This article is intended to provide a little background on where I am coming from in relation to a three part series I am doing on Disney movies and an accusation of sexism. It's not really intended as a stand alone article, but I felt it was necessary to be completely upfront about my motivations, definitions, and point of view on this touchy subject before I launch head first into the review and research.
I am a feminist.
I usually avoid all labels. I belong to no political party. I do not identify as liberal or conservative, left or right wing. I don't root for any team. I don't consider myself a New Yorker any more than I considered myself a New Mexican when I lived in that state, or a Georgian when I owned a home there. I'm me. Just recently I've noticed that feminism has become some kind of dirty word, again. As if we hadn't lived through the 60s and 70s at all, a new generation of men and women have begun to villify this label as if they were the first to think of doing so. So, I'd like to clarify a few things, before this goes any further. I'm an individual. And no matter how I search, I've never found a group whose views exactly match mine, nor even any individual person with the same exact views. That's why I avoid labeling myself in the hopes of avoiding being put in a box. It doesn't often work.
I am a feminist.
When you hear that, what do you hear? What picture comes to your mind? What box have you put me in? Do you imagine that I knit uteruses to send as a protest to my congressperson? Do you assume that I will be offended if you open a door for me? Do you picture a lesbian, or a purple haired, topless woman screaming at passersby at a campus rally? Do you think I'm an ordinary woman doing a job, raising a kid, and following my own path? The truth is, all of these could describe feminists, or not.
What is a feminist?
A YouTube personality whose work I often enjoy defined feminism as a belief that men and women are not equal, and something has to be done to make them so. I can see where he got that. I'll have to respectfully disagree. A commenter on another page said they think feminism is a belief that men are oppressing women. It's a reasonable assumption to make, but again, I disagree. It seems that a picture of feminism, possibly arising from these other definitions, has arisen in the mind of a lot of people, people who are sexist, and who are not sexists, people who are too young to remember the old hard times, and people old enough to be nostalgic for those days.
There is a website out there called feminist.com. I think that title is a bit ballsy, claiming to represent all us feminists. Kind of like an atheist site being called Atheism.org. Really? All atheists? Anyway, I read a post there and it said this,
In the most basic sense, feminism is exactly what the dictionary says it is: the movement for social, political, and economic equality of men and women.
I almost agree. To me, feminism, like atheism, is not a movement, but an ideological stance on a single issue. Period.
When I say I am a feminist, this is the definition I have in mind. Please keep that at the front of your thoughts as you read the rest of this.
Any discussion of definitions inevitably leads to someone claiming their definition is as good as any other. Another area where I have to disagree. When you are defining a group of people who self identify by any label, the proper definition is the one they have set for that label. For instance:
- A Christian is one who, at the most basic, accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior.
- An atheist is one who does not believe in god(s), or does not believe there is sufficient evidence to believe in one.
- A Muslim is one who obeys Allah and believes Muhammed was His Profit.
- A Shriner is one who has been inducted into the Order.
- A Democrat is one who votes the Democratic ticket, supports the Democratic Party, or who is a registered member of the Democratic Party or who is an advocate or supporter of democracy, in more general terms.
- A Girl Scout is any girl/young woman who has paid her dues and fees, taken the oath, signed up and remains in good standing.
- A Communist is one who believes the basic tenets of Communism, or has joined the Communist Party.
- An American citizen is one who was born in the USA or born to US parents living abroad and had not surrendered their citizenship OR who has been naturalized.
These are the most basic definitions generally recognized by the membership these groups. Not all groups have a formal controlling body that establishes the definition. No one controls who may call themselves an atheist, for instance. Yet there exists a general consensus about what these terms mean. I cannot tell A Christian they are not a Christian based on a definition I have created. I can say they are not acting in accordance with the generally agreed upon definition, if they tell me they are Christian, but don't believe in Jesus. Though I'm an outsider, I can apply their own definition. Of course, this means I have to know what that definition is, and there must be at least some general agreement.
