The first encounter I remember with the term feminism was in my high-school Environmental Science class. My notes from the class define 'Ecofeminism' as "an ethic (applied philosophy that addresses the moral conduct of people and the environment) which believes that humans need to have a less domineering relationship with nature." The second encounter with the term was in my last year of college during a "Issues and Criticism of Contemporary Art Class." Our class discussed one of the several definitions from our text book, Why is That Art? by Terry Barrett, the main one being "...to be feminist is a political choice, a choice toward action to resist and to change the status quo." I may have been too busy rolling my eyes at the professor to catch all of what 'feminist' art entailed, but that definition did sink in (more so than the one in the back of the book). And, as I do, I mixed it with my previous understanding of the term to come up with something I liked, something I wanted to be.
My feminism comes down to a single moral: one entity is not superior to another just because a society says so. A very American ideal. Instead, we should base individuals' or items' value on their own merits. Is a tulip better than a dandelion? Yes, you can buy tulips OR No, you can't eat a tulip. They serve different purposes, so why should you automatically say one is better than the other? Because Home Depot sells dandelion herbicide and tulip bulbs? Incorrect, that's just a social construct telling you that one is better than the other because having tulips means you have room in your 18th century garden to grow non-edible plants. Feminism is not about blindly following what other people say, and a feminist questions the status quo. [Note: I did not say feminists take political action every chance they get. You can be a feminist without leaving your couch.]
Such a definition requires me to actively approach situations with skepticism. People often dismiss feminists as 'crazy' women who jump to conclusions (formerly known as 'Man-Eaters'). People of color get the same dismissal by the name of 'Playing the Race Card'. The problem is, when an individual lives in a society where he or she often is treated unfairly, a misunderstanding comes off as inequality. A feminist calling out every situation as an instance of inequality makes people more aware of the frequency of inequality and can give others' the courage to stand up to the inequality they see around them. Without vocal skepticism, Brown vs the Board of Education could not have ignited an entire civil rights movement that ended legal racial segregation.
Which brings me to a component of my feminism that may not be so obvious: Feminism is not solely about women's oppression. I can apply it to issues regarding the environment, race, sexual-orientation, socio-economic class, mental health, age, etc. Hell, I can apply it to the Nielson Rating System. Anytime a society shows unwarranted bias towards a particular group. Magazines, for example, feature more whites than non-whites on their covers, and thereby undervalue people of color. Ebony, and other magazines specifically aimed towards non-whites, does not feature whites on its cover. I do not see Ebony as undervaluing whites, but following a warranted bias to make up for the lack of non-whites in the larger magazine industry. Giving special opportunities to 'the oppressed', whoever 'they' are, may seem unfair, but forcing society to do so may be the only way to provide them equal opportunity.
|Magazines that cater to fringe groups: |
Ceramics Monthly (Ceramists), Out (Gay & Lesbians), Ebony (African Americans), VegNews (Vegans), Ms. (Feminist Women)
Let's move on to specifics. It just so happens that I am a woman, and therefore I am more aware of the inequality facing women. The perceived role of women in society particularly irks me.
Now, don't assume that I think every woman should go out and be the breadwinner just because I said 'role of women'. I believe that every individual should choose what they want to do with their life. What a novel idea. If a woman wants to go and make a dozen children while keeping the house clean and going to soccer practice, fine. As long as that is what she wants to do. On the other hand, if she wants to put off having a baby for a few years to make a career that supports her family, then she should have the right to do so, and she should be paid as much as her male peers.
Those are obvious examples. From personal experience, I do not want to hear a so-called feminist male mentor that moving in with my partner to figure out what I'm doing after I graduate means I'm becoming a house-wife. That happened. Twice. Nor do I want the secretary job over the manual labor one, nor do I prefer wine to beer, nor do I want to 'teach' art over being a professional artist, nor do I prefer to keep my mouth shut when I have an opinion. These things make me rage.
It's not even a matter of being treated like a man, but as a human being. Give me choices. Assume that I wish to exert my will. Know that I am capable of learning. Acknowledge my ambition. Realize that I am not just a biological entity.
Yes, I have the ability to grow a baby, and men would like to have the opportunity to jump start that process in me. That is not my sole purpose in life. Does this mean I shouldn't wear lipstick or heels? No. If men can go around using their 'machismo' to get ahead, then I should be able to use my femininity to get ahead. So while the male peer interjects his unrelated opinions in the middle of a conversation, I'll give him smile and eye bat to shut him up and then blatantly ignore him while I finish my conversation. I could be more assertive and outspoken, but really its not me. That's all I want: to be me.
You may not agree with everything I've said here, but I sincerely hope you follow my definition of feminism, even if you don't want to call it feminism. Reducing someone or something to one attribute is never a good idea: We are complex organisms living in a complex world. I won't continue to summarize this big concept. Instead, I'll let the most perfectly feminist film do it for me:
The internet is for dialogue. Please Comment.