Reclaiming feminism

By Hannah Sparks

Feminism – simply say the word and some people run for the door, others get ready for a fight and others will nod politely but never engage. Some people might get involved in civil conversation, and a few brave souls might even own up to actually being a feminist.

I am one of those brave feminist souls, and since a lot of people aren’t totally sure as to what that truly means, I intend to set everyone straight on feminism’s most basic tenets.

A cursory Google search for feminism yields an interesting assortment of results. The first page is mostly definitions, but as you keep descending into the depths, you run into stuff like “Feminism is Evil!,” “Feminists Love Divorce!,” “Feminism has held back working men,” and, my personal favorite, “Will the feminists ever stop their incessant bitching?”

To be fair, much of the criticism of feminism is based upon the fact that it seems that the people we don’t want deciding its definition are often the ones who do. Radical feminist ideas, which can scare people off, are given a lot of attention and thereby skew the picture of what the average feminist believes. A minority of men who range from insecure to blatantly sexist also skew the image of what feminism is by painting it as something ugly, irrational and unfeminine.

The existence of these two incorrect pictures explains why a lot of people reflexively jump to say that they’re not feminists when the topic comes up. This reflex is foolish but can’t really be helped in a world that likes to paint things in extremes and allow for no middle ground, much like the virgin/whore complex that feminists hate.

Feminism has its root in reaction to male privilege and the inequality of patriarchal society, as well as to violence against women. I’m not going into the topics of privilege or violence at length because a lot of it seems to be common knowledge. Most of you probably know that straight, white men are privileged in our society – bonus points if you’re rich and Christian – and that, generally, women are the victims of sexual and relationship violence more often than men.

Remember that Google search? The official Google definition for feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” The Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com all say something similar, but I like Wikipedia’s variation the best: “a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.”

Notice a trend here? Feminism, even though it is a woman-specific term, is about equality of the sexes – not about hating men. While some people whine that it’s even called feminism, when you consider that there is no White History Month or International Men’s Day or straight pride parades, it makes sense. There is really no such thing as man-ism or masculinism, because man-ism is typically the default setting for the world.

However, equality does not necessarily mean equivalency. Some feminists might disagree with this, but in all practicality, men and women are different and many believe they have different responsibilities, and with these different responsibilities come different priorities. For example, having access to birth control is not as high of a priority for men as it is for women, because pregnancy affects women more than men. Different responsibilities and priorities aside, the chief tenet of feminism is that men and women should have the same political, social and economic rights.

So, if you believe that women should be able to vote and run for office, be educated, be employed outside of the home, have control over their finances, have access to birth control, have social roles outside of wife and mother, be independent and be safe from sexual or relationship violence, then you’re pretty much a feminist. In other words, if you respect women and care about the inequalities they still face, then you’re a feminist.

By my definition, it seems that one is either a feminist or a completely reprehensible person. It’s a stark black and white picture, but it serves a purpose.

Chances are most people believe that women should have the rights listed above, but many of them are afraid to call themselves feminists as the word carries negative connotations of bra-burning, man-hating radicals. The fact of the matter is that feminists have to reclaim their title by removing its false stigma, and work together both to change the way people react to feminist ideas and to apply those ideas for reform.

If this all seems unnecessary, and it seems like feminism has run its course and should be left in the 1970s: it’s not, and it hasn’t and it shouldn’t.

The issues of the 1970s are popping back up again in the much-publicized Republican “war on women.” The fact that a prominent group of people is actually considering – and in some cases implementing – these ideas shows that feminism is far from reaching its true goals. It’s easy to write off the politicians and pundits involved in the “war” as crazy, but when you consider how insidious sexism is in our culture, it becomes clear that we still have quite a way to go. The first step, it seems, is to side against inequality – on all levels – and not be afraid to do so openly.

Hannah Sparks is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]