We get into trouble when we assume another person is using the same definition we are. It's not unusual to hear religious people accuse atheists of worshipping the Devil or some similar religious conduct. This isn't true, and violates atheists' own definition. Does that mean no atheist worships the Devil? Yes. That is outside the definition agreed upon by atheists in general. If you claim to be an atheist, then you cannot worship any god or gods. Period. If you worship the Devil, or any deity, you are not an atheist, by definition. Some people may hold a different definition, personally, and claim that they are indeed an atheist who also worships some deistic figure, or a Christian that does not believe in Jesus, or a Girl Scout who has never signed up or taken the oath. Because they assert their membership in these groups, doesn't make it necessarily so. In other words, people can have their own definitions, but those definitions cannot contradict the most basic agreed upon definition that the group as a whole establishes, because if we allow this sort of personalized definition, words cease to have any useful meaning. There has to be some agreement. But the ultimate authority for what the definition ought to be lies with the membership of the group, and not with any outsiders.
That doesn't mean it will prove fruitful to argue with anyone about what labels they apply to themselves. Sometimes hard atheists will demand that agnostics admit they are really atheists. That's not helpful or legitimate. You can't decide for people how they must see themselves. You can, of course, tell them how you see them, if you wish.
That brings us to a second very important point. The list above states the most basic definitions for these things. Most of these larger groups have smaller subgroups. There are sects of Christianity and Islam. There are atheist plus type groups. And there are subsets of political parties. Here's a few subsets of larger groups you may have heard of:
- Catholic and Protestant Christians
- Log Cabin and Christian Conservative Republicans
- Progressive, ultra liberal, and moderate Democrats
- Leninist Communists
- Expatriot and naturalized Americans
- Suni or Shia Muslims
- hard atheists or agnostic atheists
- Keynesian or Chicago School economists
- Alternative, Bounce, Dirty South or East Coast Rappers
That's just a tiny sample. As soon as groups begin to splinter or develop additional identifiers for subgroups, we begin to see a tendency to add more requirements to be a true member of the group. So hard atheists accuse agnostics of being wishy-washy. Catholics say Protestants don't follow the true teachings and Protestants say Catholics worship idols. And Marxists and Leninists can't agree on an exact definition of a true Communist. Yet very few Catholics would claim Protestants weren't Christian at all. Rather, they'd usually say they are doing it wrong, and might end up in Hell for it. They recognize some basic definition exists which separates even poor Christians, from non-Christians. There is no confusion between an atheist and a Christian.
So, I am a feminist. But so is the purple haired girl showing her bare breasts to protest nuclear war. I think she's doing it wrong. She thinks I am repressed. I don't think many people would deny that she is a feminist, but for some reason, some of them don't realize that people like me even exist. So, when someone comments that "Feminism Ruins Everything," forgive me if I think, just maybe, you are defining my position by someone else's behavior. How does expecting women to be treated with respect and on an equal basis ruin anything? Unless your view of how things ought to be includes not treating women with respect and as an equal, that makes no sense.
I am a feminist.
But I have never said that salad ads are sexist, let alone wrote a whole play about it. I write books about Disney World and science fiction. I once wrote a story about vampyric pigs, and feminist views color all my writing, but I've never written about salad based sexism. I have never knitted a uterus. I sympathize with the cause of the women who did, but not their methods. I'm pretty sure the congresspeople who received these things found them funny and/or gross, and were not particularly motivated to vote in the way the women would have liked. If it doesn't work, I am not for it. If it works, and it hurts no one, go for it. I had thought you could categorize me, if you must categorize me, as a pragmatic-realist feminist. Not sure if that was already a thing, I looked it up. Pragmatic feminism is a thing. It's close to what I mean, but I think I'll stick with the hyphenated description to differentiate my street level kind of day-to-day feminism I ascribe to. I am far more interested in making sure all the jobs are open to women, than ensuring that there are actually a specific percentage of women in those jobs. I am far more interested in making sure that any one woman can do whatever she is best at, to the best of her ability, and get the rewards that effort deserves, than I am in highlighting the particular achievement of any one woman. I am more interested in quality of life for women, in general, than in achieving some high minded ideal. I am a bit hard headed about it, and by that I don't mean stubborn. I mean I just have so much time in my day, and I'm not spending it reading poetry, attending the Vagina Monologues, or dancing naked in the streets. I am busy trying to make a living, having fun, playing with my animals, and doing this thing called living life, probably much like you, whether you are a non-feminist, anti-feminist, or any kind of feminist.
