How to be the perfect feminist

Don’t listen to music with rape-y or misogynistic lyrics.

Don’t watch television shows or movies where women aren’t portrayed as strong, independent people whose dialogue doesn’t revolve around the men in their lives.

Don’t watch sporting events that feature men who abuse their wives and girlfriends.

Don’t ever dress in a way that you hope will impress men, whether a specific man or men in general.

I could go on.

Whilst it sometimes seems to me that people look to me to sort of measure their feminism, there are problems within the movement and not acknowledging them will only hinder us. And I am not the perfect feminist.

The problem with feminism is that you can do it wrong all the time.

To me, feminism is about true choice. Now, yes, if you want to get academic about this, we could also break down from where that choice comes, but let’s just keep it simple.

If a woman absolutely has the choice and she chooses to stay home with her children, rather than pursue a career, she is no less feminist than a woman who makes childcare arrangements for her children and puts all her energy into becoming the next CEO of the company for which she works.

Have children? Don’t have children? Whichever. A woman is no less a woman for the choice she makes than she is any less feminist for the choice she makes.

Love ballet? Love boxing? Doesn’t matter. Choose the one that appeals to you, or choose nothing at all in this regard.

Escape into books where women are treated less than respectfully? Read feminist literature every day of the week? You choice in reading material makes you no more or less feminist.

The other thing that, to me, feminism is about is understanding. We call come to this with different life experiences, different goals and aspirations, different socioeconomic statuses, different racial/ethnic backgrounds, different sexualities, different abilities, and so on. Simply because we are human, there is not a single one of us who can fully understand any other single one of us.

As feminists, I believe that we have to stand up for balance and diversity. So, whilst we cannot and do not understand the lives and perspectives of everyone who comes to the table, it is important for us to acknowledge this lack of understanding and try. As I’ve said to numerous people lately, “What I need you to do right now is understand that you don’t understand and then take my word for it.” The “it” being whatever it is that I am explaining or sharing about something relevant to me.

Understand that you don’t understand and just take our word for it.

Truthfully, whilst I will never fully understand the struggles of lesbian women, women of colour, women of abilities different than mine, women who are financially secure, and so on, I have done my best to make sure to stand with any one of them when they’ve faced challenges.

I have not always been successful, but I have tried, and I hope we can all do the same.

