What does a Feminist Look Like?
Wednesday, 2:30 p.m. My co-worker wanders over to my desk. A semi-retired, self-described “curmudgeon,” he stands for a moment without speaking. Then – “Are you a feminist?” He spits out the last word.
I blink at him, bemused. I work for an entirely male fraternal organization that can sometimes be very patronizing toward women, so there is some great potential for shock value here. Matter-of-factly I state, “Yes I am.”
“Oh.” He grumps away in disapproval. Five minutes later, he returns. “What does that mean, exactly?”
I explain what I’ve always understood feminism to be – the belief that biological differences (sorry, Judith Butler) do not constitute differences in intelligence or capability between men and women and should not result in different treatment, and that the ability to bear children is not the end-all-be-all for all women. This explanation is greeted with another “oh,” this time in surprise because he actually agrees with me.
I’ve found that this self-identification as a feminist is often greeted with a similar response – surprise that I consider myself as such and then surprise at what I comprehend in the idea – from co-workers, family, and friends who don’t consider themselves feminists. They seem amazed that it’s possible to be a feminist without burning bras and refusing to shave your legs, and I’m amazed that this is their view of feminism. The recent exchange with my co-worker made me wonder – what is the actual definition of feminism?
Turning to my beloved Oxford English Dictionary for answers, I found the following:
Feminist, adj. and n. From the classical Latin fēmina (woman)
- adj. Of, relating to, or advocating the rights and equality of women
- n. An advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women
That’s it. As with so many other causes, its central tenet has been conflated and twisted, but it’s actually incredibly broad. I feel as though my new response to all of those people who ask me if I’m a feminist should be, “Yes. Aren’t you?”
I’m curious – do you consider yourself a feminist? How do you define that position to yourself and others?
Image from http://tularecountyaudubon.org/images/woman-binoculars_2.jpg