What I have done, is entered a male dominated organization, the US Army, and worked my butt off every single day to be an exemplar of my sex and gender. When the males I worked with complained that "girls take advantage and don't work as hard", I demonstrated this was false, at least in my one case. And if it is false in one case, maybe it isn't a rule at all.
When a deployment came along, our First Sergeant took it upon himself to send only males. I volunteered, and complained, and persisted until my female assistant Platoon Sergeant took my case to the Colonel. Lo and behold! It turned out the order had not come from him, and I became the only female member of my unit to deploy during an era when women often got left back in garrison while the boys got the "glory". Later, when women were more common in the Army, I entered another job in the Army that was still male dominated, and worked my butt off again to prove that their assumptions about women were wrong. My fellow NCOs soon learned that I was not going to take advantage of my sex to avoid hard work or danger, and that I took my job and my career as seriously as any of them. We respected each other, even when respect was in short supply. That's the sort of feminism I believe in. Mostly, I am for the rights of women. You could call me a female rightsist.
I am a female rightsist.
Does it sound less exclusionary? Does it sound less fringe-y? Spellcheck tells me rightsist is not a word. It draws a red line under it and demands I change it. But it expresses far better where I sit on this scale. I am for the rights of women, all women, everywhere. I am not for elevation above others. I am not for handing them things they haven't earned. I am not declaring them queens or goddesses or divas. I am not for changing anyone's sexual orientation. I am not for demanding we all use the same bathroom, though I don't really care if we do. I don't care if you choose to live the life of housewife and stay at home mother, or if you prefer a job. I think you should have the right to do either, just as men should have that right. I think you have the right to fight and bleed and die alongside your male compatriots in combat if you choose to do so, and that you have the same obligation to do so, and right to refuse, as does any male. I see no reason for a hard dividing line there. When people accuse feminists of wanting their cake and to eat it besides, they may sometimes be right, but not in my case. I would ask for no right that I would not also expect for men to have, nor would I take from men any right they already have, save that right to control my destiny. Some would say there was another word for what I am. So, do I need to say I am not a feminist, but an egalitarian?
I am an egalitarian.
Yes, I am. But I am also a feminist. These things are not mutually exclusive unless you start tacking on all those other divisions, separations, and special categories. Let's put the definitions head to head.
Definition of egalitarianism
1: a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs
2: a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people
Definition of feminism
1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2: organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests
Note that egalitarianism does not exclude feminism, nor does feminism exclude egalitarianism. If we had a Venn diagram of all the isms, there would be considerable overlap between the two. Both want equality first and foremost, and seek to make the world a more equitable place socially, politically, and economically. The big difference is, feminism assumes that thus far females are not equal in all these ways, and seeks to improve that particular situation. It is not fighting against anyone's rights, but fighting especially hard for a specific subset of people's rights. It's like saying you are a dog lover, versus saying you are a dalmation lover. You don't love dogs less, you just love these particular dogs, especially.
Now imagine dogs were being abused. Say you were really appalled at a local dog fighting ring. Would you only fight for the dogs that were dalmations? Of course not, and no one would think that of you. What if the meanest dog in the pack were a dalmation? Would you lobby for tighter controls of all dalmations, or jump to the defense of dalmations and point out that schnauzers are meaner? Probably, you'd resist either extreme. You'd recognize that we are talking about one abused dalmation, not all dalmations, and nothing would really change in your views.
