Definitions of Feminism

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.” –Rebecca West, journalist and suffrage campaigner, 1913.

Ninety-five years later, feminism is still having that crisis of identity. No one can agree on what feminists believe. After all, anyone can call herself (or himself) a feminist. There are Second and Third Wave feminists, New Feminists (a Catholic Church phenomenon), Liberal Feminists, Radical Feminists, Marxist and Socialist Feminists, Cultural Feminists, and Eco-Feminists, to name a few.

See here for definitions.
For a more exhaustive list of types and definitions, go here.

What worries me the most about modern-day feminism is that it is largely ignored. It’s not much of a movement if no one is paying attention to it. While it’s true that it’s better to have many categories of feminism than no feminism at all, I do think that all the split-offs dilute the feminist message. Say what you will about Second Wave (and First Wave) feminists, they were a force to be reckoned with.

What can be learned from the Women’s Liberation Movement for today’s feminist movement? Was it Women’s Libbers’ ideology or their solidarity that made them so influential? Why don’t we have that same power today? Could it possibly have to do with the fact that we’re more concerned with categorizing ourselves than with working for common goals?

NARAL Endorsement

I understand why NARAL came out with their Obama endorsement but it’s still a slap in the face for Clinton. If they had waited until the outcome was assured, they wouldn’t have put Clinton in such a bad light. What if she runs again? How will NARAL back up and say that now they’re for her, even though they weren’t back in 2008?

I was glad to see that some of the NARAL chapters pitched a fit about the endorsement and made it public that they were pissed off. That’s something, at least.

Where My Loyalties Lie

My husband asked me early on in the primaries if I would vote for Obama if Clinton wasn’t chosen to be the Democratic candidate. I admit I hesitated–but then I came to my senses. We haven’t heard all there is to hear from McCain about his platform, but from what we have heard, I think he would deliver more of the same–a continuation of the last eight years. Our country just can’t afford that. It’s hard to tell, though. McCain used to impress me, years ago. Maybe not to the point where I would have switched parties to vote for him, but he seemed to be more “democratic” than any other Republicans. Maybe he’s just saying what he has to say to appease the Republicans until he gets their nomination. He just may surprise even them when he starts campaigning in earnest for the presidency.

I’m concerned by a recent poll that showed that more than a third of Democrats said that they might not support their party’s nominee in the fall if he or she is not their first choice. In my view, Obama is still better than McCain, mainly because I don’t agree with Republican policy. I’m not going to turn spiteful and vote for McCain just because I didn’t get the Democratic nominee I wanted. I still think it’s more important to remain loyal to your party–as long as the reasons you vote Democrat in the first place are still intact. If you’ve truly gone over to the Republican side in terms of your beliefs then by all means vote Republican. But if you’re still a Democrat in your heart, then don’t switch parties out of spite.

I do think that Obama is the young people’s candidate. I’m not young anymore, so it’s harder for me to get caught up in the enthusiasm that I felt in the 60’s, the feeling that the young were going to change the world, that we had the answers, that the old were stuck in their misbegotten ways. Did we accomplish that in the 60’s? Well, we did change a lot of things, but that has proven to be more a function of who we were–and have continued to be–than that we had superior wisdom. The Baby Boomers were, and have remained, a force to be reckoned with. But we’ve all gone our separate ways, even though there are a lot of concerns that unite us. Some of us have joined the Establishment big-time, some of us dropped out and stayed dropped out, the majority of us have just been trying to get by any way we can. Yet we all have an increasing investment in things like retirement, Social Security, elder care, and the legacies we leave our children and grandchildren (and in some cases, great grandchildren), whether economic, ecological, spiritual or political.

So what am I first? It hit me as I wrote the word “spiritual” that my first loyalty lies with God. That’s why it’s hard for me to be an ardent anything. I do have definite opinions, but I find it difficult to condemn anyone because they don’t see things exactly the way I do. For one thing, I may be able to learn something from them. I have to remind myself that they might be able to learn something from me, and therefore I shouldn’t be reluctant to express my opinions–in love. That’s not always easy to do when you think your neighbor is an idiot because he votes Republican.

I would have to say that my second loyalty lies with being a woman, but I need to qualify that: I’m a woman who is also a Baby Boomer. That gives me a different perspective sometimes than younger women have. So I also have a loyalty to my age group, to people who are in the same boat I’m in. And when I say I have a loyalty to my identity as a woman, I also mean as a wife, companion, mother and citizen. My womanhood both proscribes and informs the differing roles in my life.

So, as far as my being a Democrat, I think that also grows out of my womanhood. I just don’t think that the Republicans are as woman-friendly as the Democrats. At least not friendly to all kinds of women in all kinds of situations. They are stuck in the past, longing for a world that will never exist again. Democrats aren’t all feminists, but at least they’re trying to see the world that could and probably will be.

It could be that some women aren’t feminists because their womanhood isn’t all that important to them. It’s not something they think about and respect and cherish, it’s just something that is, that they do. They may even have contempt for women, or envy men. I think a feminist is a woman who likes who she is, respects herself and all women and who wants to make things better for other women. That seems like as good a definition as any.

So my loyalties lie first with God, and then with who He created me to be. Some feminists may think that the point of feminism is to erase the differences between men and women, but I feel that I was made a woman for a reason. I am not a man wanna-be. I want to educate people about why being a woman is important, both for women themselves and for the world around them.

What About Mothers?

From “The Mommy Mantra” in the Jan. 19, 2007 issue of The American Prospect:

“History shows that women gain influence when they separate themselves from constricting domestic ideology — not when they internalize it.”

That’s a fancy way of saying that coming across as motherly in any way hurts a woman’s chances in a man’s world. I say: then change that world so that it includes women who are mothers. Feminists who denigrate women like Nancy Pelosi for showing her maternal side are just as bad as male chauvinists. They’re saying that a woman needs to act like a man in order to get ahead.

