I have had a lot of opportunities lately to think about feminism and what it means to me. Most recently, today I had an uncomfortable experience that I have far too often in which a man "cat called" me and then, when I asked him to please not talk to me, told me he was "doing me a favor." Yeah. And when I posted something about it on Facebook, a "friend" decided to make a joke out of it, telling me to "take it as a compliment." He's the type of person who, when someone drops the word "feminism," takes it as an invitation to expound on his reasons for hating the word, and any form of the movement.
I know there are some women out there who are pretty hateful. That is not my experience with feminism.
So here are a couple of lists that explain my estimation of what feminism means, and does not mean. These are just my opinions, but I hope they will be interesting or helpful or at least make you think a little bit.
What being a feminist does not mean:
- Hating all men. Or any men necessarily. Or even disliking them.
- Not letting men hold doors for you, or buy you things, or tell you you're beautiful, etc.
- Hating/judging women who don't work or are SAHMs.
- Being a Democrat or extremely liberal.
- Saying you were raped or sexually assaulted when you were not, to get attention, or perpetuate your hatred of men. (This is something I have seen people accused of doing, believe it or not).
- Talking constantly about how hard it is to be a woman.
- Disregarding and refusing to hear men's opinions or thoughts on things, especially things related to women. (This has exceptions of course, you can imagine what they are).
- Being a woman, necessarily.
What being a feminist does mean:
- Most basically: advocacy for women's rights, in whatever capacity you find most effective and appropriate. This could mean donating to feminist organizations, participating in demonstrations, supporting or helping to write and implement policy that advances gender equality or punishes violence against women, or doing any of the things listed below. And you don't have to be a woman to do these things; my dad is one of my favorite feminists.
- Initiating and participating in reasoned discussions about gender inequality/violence against women/street harassment/etc. at appropriate times, without making assumptions or being rude. Basically...like you would have any other normal adult conversation.
- Realizing that for some people, views about how women should be treated by men or bosses or the law are ingrained by the family and/or culture in which they grew up, and you are not going to change their mind by speaking more loudly, or telling them they are pigs. (Sometimes, people are pigs, and you can tell them so, obviously. Hopefully you can tell the difference).
- Not "just ignoring it" when men treat women (or if you are a woman, you), poorly. This means recognizing what it means to treat a woman "poorly." If a woman in your office is just as educated and does just as much work as you but makes less money, if a girl claims she was raped and her community and its law enforcement first question whether she is lying and consider evidence to that end before evidence supporting her claim, if a man yells anything at a woman when she is simply walking down the street, unless he's telling her to watch out for a hole in the road or a car or something...these are all things that are not OK and should not be ignored.
- Not making, and encouraging other people not to make, rape jokes or similar types of jokes that minimize demeaning or committing violence against women.
- Standing up for yourself if you are a woman and encouraging other women to stand up for themselves without guilt or fear.
Again, I'm not part of any kind of feminism-defining group that asked me to post this, it's just my opinion. I'm open to discussing it with you, if you want.