Let's talk about pit bulls - ugly pit bulls - the uglier the better. A mug even its mother couldn't love. Do you love pit bulls? Do you own one? People who love pit bulls are very protective and defensive of them. People who dislike pit bulls tend to judge them even without much information about any particular one. There are also people sort of in between. I don't love pit bulls. I have a hound and an Australian Shepherd. I don't hate pitbulls either. Sometimes pit bull lovers turn a blind eye on some really dangerous aspects of their lovable pets and do silly things like leaving a two year old child alone with their dog. If the two year old yanks his ears, will he bite? People who love pit bulls may find themselves feeling a little defensive just because I brought up this scenario. They know pit bulls are often assumed to be violent and get blamed a lot for things not their fault. People who hate or fear pit bulls will likely happily engage, saying of course parents shouldn't let their two year old near the pit bull. But I didn't even say that, did I? Pit bulls are a more emotional subject than dalmations because there is a history there that both sides of the debate are aware of.
It would be nice if we thought of people like we do the dalmation. We don't. People are pit bulls. Some people really are singled out as different and therefore inferior in some way. There's a lot of history there. It's nice to be egalitarian, to love all dogs the same, even if you are a dalmation owner. The reality is though, there are a lot of owners of pit bulls, and quite a few people who think owners of pitbulls are terrible people. Men and women don't start out in life as equals, dalmations, poodles, and pugs. They start out at two different levels, and it stays that way throughout their lives. Some people will hardly notice, like the pitbull owner surrounded by other pitbull owners, happy with the breed they love, or the dalmation owner who never realizes how her assumptions about pitbulls aren't based on reality. They are happy with their assumptions about the world. The vast majority of pitbull owners though, are only too aware. Some of them can't rent an apartment because apartment owners don't like scary dogs. Some of them may be told they have to give up their dogs, because their community has a "no dangerous dogs" policy. Some may have to pay higher fees for medical care, licensing, or boarding their dogs. Some pitbull owners may find they get hostile glares while out walking their doggy. And some may find themselves lampooned as the most dangerous of gang bangers or the most ignorant of rednecks. They know that it's all good to love all dogs the same, but that doesn't help their dog really get treated as it should, as an equal. Joining the local Humane Society chapter won't really get people to see the value of their pitbulls. Instead, they may join a Pitbull Lover's Facebook group, or give money to a rescue program just for pitbulls. "Why don't you take all dogs?" Some might say. They may be accused of a sort of reverse bias against non-pitbulls. To make it worse, some of their members might go online and say hateful things about rottweilers or dauchsunds. Some of the members might get in trouble for running dog fighting rings, or for starving their dogs, or for foolishly leaving their two year old alone with their new pitbull. It's a constant uphill struggle to get people to love pitbulls as they do other dog breeds, to give them a chance.
Men and women don't start off equal, and no matter how many silly women do silly things, that doesn't change the fact that men and women are not equally discriminated against or that suddenly and magically women are not discriminated against anymore. If one or a hundred women never face discrimination in their personal lives, that does not mean it is not an endemic problem for all the rest. To be a feminist is to merely recognize that this inequality exists, and to side with the women in general. One can be an egalitarian and a feminist. There's no need to pick between the two. I like dogs, all dogs, but I like my old hound dog and my crazy shepherd best of all. The pitbull lover can give money to the Human Society and also work tirelessly for the creation of better rules for pitbulls, in particular. Being especially committed to ending an unfair situation for one subgroup in particular does not mean one has to dislike any other, be it dogs, or people.
I don't hate men.
I don't hate men, or gays, or people of color, or rich people, or Muslims, or Christians, or members of the Lion's Club. I just don't happen to be a member of any of those groups. Christians form Christian groups, and work to ensure their rights are protected and understood. Gays form gay rights groups and work to present their message to the public and earn their place in society. Men are welcome to do the same, in my opinion. The thing is, men don't have to work very hard at it. There are some issues that effect men disproportionately negatively as compared to women. Testicular cancer is not a cause many women are going to be fighting very hard against. Male domestic abuse victims and rape victims need other men to come together to help them get the recognition they deserve and to destigmatize their experiences. When my son was little, I read that circumcision actually wasn't based on good science. I thought that a good enough argument against it. Apparently, not everyone agrees and I give men who are fighting this false fixed belief credit for organizing against it. But I am not a pediatrician. I had only one child, and made my decision long ago. So, I don't have strong enough feelings on these issues to fight alongside men as strongly for them as I would for my own issues. Still, I support them and would certainly buy a donut at their fundraiser, vote for their causes when presented, sign their petition if asked, and take their side in an argument. I don't hate men. I'm just not one. That's why I understand when men are less interested in feminism than am I. Why should they be?