Maybe that’s how to be the perfect feminist.

~~~

Just for giggles, here’s a second-year university paper I wrote critiquing feminism:

A Critical Analysis of Feminism…in three pages

Both “Feminists are just ‘male bashers’” (Blackwell, Smith & Sorenson, 2008, pp. 179-185) and “Feminism is no longer relevant” (pp. 186-191) bring to the forefront the typical issues that arise when discussing feminism, not just in the past but still today. While I will argue and provide evidence that neither of these statements is accurate, I will also discuss one of the common problems with the feminist movement.

‘Male-bashing’ Feminists

Blackwell lays out probably every stereotypical association that has ever been made with feminists (Blackwell, Smith & Sorenson, 2008, p. 180) over the years, the most prevalent of which being that feminists are man-bashers or haters and/or that they want to be men. What these stereotypes do not take into consideration is that many of the first feminists (suffragettes) were not only married but appeared to be passionately loved by and in love with their husbands in a time when passion was as frowned upon as was intelligence in women (Friedan, 1997, p. 139), and the writer of this paper would argue that this is also true of many present-day feminists.

To deduce that women hate or want to be men based on the fact that they want to be considered as individuals unto themselves, rather than man’s property and, further, that they expect to share equality with men smacks of the fear that Friedan talks about in The Feminine Mystique when she discusses men’s uncertainty about adding a segment to the electorate that seemed to be immune to bribery and interested in abolishing child labour and cleaning up politics (p. 160). Rather than put voice to these fears of loss of control of women, it seems that men (and some women) prefer(red) to resort to vicious name-calling, sometimes physical attacks and, therefore, instilling fear in the women who dared to undertake feminist movement efforts.

Further, while one should not infer that men are not hated by any feminists, Friedan interestingly suggests that it is those women who are kept from pursuits other than homemaker and mother who might be the man-haters, as they put to voice or action the contempt or self- contempt they feel about being trapped and turn into a “domineering shrew” (p. 163).

The Relevance of Feminism

For anyone who is well-read in the area of social justice, or who has spent any time in the professional workforce, the relevance of feminism should be relatively obvious. Sorenson speaks to the fact that women, the world over, still do not enjoy full equality with men in the areas of pay equity or political and religious rights, and they continue to suffer from violent acts that are specific to their gender (Blackwell, Smith & Sorenson, 2008, p. 187). Whether one is well-read or not in this subject area is beside the point, as they need only take an honest look at society internationally to understand that there is still much to be accomplished with respect to the feminist movement.

Only for the sake of brevity, this paper will not discuss the fact that many countries still do not allow women to vote, never mind stand for election, which alone should be enough to convince skeptics that feminism is still relevant. Closer to home, with Canada ranked 46th globally out of 189 countries and the United States 69th (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2008, November 30), with respect to the proportion of parliamentary seats held by women, and the oft heard laments about the need for more female elected officials, it is clear that the feminist movement is still very relevant.

Additionally, the cuts to federal Status of Women funding and programs, under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, given that Status of Women is the only government agency producing and supporting meaningful research and programs with respect to women’s equality and protection (Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, 2008, September), serve to provide further support for the continued relevance of the feminist movement. These cuts were met with outrage by numerous women’s groups (DisAbled Women’s Network Ontario, 2006, September 26) who work diligently locally and globally for women’s equality and protection.

Speaking strictly about North America, until women can be seen in equal proportions to men in political and executive positions, there can be no valid argument as to feminism being irrelevant. While women have achieved a great deal since the first suffragettes fought for rights to vote and to be treated as persons under the law, there is still a great deal more to be achieved.

The Problem with the Feminist Movement

In this writer’s opinion, one of the challenges that the feminist movement has brought upon itself, through well-known writers on the topic, is the seeming intolerance for true free choice. While there is worthwhile discussion to be had and work to be done about ensuring that women have access to equal opportunities in the career world, there is little to no tolerance for women who – given every other option – honestly choose to take on the role of homemaker and mother, possibly with the intent to pursue/return to a career later in life or not.

Both Betty Friedan and Leslie Bennetts have come under fire for their criticisms of women who choose to take on the role of homemaker and mother in their respective books, The Feminine Mystique (Friedan, 1997) and The Feminine Mistake (Bennetts, 2007). Some argue that both writers’ opinions have been taken out of context – which seems to be highly arguable, given the tone in which the opinions are posited. However, whether taken out of context or not, with Friedan’s characterization of housewives as “parasites” (p. 379) and Bennetts’ assertion – the premise of her book – that women are making a mistake when they take on the role of homemaker and mother (Bennetts, 2007), it is to be expected that there will be a backlash from both women who do not identify as feminists and those who do.

The feminist movement is built on the premise that women are entitled to equal rights and access to all endeavours and, if some women – when educated about and able to seek any other opportunity – choose that their contribution to society will be through the role of homemaker and mother, then that choice should not be criticized by those who would not make the same choice for themselves, nor should it be characterized as a denial of or disrespect for the feminist movement.

Conclusion

While the feminist movement does have its problems with respect to its seeming intolerance for women who do not choose to participate in the paid workforce, it cannot be supported either that feminists, as a group, hate men or that feminism is no longer relevant in today’s society. With a great number of women who believe and participate in the feminist movement being married, it is illogical to presume that they hate men. As well, when there are still so many disparities between men and women throughout the world, it cannot be reasonably argued that the feminist movement has run its course.

REFERENCES

Bennetts, L. (2007). The feminine mistake: Are we giving up too much? New York: Hyperion. Blackwell, J. C., Smith, M. E. G., & Sorenson, J. S. (2008). Culture of prejudice: arguments in

critical social science (ch. 20, pp. 179-185; ch. 21, pp. 186-191). Toronto, ON: Higher

Education University of Toronto Press Incorporated.
Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action. (2008, September). Women’s Inequality in

Canada. Retrieved February 22, 2009, from http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:47cWq1AasKkJ:lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Doc uments/Session4/CA/FAFIA_CAN_UPR_S4_2009_anx_2008CEDAW.pdf+Oda+finally +confirms+termination+of+HALF+of+SWC+workforce&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=8&gl=ca

DisAbled Women‟s Network Ontario. (2006, September 26). Government’s real priorities revealed: media statement. Retrieved February 22, 2009, from http://dawn.thot.net/media-sept26-06.html.

Friedan, B. (1997). The feminine mystique. (pp. 139, 160, 163, 379). New York: W. W. Norton & Company Ltd.

Inter-Parliamentary Union. (2008, November 30). Women in National Parliaments. Retrieved February 21, 2009, from http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm.

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