Should All Women Be Feminists?

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Feminism is not about being a victim or a villain.  It’s about being a human.

I get it that women who are satisfied with their lives are not going to identify with feminism, because they view it as a philosophy about victimhood. But that’s the negative way of viewing it. It is also about empowerment  and fulfillment. It is a philosophy that guides you around the pitfalls in life. It teaches you to be more proactive about what you want to do and be.  It helps you to identify your needs and your desires, not just spend a lifetime reacting to the needs and desires of others.

The second reason why a woman might reject feminism is because she sees it as promoting selfishness. Other people’s needs should come first, they think. That’s what being a woman is all about. There’s nothing wrong with altruism. In fact, the world would be a better place if more people thought in terms of service and self-sacrifice. But being a feminist does not mean that you always put yourself first. It is about being more effective, about having the self-confidence to step up to the plate and seek the best for the people you care about. It takes strength and support from other women to be a woman like that.

It’s also about being an advocate for those who do not have it as good as you do. Being a feminist means that you don’t turn your face away from the problems other women have. Your life might be just as you want it, but what about the women who are abused, who can’t feed their children, who are being paid a pittance compared to their male co-workers, who have no voice? Feminism educates you about the world “out there” where women are suffering and struggling every day. Feminism is about solidarity.

Thirdly, I think women shy away from feminism because they secretly believe that every woman gets the fate that she deserves. If her husband leaves her, she wasn’t a good enough wife. If her children do bad things, it’s because she wasn’t a good enough mother. When single mothers are ostracized for not being able to hold onto their men and other women are reviled for having abortions, the blame is put on the woman for “letting” herself get pregnant. If a woman is poor, it’s because she’s lazy; if she’s fat or unattractive, it’s because she’s let herself go.

To me feminism comes out of what happens to a woman as she travels through life. If she’s really paying attention, she realizes that there are a lot of things that are twisted about the way that women are treated. A feminist sensibility is formed when she recognizes the wrongs that have been done to her in life, just because she is a woman.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate the wrongs that are done to humans in general from those that are done to women specifically. Don’t we all get screwed on our jobs, get paid and treated badly? It isn’t just women who lose their jobs, don’t get promotions, have their work devalued. But women often seem to have these things happen to them more often or to a greater degree. And the only reason for that seems to be that they are women.

And that’s not to mention things like bearing an unequal share of the responsibility when a pregnancy occurs. Men don’t have to make the decision about whether or not to have an abortion. They should help provide for the child, but often don’t. The mother has no choice; she has the children with her. Everything depends on her. Even when there is a present father who is providing for the family, she is still the one who is primarily responsible for the home and children. And because of that, her prospects are more limited than they are for men.

Women are more likely to be killed at the hands of men than the other way around, they are abused more than men are, when they are the sole source of income and security for their children they have less flexibility and sympathy than men do when they’re in the same situation. The laws favor men when it comes to child support (although many men feel otherwise; the truth is, women have a lower standard of living after divorce than a man does).

I guess that’s what it boils down to when you’re trying to decide if something is a feminist issue:  does your being a woman have anything to do with the fact that you don’t get as much validation in life as a man does? That you get less freedom, respect and support? That you have fewer choices? If you’re not happy with the restrictions that are put on you just because you’re a woman, then have enough guts to identify with feminist issues. If not for your sake, then for the sake of other women who are suffering in the world.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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