Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Feminism 101 (Announcing a New Series!)

When I first started reading feminist blogs, it felt like they were coming from some bizarre parallel universe. They used terms I had never heard before: rape culture, victim-blaming, misogyny, trigger warning, privilege, patriarchy, body policing, tokenism, cis, slut-shaming, gender essentialism, narratives, gaslighting... Like, is any of that real?

Elaine discovers Bizarro World. Image source.
And now that I've figured out what all those things mean, and I've realized that I'm a feminist, I'd like to take a stab at defining and explaining those terms. So that people who don't know anything about feminism (like me a few years ago) can start to understand it. Because seriously, all this odd language can be intimidating.

So get excited! I'm starting a new series: Feminism 101- my attempt to explain and define the terms and ideas found in feminism, for those who are completely unfamiliar with it.

First, I'll be defining "feminism" itself. Let's look at some misconceptions that I commonly hear about feminism:

1. Feminism is about hating men!

Umm, no. Feminists don't hate men. Well maybe a few of them on the fringes do- but that's totally not what it's about. Instead, it's about equality. And feminists believe there are many issues where there is NOT equality between men and women, so they fight for more rights/opportunities/whatever for women.

And some of the stereotypes that are used to oppress women also oppress men- so men need feminism too! For example, there's this idea in our culture that women are nurturing and men aren't, which is used against women by telling them their only purpose is to raise kids, and against men by telling them they're not supposed to be spending too much time with their kids. Feminists speak out against that kind of stuff, so that both men and women can just live their lives and not worry about living up to a certain standard of what a "real woman" or "real man" is.

2. Feminism is about getting super-angry when someone opens a door for you.

Some people see feminists as unreasonable, too sensitive, getting angry over harmless little things, like a man opening a door for a woman, or someone saying "mankind" instead of "humankind."

So, I understand that criticism- sometimes I see examples where people are finding sexism that's not really there. But the vast majority of the time, feminists are fighting against something that's ACTUALLY A PROBLEM, not just stupid little things.

And sometimes, the little things aren't bad by themselves, but they're an indication of certain attitudes that are widespread and accepted in mainstream culture- and those attitudes are what's harmful.

3. Feminism is about overturning God's plan for men and women.

Yeah so obviously, God wants all women to stay home and have babies, and all men to be leaders and have jobs. But feminism opposes this! Feminism says women shouldn't marry and have kids! Feminism is about women taking away men's God-given leadership!

Umm, no. Feminism is about choice. If you're a woman, and you want to get married and have a ton of kids and not have a job, then that's great! Yay! Feminism totally supports your choice! (In theory, that is. In practice, some feminists are prejudiced against women who choose the "traditional" things- but they shouldn't be. To judge another woman's choices goes completely against feminism.)

Feminism is about choice. About men and women having choices that aren't limited by their gender. (And if you think God created us male and female so we would be limited to certain roles... well, we can talk about that later.)

So those 3 statements tell us what feminism is NOT. But what is it?

Perfectnumber's definition of feminism: Feminism is a way of looking at society in terms of groups that have advantages over other groups. (Majorities have power/advantages minorities do not have, men have power/advantages women do not have, rich have power/advantages poor do not have, etc.) Obviously these statements about advantages are generalizations- nobody is arguing that every man is better off than every woman- but still they're true, and it's not right.

Feminism is about fighting for rights/justice/equality for groups that have traditionally been oppressed by mainstream culture. (And it's not all about women- you also have to talk about discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, etc.) And actually, it's hard to even notice a lot of the injustice and harmful stereotypes if you've never thought about them before, because they're so ingrained in our culture, and the structures that currently exist in society are perpetuating them.

Feminism is about acknowledging that other people are different from me. Other people have different experiences, different backgrounds, and those things influence their lives in ways not obvious to me. Feminism is about listening to other people's perspectives and believing them when they talk about their needs and problems, even if I can't relate to why those things would be problems.

And this emphasis on loving people by listening to them is why, as a Christian, I feel I have to be a feminist. (Also the thing about bringing justice to the oppressed. Jesus may have mentioned that.)

If I wasn't a feminist, I would think that everyone was supposed to be like me. (Your mileage may vary on this one- I'm not suggesting that people who aren't feminists are all super-naive like that- I'm saying that for me, that's the opposite of feminism.) Other people are poor? Well, I'm not poor, so clearly you should have just done whatever I did, and you'd be fine. Completely blind to the reality that people are poor for a million different reasons, many of which I cannot relate to at all.

So that's feminism. Viewing the world in terms of the advantages/disadvantages held by members of various groups (gender, race, economic class, etc), pointing out the ways this discrimination is perpetuated by culture and society, and working to address that injustice. And hopefully in future posts in this series, I'll be able to flesh out what that means. Stay tuned.

This post is part of the Feminisms Fest Synchroblog. Go over to Feminisms and Me (#femfest link-up, day 1) and read more people's posts on the topic "Feminism and Me."


  1. About bringing justice to the oppressed...Jesus may have mentioned that. HA! I love your definitions, and joining the chorus to overturn those tired old misconceptions. I'm ready to be done with those criticisms!