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We Still Need Feminism

28 Jan

by Clara Gustafson

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.

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Feminism: A Necessary Ingredient for LGBT Equality

26 Jan

by Mark Stern

My first year at Georgetown University, I saw a flyer on campus advertising a meeting for “LGBT pro-life students.” The meeting, further research uncovered, was sponsored by PLAGAL, the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (former name: Gays Against Abortion). The organization, whose logo contains a fetus levitating in a cartoon heart winged with rainbow spikes, does not boast an extensive membership list or a high profile. But it’s still worth contemplating, not just as an amusingly pathetic fringe organization of very confused people, but as a reminder of why feminism and LGBT equality fuse so neatly.

Today, the women’s rights and gay rights movement overlap in myriad arenas: nonprofits that support one almost uniformly support the other; they share support from largely the same demographics; and their concrete goals are frequently identical. Intersectionality–the feminist theory that discrimination is best seen as a web of societal oppression that affects more that the explicitly targeted group–explains some of this, but so does common sense. Sexual orientation, like sex, is an inborn trait–in other words, part of one’s identity. And to be oppressed due to one’s identity obviously violates the very premise of equality.

The oppression inflicted upon women and LGBT people is vast and longstanding, too sweeping to catalog in any great detail here. At the heart of both forms of discrimination, however, lies a denial of one’s right to chose one’s own destiny, to follow one’s own heart, to live as an equal human being. These basic rights–fundamental to the American Constitution–can be easily ripped away by a majoritarian society unsympathetic to the plight of persecuted peoples. This dehumanization was, and remains, a core principle of the anti-choice movement, which cloaks its agenda in concern for human life while championing measures that demean and degrade women’s dignity. When the anti-choice movement proposes that women seeking an abortion have a large probe inserted in their vaginal canals and be forced to gaze at their fetus, they are not, in any way, respecting human life. Rather, they are revealing the true intention of anti-choice activism: to shame, humiliate, and frighten women against exerting control over their own bodies.

This goal is the hollow heart behind the anti-choice movement’s plaintive cries for mercy for “human life.” Theirs is a selective kind of mercy, one which ignores the dignity of women while obsessing over the potential of a cluster of cells. I once stood on the steps of the Supreme Court with about twenty activists from the National Organization of Women while 75,000 anti-choice Catholic protesters surrounded, taunted, and shamed us for our beliefs. (Several shoved, kicked, and cursed us.) After witnessing firsthand the manic passion with which these people oppose abortion–and the chillingly savage vitriol with which they treat their opponents–I must believe that many have been duped into the laughable notion that the anti-choice movement is about babies. But a brief look at the history of anti-choice activism proves beyond a doubt that it is not; it is about women, and preventing them from controlling their bodies and their destinies. When a woman is forced to carry an unwanted child to term by the state, she is being denied a basic tenet of liberty, surrendering her independence, physically and mentally, and power over her own fate.

Without the right over their own reproductive systems, of course, women inhabit a lower place in society–exactly the place most anti-choice activists desire them to be. A fully empowered woman with true autonomy is a threat to a male-dominated society; free of the fear of unwanted children, women have been able to flourish in the work force, enter the upper echelon of politics, and rise through the ranks of the military. With the right to choose snatched away, much of this progress would be reversed. This factor, above all else, explains why self-proclaimed pro-life feminist groups are such a farce: to be anti-choice is to be anti-feminist. Many–perhaps most–of the hard-fought gains of modern feminism spring from pro-choice activism. Roe v. Wade did more than legalize abortion in the United States. It recognized a woman’s right to be an equal human being.

