I believe that Caitlin Moran said it best in her book How To Be a Woman when she contended that despite the gains of the women’s movement in the last half-century, “we still need the word feminism.” There isn’t a better term to describe what women have been fighting for since the moment we stepped out of the kitchen: equality of opportunity, the ability to choose what to do—no matter what that is. Granted, there were glass ceilings at least nine feet thick in many places in our society preventing women from participating in any way. That’s why many women of the preceding generations had to take up the word feminism with fervor, together to punch through eight and a half feet of glass ceiling. Those women had to do it all so that today we have the greater ability to choose. However, doing it all is impossible and their fight for equality probably affected many friendships and areas of those women’s lives. The men have never had to do it all. There is no reason that my great-great aunts, great aunts, and aunts should have been expected to do all of this, but they were and together it looked like they succeeded.
This mirage of the miracle woman, the woman who needs no man or even a friend, is just that—a mirage. This idea, at least in my lifetime, was made popular by Anne Marie Slaughter in her much talked-about article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” in the Atlantic Magazine. I think it has taken a generation and will take a few more for women to realize that now, with only a half a foot left to destroy, the idea is not for women to run everything everywhere. The idea is for men, women, gender-nonconformists, and everyone to have the ability to choose. Choose parenthood, choose to not have kids, choose to work full-time, choose to stay at home, choose to work part-time and stay at home part-time…. the list of options is endless. The ability to choose any of the endless options is still not available to many women in our nation. This is why we still need the word feminism. Every person who wants the ability to choose their future, and not be paid less for doing the same job as others in your field because of who you are, should identify as a feminist.
Personally, it has taken me, a 22-year-old white girl from crunchy Portland, OR, all my life to really embrace and own the fact that I am a feminist and have always been a feminist. For me the word feminism connoted aggressive and obvious actions to advance all things female. Growing up my mom stayed at home and we played sports and were encouraged to push the limits and become the best at everything. The problem for me with feminism, or what I perceived to be feminism, were comments about women who didn’t work, or who got four year degrees and then decided to stay at home to raise kids. My mother is the hardest-working woman I know. “Staying at home” is no picnic, and on top of raising us kids my mother has volunteered for everything under the sun that needs an extra pair of hands. In college I have never really studied the word “feminism” or taken any Women’s and Gender Studies classes. However, as I have been exposed to more of the world and read more broadly I have found that the comments of my past were not comments from true feminists. A true feminist celebrates a person’s, especially a woman’s, ability to choose how they want to live out their life. Putting down my mother only alienated me from the cause of feminism. We need to embrace the ability to choose different ways of life, even if a particular way wouldn’t make you happy. It’s not about you, necessarily. It’s about the other person. It’s about every person and their ability to make a decision for their own life entirely independent of anyone else.