That’s hogwash. Certainly each woman needs to make her own decisions as to how much she will allow the public or her employers see of her personal life–whatever it is. But why should she have to hide something that matters deeply to her if she wants to share it? And why should she have to pretend that being a mother isn’t important? It isn’t just women who are affected by this attitude. Men, too, are typically taught to not make a big deal out of being fathers for fear of being thought of as weak or sentimental, which is exactly how feminists who show their maternal side are seen (sometimes by other feminists).

Not all women are mothers. But that doesn’t mean that a mother’s concerns shouldn’t be considered. Ironically, when mothers’ needs are being met, the whole world benefits. There is an organization called MomsRising that has a very specific platform of what they think needs to be changed in this world: Maternity and Paternity Leave, Open Flexible Work, TV and After School, Health Care For All Kids, Excellent Child Care and Realistic and Fair Wages. That’s just a broad overview of what they stand for (and a way to spell “Mother” in case you didn’t get that). What man or woman or child wouldn’t benefit from these initiatives?

May 11th is Mother’s Day. It would be a good day to think about what mothers can and do bring to the world at large. Their influence is felt there whether we like it or not. But so far it hasn’t been enough, partly because there aren’t enough mothers in public office or management. Mothers should be more vocal, not less. They should not have to apologize or shrink from the fact that they have had children. That doesn’t make them lesser human beings; if anything it broadens their horizons. I don’t know how many women I’ve met who have said that becoming a mother made them grow up. They now have a broader perspective about what’s important in life.

There is no force in the world like a mother protecting her own. It’s no accident that the most vocal critic of the war in Iraq is a mother. (Cindy Sheehan) But she is often treated like a crank because those in power don’t want to–no, make that don’t have to–listen to women in general and mothers specifically. We have to change that. Join organizations like MomsRising. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Support women running for or in public office and defend their right to be mothers as well as politicians. Run for office yourself. And above all, teach your children that they need to be concerned with the needs of all people, not just people exactly like themselves.

Female Politicians

It’s increasingly looking like Obama is going to win the nomination. But I haven’t counted Clinton out yet. I worry because I don’t think Obama could beat McCain, and I think Clinton could. But they both have serious “flaws”: Obama is inexperienced and black and Clinton is well, a Clinton, and a woman. One reason I think Obama will win the nomination is because, from a bigot’s point of view, Obama is the best kind of black and Clinton is the worst kind of woman. I also think that Clinton’s hurting herself with her stance on health care. Hers is the most expensive and includes the word “mandatory.” Americans don’t like being told what to do, even if it’s for their own good. (I remember the furor over mandatory seat belts and safety helmets.)

What I can’t understand is feminists who are for Obama. I wonder how many of them are second wave feminists and how many are third wave (and therefore younger). There could be a sort of ageism going on. Just like in the 60s when everyone over 30 was considered suspect, now it’s everyone over 50. I do hope that when the presidential election rolls around, the younger people in this country will come out in droves to vote. To judge by my own children, only 50% will. Maybe their ageism also makes them suspicious of politicians in general, most of whom are older than they are.

When I took one of my Women’s Studies courses, I made a plea in one class that the young women there consider a life in politics. None of them seemed interested. I understand that, but in my opinion it has to be changed. Too many people think that public office is unattainable, but it isn’t. Initially it takes preparation and perseverance. The money will follow if they get the following and the support of those already in office. There are organizations who will fund female candidates, like EMILY’s List and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

Click here for the story of a woman politician in Buffalo, N.Y.

Click here for facts about women legislators in the U.S.

Click here for something that will make your blood boil!

Women and Power

As they took turns bowling, the five men talked about politics. Cliff Albea, a dissatisfied former Republican who stamps logos on cigarette packs for a grocery distributor, thought he might vote for Clinton because he liked her conviction about high gas prices. John Gilmore, a recently retired mechanic, favored Obama because “I can’t really bring myself to vote for a woman.” [From a story in the Washington Post on May 6, 2008 by Eli Saslow.]

I can’t help but wonder how many men–and women–in this country feel the same way as John Gilmore. There’s a lot of talk about how voting for Obama gives a black man a chance to advance, but you rarely, if ever, hear the media say that voting for Clinton does the same for a woman. I’m not proposing that anyone vote for Clinton just because she’s a woman. There are plenty of women I wouldn’t vote for. But she shouldn’t be counted out because she’s a woman either, no more than Obama should be counted out because he’s black. Like the days when black men got the vote before women did, racial discrimination is seen as the greater evil.

Why does John Gilmore feel the way he does? I don’t know for sure, but one reason could be that women are seen as being powerless in this society. It seems more fitting to many people to have a man in charge, “even” if he’s a black man. They feel that he’s more likely to get respect and cooperation than a woman is. Just because he’s a man.

There may be some truth to that sentiment. Look how Hillary was treated when her husband was in office and she tried to get somewhere with health care. Some of the criticism was that she was not an elected or appointed official and therefore had no place in the debate. But there was a lot of talk about her not knowing her “place”–as a woman. She was getting “uppity.”

It’s a double bind for women. They’re socialized to let men have the upper hand. So a woman who bucks the system is then denigrated for not having enough power. Men don’t want her to have it, but then call her inferior because she doesn’t have it. And if she does have any power, they insist that she doesn’t have enough to make it in a “man’s” world. The same world that took it from her in the first place.

No one uses the words “male chauvinism” these days but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It isn’t mentioned the way it was in the 60s and 70s because this society wants to believe that the problem of discrimination against women has been licked. That would imply that men have seen the error of their ways. Well, John Gilmore hasn’t. And I bet he’s not the only one.