An identical goal lies beneath the fight for marriage equality. As Molly Ball explained in her gripping account of 2012 marriage equality battles, same-sex marriage–while a noble and worthy goal in and of itself–is really an umbrella issues, one which captures a plenitude of other LGBT aims. To recognize a same-sex couple’s right to get married is to recognize the dignity of each partner, the validity of their love, the strength of their commitment. Anti-LGBT advocates have long succeeded by denying LGBT people such dignity; gay people have been painted as freaks, perverts, predators, and libertines. All of these allegations are incorrect to the point of silliness, but they were shockingly effective in allowing otherwise decent people ignore LGBT cries for equality. Same-sex marriage potently undermines each calumnious accusation in one fell swoop, revealing gay people to be regular human beings who want only the same rights as straight people, the same opportunity to pursue a committed relationship with the person they love. The fight for marriage equality, in the final analysis, is really quite similar to the fight for abortion rights, a crusade for the freedom to live one’s life free of oppression, state-sponsored opprobrium, and shame.

Which brings us back to PLAGAL. It should be clear at this point that the very notion of an anti-choice group founded and run by LGBT people violently contradicts the central precepts of LGBT equality. To advocate for LGBT rights while campaigning against women’s rights is as illogical as being a vegan hunter. To support one but not the other is to deny that all human beings deserve equal rights, equal protections, and equal opportunities. And the fact that a class of historically oppressed people are willing–enthusiastic, even–to perpetuate prejudice onto another is not just dispiriting: it’s embarrassing. Feminism and LGBT equality don’t merely overlap in specific goals; they spring from the same principle of justice. At their core is the same battle for rights, the same fight for equality, and soldiers for one side are soldiers for both. PLAGAL and other such self-contradictory groups are an affront to feminists and gay people alike, implying that pro-choice beliefs are not an inherent part of equal rights. These groups are wrong: there is no more vital component of equality than choice. And the hopelessly confused dogma of anti-choice gay people deserves no place in the LGBT movement’s march toward victory.

Fabulous Feminist Fridays: What does feminism mean to you?

25 Jan

In Honor of Fabulous Feminist Fridays, we present you with select responses to the question: What does feminism mean to you?

I am feminist because I believe in equality.  Feminism has nothing to do with shaving legs or burning bras; it’s about fighting for the rights, freedom, and opportunities that men take for granted.

Mary Toscano

The global sisterhood. Supporting and empowering women who do not have the same opportunities I have.

Kat Kelley

Feminism, to me, stands solely for equality. It does not mean hating men (as a man, that would make no sense), it does not mean lesbianism (again, I cannot be a lesbian because I have a penis), it does not mean yelling loudly in the streets, and it does not mean every woman has to become CEO. It means a woman has just as much right to choose for her life what she wants out of it as a man does. If someone tells her to live it any other way, be it from man or woman, than she has been wronged, and as a feminist, I seek to right that.

Johan Clarke

For me, feminism is empowerment, equality, justice, a challenge to oppression, and a movement that puts forth the notion that all people deserve dignity, respect, rights, and opportunities.

Erin Riordan

What does feminism mean to YOU? Leave your answers in the comments.

To be included in next week’s edition of “Fabulous Feminist Fridays,” email feministsatlarge@gmail.com with your response to the following question: What movies or T.V. shows speak to your brand of feminism or have inspired you to be a feminist? Include one to three sentences explaining why.

The Forgotten Poem

25 Jan

by Kat Kelley

Even some revolutionaries are lovers, and even some poets have sweethearts and babies.
Even some women change the world, and even some mothers have become themselves.
I keep on wanting everything, and wanting you to want it too.

My mother handed me this poem, printed on a cobalt rectangle, before I traveled to Egypt, at age seventeen. She’s seen the world, and she made it all happen for herself. And she gave me the following poem, which saw Israel and Nicaragua, Poland and Kenya, tucked deep in her wallet.

This cobalt rectangle is sacred. It’s a relic. A letter in a bottle, washed up on the shores. A forgotten poem.

The day has come- Google has failed me- the only result I’ve been able to find on the poem is from an online forum, from the Nassau Community College. In Courier font, Caroline reminisces “I handcut a silkscreen stencil of a very, very short and beautiful poem […] and made it into a poster […] It was the early days of the women’s liberation movement, London.”

That is all.

I slip the cobalt rectangle out from time to time- kayaking on the Nile at sunset, on the taxi ride home from my strictly females-only aerobic class in Muscat, at the Ubuntu at Work workspace- watching the women use the power saw for the first time.

