Would You Say You’re a Feminist?

It was during my very first college admissions interview that I started questioning one of my strong held beliefs and assumptions.

At the beginning of summer, I started touring east coast colleges, and at one, which shall remain nameless, I had my very first college interview. The school’s representative and I had a pleasant conversation about my academics, hobbies, and interests. As we talked, I told her about my recent research project on Cold War era toys, specifically the Barbie doll, and my summer reading book, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimension by Edwin A. Abbott (which I highly recommend), and its interesting portrayal of the caste system and women in Victorian England. However, what she said next caught me completely off guard.

“So, you’ve talked a bit about women’s issues. Would you say you’re a feminist?”

It’s a loaded question. What does it even mean to be a feminist? In my very limited experience with the idea of feminism, I found a very harsh, negative connotation, so never had I even considered myself a feminist. According to the Huffington Post, a study by the University of Toronto suggested that the most common words associated with “typical feminist” are “man-hating” and “unhygienic” which doesn’t lend itself well to a positive connotation. Throughout history, it’s been a major social issue.

Beyonce and Rosie the Riveter
Beyonce and Rosie the Riveter

Personally when I thought of feminism, I thought of 1940’s Rosie the Riveter showing off her guns, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, and the 1960’s “Burn the Bra” movement. While Rosie the Riveter was technically government propaganda, nothing else has so timelessly encouraged women to roll up their sleeves and get down to business like Rosie. She stands as a reminder of the past and encouragement for the future to women who channel her power through the pose. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique brought about a changing view of women’s roles. Friedan explored the dissatisfaction of the common housewife who lived up to the “ideal”. The book ignited a revolutionary perspective on women and is often thought to be the reason for the second wave of feminism. The “Burn the Bra” movement, as a result, had very different implications in society. Although women weren’t constantly burning bras, the feminist movement became a very serious, even threatening, movement which was unlike anything the feminist movement had seen before.

While the prominence of feminism moderately died down since the 60s and 70s, social media users will notice the increasing presence of feminism, blatant or not, through news articles, viral videos, and trending hashtags. Hilary Clinton, thought to be a possible presidential candidate, expressed at the beginning of summer that she is a feminist, redefining the idea from “man-hating,” as many now see it, to supporting equal rights for men and women, specifically in regard to the gender wage gap. Another woman, Emma Watson, stepped into the political limelight this summer at the United Nations, launching the UN’s “HeForShe” campaign. The movement, encouraging men and inadvertent feminists to band together, strives to bring gender equality to the world with equal pay, education, and opportunity. Watson presents it as a social issue affecting not only women and girls, but also men and boys. She implores listeners not classify an idea simply by a name, but rather by the idea itself.

Clearly, while the idea of feminism hasn’t necessarily changed drastically since the 1940s, or even the 1840’s and the Seneca Falls Convention, the way women have approached inequality has. From the dissatisfaction of women, to pyrotechnics, to the empowerment of men and women, feminism has evolved as a social issue.

Looking back, I wish that at my interview, I understood feminism as I do now. The innocence of my answer is nothing in which I will ever take pride, and now, I do consider myself a feminist. However, the big question is, what does this have to do with politics – it’s a social issue, right? In the end, perhaps, but now I know it’s about how women and men treat each other. While the equal rights movement has come a fair distance from 70 years ago, there is still a lot of work ahead. Still, social reform is a high hurdle, so perhaps, in order to change the social climate, we need people like Hilary Clinton and Emma Watson to help change the political climate as well. While feminism hasn’t always been widespread political issue, perhaps it should be.

Sources:

Hilary Clinton’s position on equal pay

Hilary Clinton on being a Feminist

Bra Burning and Myths of Feminism from TIME Magazine

Huffington Post Article on the “Typical Feminist”

About The Feminine Mystique

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4 comments

  1. Merriam-Webster defines feminism as the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities, and the organized efforts on behalf of attempts to secure those rights and opportunities. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism

    First wave feminism, which began in the 19th century, was a 70 year effort to secure women’s political equality. It culminated in 1919 in the US with the adoption of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote.

    Second wave feminism, which was an effort to secure economic equality for women, began in ernest in the 1960s. While economic equality is still not a reality, progress has been made in the half century since the effort began. You may see the reality of the inequality that still exists at a web page I’ve put up here: http://www.classroomtools.com/ed_earn.htm

    Most recently, third wave feminists have begun a push for true social equality among the sexes.

    While “bra burners” and “man haters” we’re epithets hurled at feminists by their opponents, they were never realities. I am happy to see that your schooling has shown this to you.

    Your blog post is thoughtful and well written. Thanks for posting it, and best of luck in your college search.

    Like

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!

      While I was doing some background research about feminism, as you said, I also saw that despite being called “bra burners,” women weren’t actually burning bras left and right. However, I’d like to think I kept that detail in my piece for two reasons.

      1. It was a fairly common stereotype, and one of the issues facing feminism is fighting or recreating its reputation and connotations.
      2. My mom attests to having been a spirited bra burner, so the idea of the “Burn the Bra” movement had a very close and personal influence on my understanding of the feminist movement. Now, I’m definitely not saying it necessarily had a positive influence, but it was a relatable instance through which I could understand feminism for the time being until I formed my own opinions.

      Thank you again!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The real problem with labels like feminism is that they have to be defined before they can be discussed. By having to define them we immediately move from the issues we want to talk about to the disparate perceptions of the meaning of the label. While labels seem to make it easier to group people and attitudes they too often create more confusion than they solve.

    I would argue don’t define yourself so much with any label, just explain what you believe in when it is appropriate. Is it really that much harder to say you believe in equal rights and opportunities for men and women than it is to call yourself by a label?

    Like

    • Thanks for commenting on my post!

      That’s a very interesting question you pose, and I agree with you. You could argue that the main purpose of words is to communicate ideas to other people. However, when those words fail to accurately represent our ideas and messages, perhaps it’s time to find new or different words to communicate. Why should we be arguing about semantics rather than the issue at hand?

      Thank your again for your very thoughtful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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