I am an ally.
Men benefit from feminism and women benefit from men's rights. I've already mentioned several examples from my own life. When my son was born, I had a million questions and concerns, and it seemed none of them were the ones most magazines offered advice on. I already decided to use both cloth and disposable diapers. I was going to breastfeed, but was not fundamentally opposed to bottle feeding as needed. I couldn't care less whether my son had a blankie or binkie, and neither did he. But should I circumcise my son? I didn't even know that was an option. Now I was being asked to choose. Luckily, men's rights groups were just getting off the ground, and someone had written a well researched article on the practice. I read it, and then followed up with several more, all of which came to the same conclusion... it was an unnecessary, possibly painful, potentially dangerous procedure that had outlived its usefulness, if ever indeed it had any. So my decision was made easier by the men's rights movement, and they never even knew it.
When I volunteered to deploy on a humanitarian mission, I did it for personal career reasons. I needed a promotion. I needed the money. I was a single parent trying to support my son on a brand new Sergeant's income. In fact, the first time I raised my hand, I was still a Specialist. I would do just about anything for those promotion points, to look good on my NCOER (NonCommissioned Officer Evaluation Report), and to be considered ahead of others for Staff Sergeant. This was the 1990's, and women had a hard time outshining their male compatriots. Deployments were hard to come by, and you didn't get into the senior NCO positions without some overseas time. But not everyone felt that way. Men were often required to deploy, whether they wanted to or not, no matter their family situation, and even if they had previously deployed. It so happened that when I volunteered the second time, there was a man in my unit that did not want to go, but was being forced to deploy despite his having become a new father. It was cruel timing. There was no need to send him, if I could go in his stead. He could spend time with his infant son, and I could make the money I needed to support mine. Everyone benefits when we don't make decisions based on silly, outmoded, preconceived biases.
During this same time period, we had a gay man in our unit. This was the era of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and our First Sergeant and Commander were out to prove this young man was up to no good. They really violated his rights in a number of ways, but he was in no position to fight them. They pressed harder and harder, and the NCOs in the unit began to feel less and less comfortable with their open hostility to this young man who had done nothing particularly wrong. He was a goofy kid who did his job, showed up on time, and kept his nose clean. Who cared who we spent his evenings with anyway? The harder the command pushed, the more the rest of the unit resented their intrusion into our personal lives. And so, as usually happens sooner or later, someone complained. An investigation ensued, and the First Sergeant was sent away. A new First Sergeant relaxed the rules and treated everyone with greater respect for their privacy and autonomy. We were adults again! None of the little rules and violations had stacked up to enough for any of us to complain, until this young man had to fight for his right to serve at all. Yet his fight ended with all of us better off. That's when I learned we are all stronger together, and fighting for others' rights can help you obtain or keep your own. You can't have freedom for some. So I am an ally... to men, to gays, to people with whom I may have very little in common, but to whom I owe the same support as I would ask from them.
I am a feminist.
You don't have to be. You be you. Define yourself by whatever is important to you, whatever part of you that you need to defend, or support, or brag about, whatever interests you hold, or dogs you love. I just ask that before you declare that you are not a feminist, or are an anti-feminist, that you properly define what feminism is, and is not. And then, judge me only by the definition I hold. Remember, I don't knit, I don't hate men, I love dogs and amusement parks and spelunking, and am more than that one definition. I'll try to do the same for you.
Cambodia Acid Survivors/New Day: http://www.newdayasia.org/…/cambodian-acid-survivors-chari…/
Women for Women: http://www.womenforwomen.org/
Unicef Shot at Life: http://shotatlife.org/
Populations Services International: http://www.psi.org/
Girls Not Brides: http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/take-action
Acid Survivors Trust International: http://www.acidviolence.org/