I keep on wanting everything, and wanting you to want it too.

The poem speaks silent volumes. It is a forgotten voice from the early years of the women’s movement. It tells of the enduring sacrifices. It tells of women shattering their glass ceilings, but remembering that it’s okay to want a partner and love and children too. It speaks of redefining “having it all”- and realizing what “it all” means to you.

I keep on wanting everything, and wanting you to want it too.

This line is my checks and balances. It reminds me that it’s okay to know that one day I will make sacrifices for my family, not because I am a woman, but because I want to coach U-8 soccer, take the girl scouts into the mountains, help my son memorize his lines for the upcoming drama production, and slam my foot on a non-existent break while watching my babies behind the wheel for the first time.

I keep on wanting everything, and wanting you to want it too.

It served as my cultural relativism while abroad in Egypt, Oman, India, and Sri Lanka. It reminds me that while our choices do not exist in a vacuum, while one’s choices are inextricably bound by their culture, history, and happenstance, their choices are still valid.

After a weekend with the bedouins, I called my mother from my apartment in Muscat. It was idyllic- I drank camel’s milk and rode in a four-wheeler through Arabian dunes, watched massive turtles protect their eggs and trekked and breaststroked into a cave housing a waterfall. But as I sat on the edge of my bed, I broke down. To hell with cultural relativism. “Just because women were taken as hostages in tribal warfare hundreds of years ago, doesn’t mean they should have to cover themselves, don all black, and refrain from engaging in platonic relationships with men!” I wanted to stop hearing excuses for gender inequality. I wanted more for Omani women than many of them wanted for themselves.

I keep on wanting everything, and wanting you to want it too.

Even in class, there are moments that this line floats through my mind.

Preparing a fifteen minute presentation for class on the negative health outcomes of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was simple (except finding pictures to include in the slideshow). Challenging a tradition that is all you’ve ever known, that whisks you into womanhood, that inducts you into the realms of your mother and aunts, grandmother and ancestors, on which marriage is contingent in your village- this is not simple.

I keep on wanting everything, and wanting you to want it too.

As a feminist I strive to shatter my own glass ceilings, to support and empower the women in my life to do the same. However, I must remind myself that most women were not raised by a mother who taught them to thrive in challenging the status quo. And we must simultaneously recognize the validity of others’ choices, while fighting the influences that restrict those choices.

Texas-Style Feminism

22 Jan

by Vail Kohnert-Yount 

My relationship with my home state of Texas is a complicated one. I often quote the late, great Texan writer Molly Ivins: “I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.”I was frustrated by much of what I experienced growing up as a young woman in Texas. One of my high school classes once debated whether or not women should “be allowed” to work outside the home. In 2011, only seven of Houston’s 200 highest paid executives were women, and it was hailed as a great success. I would list the anti-woman antics of the Texas Legislature, but I don’t want to ruin your day.

However, there is a storied tradition of Texan women who dare to buck the patriarchy: Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, and Beyonce, to name a few.  I believe the country would be a better place if we exported more of this Texas-style feminism and fewer of our governors. But even though I had lots of strong female role models in Texas, especially among family and friends, I wanted out. I dreamed of greener (and politically bluer) pastures where women wouldn’t be treated like prize livestock.

And so I arrived in our nation’s capital at the age of 18. Just like Texas, I dearly love Georgetown, but it’s not exactly a feminist wonderland. While I think Georgetown can be a great place for women, it has its faults. The fact of the matter is that Georgetown unapologetically affiliates itself with an institution that tells me and my fellow women that there is no place for us in its leadership.

