False Feminist Death Syndrome

In a review of The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism edited by Vivien Labaton and Dawn Lundy Martin, Jennifer L. Pozner discusses the misconception that feminism is dead and buried. Like Mark Twain and his quip that “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” feminism has had to fight off the vultures for years who mistake it for roadkill. Estelle B. Freedman, in her book of essays, Feminism, Sexuality and Politics, declares the opposite:  “…contrary to the views of contemporary pundits, feminism has never been more widespread or more politically influential than at this point in history.”

I sometimes wonder if people just wish feminism was dead, so they don’t have to deal with the issues it raises, both personal and political. What they don’t realize is that feminism has existed in some form for thousands of years. It is not a static belief system. It evolves with the societies it wishes to reform, because it responds to the things that need to be reformed. First Wave feminism is criticized for limiting its raison d’etre to suffrage, Second Wave feminists are considered to be hopelessly out-of-touch with modern women and Third Wave feminists just want to be taken seriously as they search for whatever it is they are fighting for. Just because the issues have changed doesn’t mean that feminism is dead.

I look at my own life and I can see the phases of feminism it has encompassed. In the late sixties and early seventies feminism was heavily influenced by the civil rights movement and the emphasis was on consciousness-raising, sexual politics and freedom and the restrictive nature of sex roles. Abortion, or the right for women to have total control over their own bodies, was also a seminal issue. Second Wave feminists can be proud of the fact that society underwent–and is still undergoing–a lot of changes that have made the sexes more equal in the schools, on the playing fields, in the workplace and in decision-making.

In the late seventies, feminism seemed to go underground, but I think it’s more accurate to say that women like myself were concentrating on trying to implement feminist ideology into their own lives, with mixed results. This was also a period of backlash coming from the conservatives, threatened males and Stay-At-Home-Moms (SAHMs) who felt neglected by Second Wave feminism.

In response to all that, the feminist movement began to fine-tune its own identity. It was a period of re-grouping, a breathing spell which allowed women to take stock of the movement and how it applied ot their lives. Women’s Studies departments and majors started springing up in colleges (and some high schools) all over the country. Great strides were made in areas like inclusion, equal opportunities and affirmative actions in organizations, schools and workplaces.

However, other than women going to work outside of the home in greater numbers than ever before, the home front didn’t change all that much. Women still do most of the housework and are the primary child-care givers. Women today have new struggles about appearance and sexuality. I have a feeling that the Third Wave feminists have their work cut out for them. I also feel that they’re up to the challenge. But at the same time I would hope that older feminists would continue to contribute their analyses and experiences to the evolving feminist movement. We have much to learn from them.

But even if all our battles were won–women were given the same opportunities as men, were paid the same as men and were fully represented in all areas of life, we would still need feminism. Because feminism is more than a set of beliefs or a movement, it is a mind-set. Feminism is never having to say “I’m sorry” because you’re a woman.

As long as there is one woman in this world who needs to “get” that, feminism will never be dead.

Read The Independent‘s (U.K.) Joan Smith and her take on the False Feminist Death Syndrome: “I’m a Feminist, So I Suppose I Must Be Dead.”

Review of Catching A Wave: Reclaiming Feminism For the 21st Century which mentions FFDS.