If the title of this post scares you, I would ask yourself: “Do I believe in human rights?” Read on to find out why.
A lot of people who “believe in” gender equality and sexual freedom and blah blah blah are prone to say “I’m not a feminist, but…” And who can really blame them? When you’ve got people like Madonna and Camille Paglia calling themselves feminist (or worse, when they’re both happening at the same time), is that really an entity you want to associate yourself with? Before actually reading books and stuff from feminist theorists, most of my exposure to “feminist philosophy” came in forms that seemed to reiterate sexism, misogyny, hierarchy, and inequality, which was a major turn-off. These are the “brands” of feminism that are generally popularized or seized upon by mass media or discussed by the public at large. That’s probably because it a) is easy to digest (i.e. not intellectually challenging) and b) validates rather than challenges their cultural beliefs about sex, gender, etc.
Then there are the brands of feminism that are popularized not because they’ve been deemed tolerable, but because they are fodder for critics who like taglines and oversimplification. They become infamous, in other words. Take radical feminism: radical feminists are portrayed as man-hating, anti-sex, lesbian, and have an aversion to certain undergarments. The agenda and philosophies promoted by radical feminists, aka “feminazis“, are not as important as the caricature we can make out of them. Caricature= = fun, serious discussion of hierarchal privilege = major downer.
And if you buy any of those stereotypes, then obviously feminism sounds like garbage– as it did to me for most of growing up.
So what, then, is “real” feminism?
As it has often been said, feminism is hardly definable. There is a multitude of “schools” in feminism, or brands as I prefer to call them– maybe it’s easiest for Americans to think of it like the various “splits” of Christianity. You’ve got your Baptists and your Catholics and your UUs, and then there are those “non-denominational” folks who opt out of association with a particular brand. I guess you could say I’m a “non-denominational” feminist. I do have a definition of feminism that I subscribe to, which is dynamic and evolving, but first let’s see how some other people have defined feminism…
bell hooks said in her book Feminism is for Everybody that “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.”
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says: “the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”
Cheris Kramarae: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”
And the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says “Feminism is both an intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks justice for women and the end of sexism in all forms.”
Feminism has been called a theory, a movement, a belief, a sisterhood, all of the above. When I get around to it I’ll post some quotes defining feminism that I don’t have on hand at the moment.
The thing about most definitions of feminism, though, is that they are unavoidably narrow, simplistic, or far too broad. Perhaps it’s impossible to define such a diverse, multicultural, and ever-changing entity. I can talk about what feminism means to me, however.
My feminism is descriptive, prescriptive, inclusive, diverse, and is both theory and action. Feminism as a theory explores culture and the systems of hierarchy rooted in culture, some of which are based on class, race, sex, age, ability, location, occupation, and so on. As action, feminism means the deconstruction of these hierarchies and the promotion and celebration of certain ideals, not for some persons or groups of people, but for all individuals. The ideals of my feminism are also what I consider to be the most essential human rights: freedom of choice, freedom of self-expression, bodily autonomy and integrity, and informed agency which does not violate the human rights of any other individual.
See? I did it too. Oversimplified, too broad. Whatever. I like it. And I like feminism. There, I said it. Maybe this is also a good time to say how much of a crock I think the idea of “post-feminism” is. @#%^#$ and that’s all I have to say about that…for now.