Thus, I feel conflicted as a woman leader on this campus. One one hand, I am inspired by incredible women on this campus every day. But on the other hand, I wonder why I give $50,000 a year to an institution that would rather force a student to have her ovary surgically removed than allow her to be prescribed the hormonal pills she needed to manage her polycystic ovarian syndrome. (For what it’s worth, Georgetown has since acknowledged that it was a mistake.)
I once had a male student tell me that if I didn’t like Georgetown’s policies toward women, then I shouldn’t have come here. I was disappointed that a member of the esteemed Philodemic Society would resort to such an argumentative fallacy, but maybe he was right: maybe I shouldn’t have. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about this institution, and it doesn’t mean I won’t fight like hell to change it.
Being at Georgetown has showed me more than ever that we need feminism, here and everywhere. Why?
Because a friend of mine was sexually assaulted, and the email that alerted the campus community to the incident was the laughingstock of the whole school. Because when I was elected to serve as the vice president of GUSA on the first ever all-female ticket, a representative of another campaign posted a Facebook status lamenting the demise of the “boys club.” Because I told a friend that I had been sexually harassed by a DPS officer, and she said, “Me too.”
Women have made a lot of progress–we weren’t even fully allowed into Georgetown until 1969–but we have a long way left to go. This is why I feel so frustrated when young women who enjoy the freedoms and fruits of feminism, especially young women at Georgetown who owe their first-rate college education to the feminists who fought before them, say things like, “I’m not a feminist, but…” But what? You like going to Georgetown? Thanks to feminists, you can!As the feminist writer Caitlin Moran said, “What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it the freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?” Not that there’s anything wrong with being drunk at the time of the survey.There are easier places to be a woman than Texas or Georgetown, and I know that it’s tempting to want to give up and fly the coop. I remember hearing a feisty feminist friend say once after a particularly frustrating experience with Georgetown’s patriarchy, “I should have just gone to Smith.” I know women who have left Georgetown because they couldn’t take it anymore, and I can’t blame them.

But places like Georgetown–and Texas, and really everywhere else too–need women like us to stand up, speak out, and fight back. When Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, was asked about what she might have done differently, she answered, “Oh, I would probably have raised more hell.” In honor of Ann and all the women who came before us, let’s go raise some hell.

I’m a White, Middle-Class Man, Aged 18-40. What Could Feminism Mean For Me?

22 Jan

by Thomas Lloyd

Feminist writing, like most “-ist” writing, usually includes a discussion of oppression, stereotyping, disadvantage, privilege, and race-or-sex-or-able-androcentr-“-ism,”s. We hear about how society is structured a certain way to advance a majority that is a dominant “other.” The most universal privileged “other” described in “-ist” writing is the white, middle-class, young, heterosexual male.

As someone who received all but one of the aforementioned traits in the birth lottery, (I got sass and high cheekbones instead of heterosexuality), I have often struggled to find a place for myself within the feminist movement while simultaneously acknowledging my privilege. There were obvious ways that I cold find solidarity with the strong women in my life being that I am a LGBTQ person, but I was unsatisfied only finding a place for myself within the feminist movement as a gay man. Luckily for me, I think that feminist ideals have something that members of even ascendant majority should yearn for.

As a man, and especially as a more fabulous gentleman, I stand to gain by a deconstruction of gender norms. Every heterosexual man has “feminine” traits that necessarily “set him apart” from the accepted “norm.” I know, I’ve seen Taylor Swift listed as one of your favorite artists, or the pastel-colored shorts you walk around in with your shirt tucked in. Changing the norm, so that it is not necessarily masculine, not only elevates women, but it also frees men from the bro-tastic obligations we place on ourselves.

As a person for whom getting a tan warrants a visit to the dermatologist, I (and the world) stand to gain from the goal of diversifying those who hold office and are in positions of power. Diversity in leadership, of experience and, of choice will revitalize and expand innovation.

As a student at a Jesuit University, I stand to be more in line with my schools values of cura personalis. Only by engaging another’s identity can I truly serve them, or truly know myself.

As a (grand)son, I could find solace by knowing that my (grand)mother wouldn’t have to face roadblocks or bureaucratic obstacles simply because of their gender.

As a brother, I could find relief that my sister wouldn’t have to feel held back by societal constraints that I felt growing up as a gay man.

As a person, my own dignity would be reinforced by reaffirming the equality and dignity of every other person.

As a human being, I stand to gain from feminism.