Guess what? You're probably a feminist.
If I'm right (and I like to think I usually am- occupational hazard), the majority of women reading that are cringing at this shocking allegation. I get it.
Growing up, the term “feminist” was largely construed as a dirty word reserved for man-hating crazy people who did nothing but whine and stage protests.
With this knowledge in mind, I also wasn't surprised when the results of our recent survey came in. When asked the question, “Do you consider yourself a feminist?” 73.4% percent of respondents said no. We left a space for people to tell us more about their thoughts on the subject. Some responses included:
“I am a woman who cares about people. I care what happens in the world. So what does that make me?”
“I'm really not sure of my opinion on this subject. I believe that we should have equal rights, however I don't think we should use those rights to put ourselves above men.”
“I believe in traditional roles for women and that even affected my marriage when I was married. I work now, but I can work in a field where I can try to revolve around my son.”
Again, none of this was surprising. However, what if we were to ask you these questions:
- Do you believe that women should get to choose whether they ever get married?
- Do you believe that women should be able to pursue a career if they wish?
- Do you believe women who stay at home and raise children are strong?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you're probably a feminist. Confused? Let me explain.
Riding the Wave
The term “feminism” refers to the study and movement that promotes the rights of women. Like most movements, feminism has evolved over the years through three main stages, called “waves.” Each wave had distinct goals and accomplishments.
First Wave Feminism largely dealt with establishing legal equality for women. Suffrage, or the battle for women's right to vote, was the cornerstone of this movement in America, which lead to other fights for equal access in different arenas. These feminists made work, wearing pants and general personhood acceptable for women.
Second Wave Feminism dealt with establishing acknowledged equality within society. The feminists fighting during this time period wanted not just the law, but their peers, to view and treat them as equals. Equal pay was a major accomplishment of this wave, but the majority of their influence was intangible, measured only by the confidence and bravery of a new generation of women who were unafraid to go against the norm.
It was during this wave of feminism that the movement began to gain a bad rap. A small subset of extreme feminists became vocal enough that feminism was soon associated with man bashing or hating, which alienated many women (and men) who might have otherwise been sympathetic to the cause. The movement fractured, and failed to regain the momentum it had once enjoyed.
Enter Third Wave Feminism. This is today. Third Wave Feminism revolves around the concept of identity politics, which is just a fancy way of saying self-definition. The argument here is that ovaries should not dictate any particular manner of behavior, lifestyle or choices. People should be able to choose the life that's right for them without consideration of how their gender plays into things.
Interested in having 15 kids? Awesome. Cringe at the thought of raising a child? That's ok, too. Longing for a fairytale wedding and happily ever after? Go for it. Happy living on your own? Good for you. Burn your bra, shave your head, dress traditionally, or defer to your husband for big decisions. Do what you'd like. As long as your life is the one you choose, it should be respected. If you value the right to make decisions regarding your own life and respect the rights of others to do the same, your beliefs line up with those of modern day feminism.
The thing is, most people don't realize what feminism is. Their understanding of the movement is largely associated with the views expressed by the “man-haters” of the Second Wave. This is entirely understandable. Feminists of the Third Wave haven't effectively presented their beliefs in a cohesive manner. Unfortunately, this failure in communication has resulted in a squashing of effective dialogue on the subject.
Further exacerbating the issue is the perceived disconnect between feminism and faith. There are thousands of pages of scholarly feminist literature out there that criticize religious institutions for discriminating against women. Some of their allegations have merit, while others do not. The problem is that this literature base has created the perception that feminists hate religion. This goes back to that whole “choose your own life” thing. Feminists can believe anything they choose, and in reality, spirituality and the examination of self can only lead to more honest self-definition. In that vein, feminism and spirituality reinforce one another.