(Note: This article was written for the launch of collectivelybeautiful.com)
I read an article recently by a woman who believed that Feminism was essentially the root cause of all the woes of the modern woman. She asserted that the mad rush to get out of the kitchen has left most of us out of our element – that women are simply built to be nurturers and caretakers, and that feminism demands that women deny their true nature in some misguided attempt to be more ‘manly’. I managed to make it all the way through the article – much the way that one cannot look away from a train wreck. Though I somehow resisted the urge to hit the comment button and spew a little vitriol, I decided instead to ask a few of my peers, both men and women, what ‘feminism’ meant to them. I got some very interesting answers. Overwhelmingly, it seems that the backlash to the feminist movement has been largely successful in making ‘feminism’ a dirty word – one associated with chip-on-your-shoulder aggression, and exactly that type of ‘false manliness’ the offending article had been railing against. And not just from men. There are many otherwise intelligent women who admit they wouldn’t describe themselves as feminists “because of what that might mean.” Apparently, even my own generation is far removed enough from the original message that they view the movement itself as something rather extremist and outdated. And that is unacceptable. So hold on to your stiletto’s ladies. No, seriously, hold on to them. You can keep ’em. You can even wear them while standing proudly in your kitchen.
If you find this confusing, then I need you to forget everything you think you know about feminism. It seems that the moment that ‘equality’ became the buzzword for the movement, we were in trouble. Because feminism isn’t actually about equality. No really. It’s not. Equality is a puzzle piece. It isn’t the picture. The trouble with the word ‘equality’ is that it is too easily synonymous with ‘same’, and it is from this idea that we get all the misconceptions that feminists are women who want to be ‘like men’. Simply put, that’s horseshit. It’s also not about getting women collectively ‘out of the kitchen’. You don’t have to do boy-pushups. Being empowered doesn’t mean you have to berate the men who hold the door for you. And being a feminist doesn’t require any changes to your wardrobe. It’s a come-as-you-are campaign. In fact, that’s sort of the point. Being a feminist doesn’t mean losing one ounce of your own femininity, whatever that may mean to you.
Now, it’s true that feminist theories abound, and some are more extreme than others. But it’s a good thing – an amazing thing – that so much time and effort has been put into the who-what-where-when-why-and-how of any and all subjects that concern women. Everything from our collective history to our individual and collective oppression, from gender role and sexual stereotypes to abuse and marginalization – and to the continued oppression of women all over the world. But this isn’t a history lesson or a women’s studies course. I know that the average young woman isn’t looking to fight someone else’s battle. She’s struggling to fight her own – to understand the world as it relates to her own experiences. So I’ll save the theory for another day and tell you why, whether you like the word or not, you are probably – brace yourself – already a feminist.
Here’s the bottom line. Feminism is about choice. A woman’s right to choose for herself. The choice to vote. The choice to seek an education. The choice to play football or take ballet. To be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher or a homemaker. Because despite what you may have been told, the homemaker who CHOOSES to stay home – because that is genuinely what she wants – is no less a feminist than the lawyer or CEO or lumberjack. Whatever. You see, feminism was never about equality of male characteristics, it was about equality of choice. It was never about ‘getting out of the kitchen’, but rather it was about having the right to be anywhere – from kitchen to congress.
If you believe that you have the right to be anything you want to be – and to make the most of whoever that is – you’re a feminist. It’s official. You’ve been diagnosed. If you believe that you should be able to choose between family and Fortune 500, farmer and fashionista – or to have all of them at the same time – you’re one of us. If you believe that women, everywhere in the world, have the right to education and to equal rights – an equal voice in this world – then you’ve already signed up. Being an empowered woman means accepting and exercising your right to make your own choices in the fearless pursuit of being exactly who you are.
I am not an expert in feminist theory – not by any stretch of the imagination. But I have been a woman – one with choices – for all of my 32 years. And this is what feminism means to me. Every ounce of my strength, intelligence, and ambition is distinctly feminine – whether I’m cooking or kickboxing. Collectively, we have the ability to change the current perception of what a ‘feminist’ looks like. Collectively, we can redefine the face of this movement – a movement that has done extraordinary good in this world, and has much left to do. By being proud of what feminism has given us, and by standing up for what still needs to be done – whether we are standing in Doc Martins or Steve Maddens – all things are possible.
So use the “F” word. Give it a makeover. Change the stereotype by becoming a new example. All you have to do is be yourself.