches of feminism that people often overlook-~-not all feminists believe the same things.  But one of our readers summed up the misconceptions about feminism beautifully here:

I find that people tend to associate feminism with something so unlike mainstream feminism that it’s laughable. When I think of feminists, I think of anyone willing to say that men and women are equal in every respect and should be treated that way but so often people will talk about feminists as if they believe in a sort of female superiority. I think that mass media has definitely contributed to the stereotype of “female superiority feminism” and I think that’s a somewhat slanderous image to place on feminism.

Jake Shaw, American University ’14


Undeserved bad reputation or no, feminism remains an important and ever-evolving movement that both men and women have become invested in over the years.  But if feminists aren’t crazy people burning bras and rioting in the streets demanding voting rights, who are today’s feminists and what are they doing?

If you email us right now (RadicalButLogical@gmail.com) and give us your answers, they may appear in next week’s posting in this series.

~ by Randi Saunders on March 9, 2012.

One Response to “What IS Feminism? WTFFeminism Part 1”

  1. Great post! Even seeing my words in there, there’s a lot to think about. There are so many great perspectives and definitions of feminism out there. More and more I think we need to come together as people wanting equality for women and unite under the movement of feminism in order to make headway. Violence against women doesn’t stop and it is directly related to our secondary status. This has to change. I love what the other two responders said- “questioning” and “pushing the envelope on what it means to be a woman, wife, mother.” YES and YES! By uniting under feminism and bringing a more accurate definition to the word that has been dragged through the mud, we can change the system that oppresses us. Thanks, In Solidarity, Liza Wolff-Francis, Matrifocal Point

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