Friday, May 29, 2015

Dear Women Who Don't Identify As Feminists

Ladies, what if I told you that you actually might be a feminist.  Yes, you, a FEMINIST.    But how could that be, you ask?  You fantasize about the Marlboro man, you promised to "love and honor" your husband at the alter, and Cinderella is your all-time favorite Disney movie.  Feminism:  a.k.a. "the most misunderstood theoretical concepts of our time."   Judging from my newsfeed alone, I'm confronted daily by nice women in my broader circle of friends, who I've unknowingly offended for spouting feminism rhetoric.  And I had no idea I was even doing so.  I assumed that all of the females in my circle identified as feminists, but I assumed wrong.  It turns out that feminism (or rather one's perceived definition of feminism) can give out some pretty negative vibes to women who consider themselves more "traditional", and to women who don't walk around challenging patriarchy on a daily basis like I do.  Here's the thing though - I think there's room for all of our voices to be heard.  And I wonder if we started listening to each other more, if we'd be surprised at just how closely we stand on the issues that really matter. I'm afraid that if we can't even get on the same page about "feminism" at a very basic level, we won't be able to tackle the more serious issues that really are impacted by the true marginalization of women.  "Marginalization".  That's the most theoretical word I'm going to use in this blog.  Words you also won't see anymore:  Patriarchy, Liberation, Misandry, Misogyny, Second Wave, Objectification, and Oppression.

Today, I want to break it down in more simpler terms, not because I don't think you're capable of grasping those textbook terms, but because I want to lift up that silent wall that tends to separate the women and gender studies majors from the stay-at-home moms.   It's really so mind-numbingly simple, it's scary.  If you believe in basic fairness and mutual respect, you, my friend, are a feminist.  And for us to start tackling the big issues like sexual and domestic violence, human trafficking, women's health, and income equality, we all need to be at the table:  stay-at-home moms, bra-burning radicals, and everyone in between.  And we all need to agree that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men.  My hunch is that we actually already agree on this.

So give it to me.  What are all the reasons you've rejected feminism all these years?   Allow me to take a shot at this:

But I quit work to stay home with the kids.
Being a feminist means that your opinions and perspectives regarding parenting and family decisions are valued as equally as your partner's.  If you have deemed that putting your career on hold in order to care for your children makes the best sense for your family, then that's YOUR choice.  Kudos to you.  Feminists come in all variations, but the common thread is that we believe that women should have the same choices as men.  As long as no one is forcing or guilting you into staying home with the kiddos, you may still be a feminist.  And when you decide the time is right for you to go back to work, armed with your qualifications and experience, you'd probably expect to make as much (given your sabbatical) or a bit more money as John over there who just graduated and has no experience, right?  That, my friend, would make you a feminist.

But I like it when he opens the door for me.
Kindness never goes out of style.  As long as YOU don't forget how to open a door, and you help out others when their hands are full (or they're pushing a baby stroller), you aren't disqualified from the title.  When someone you love expresses his affection in adoring ways, even feminists are allowed to gush.  After all, you'd do the same for him, right?  Note:  reciprocity in the relationship.

But I would never have an abortion.
Your body, your choice.  Just because you have personal, religious, and/or moral reasons against abortion, you may still be a feminist - particularly if you question why the majority of people making laws about this will never ever be put in a position to make such a decision to begin with (hint:  they don't have a uterus).  You may never choose to have an abortion yourself, but you empathize with a woman faced with this kind of decision.  Regardless of your feelings on abortion, you'd want to empower her with the knowledge, information, and support for her to do what's best for her.  You'd never want a stranger who doesn't even know the depths and complexities of her position to arbitrarily make that decision for her.  If you're at least willing to start the conversation there, I wouldn't rule out feminism just yet.

But I like it when my boyfriend spends time with me.
It's OK!  Most people I know date/marry someone because they genuinely enjoy spending time with them. As long as he isn't the one dictating how you spend your time, and who you spend it with, I hate to break it to you, but you still qualify.

But I like to cook for my man.
Guess what?  So do I!  Mainly because a can of crushed tomatoes, a box of spaghetti, and a few flat squares of processed Kraft Singles just doesn't seem to do it for me (despite his best intentions).  Now you have to be careful here.  Finding joy in sharing your culinary talents with those you love is very different from walking in the door with him looking up from his iPad and asking, "What's for dinner?"

But I feel safer when he's around.
My husband is 6 foot tall and I'm 5'1.  Whenever I'm traveling alone at a hotel, I never sleep soundly because I feel a tad vulnerable being in a strange place and, because my husband's not snoring right next to me in the event of a break-in, sudden fire, tornado, or zombie apocalypse.  It's OK, really.  He admits that he sleeps more soundly when we're together too.  Especially since I'm considering putting a bid on a zombie hunter blade on eBay this week.  There's that reciprocity again.

But I like for him to buy me gifts.
I've been in positions where I've made more and made less than my significant other.  Either way, I still appreciated it when a boyfriend/husband came bearing a thoughtful gift.  Just because I'm a feminist doesn't mean I'm going to turn down someone's kind gesture and expression of love.  For the record, I'm quite the thoughtful gift-giver myself.  See a pattern here?  Balance?  Give and Take?  Starting to get the hang of this feminist thing yet?

But I'm turned on by strong, muscular bad boys.
While this isn't my typical modus operandi, I have plenty of girlfriends who are attracted to no other type.   Just because I'm a "brains over brawn" feminist who defines strength in less physical terms, this doesn't mean that you can't have attractions that are different than mine.  More power to you, sister.  And more muscles too.

But I like to wear sexy clothes that show off my assets.
Being a feminist means you can and should be able to wear whatever the heck you want to wear without someone placing their own expectations on you.   Trust me, I don't walk around in baggy jeans and a sweatshirt all the time in order to downplay my femininity.  I've also been known to have a slinky nightie or two.  As long as it's my choice to wear what I want to wear, when I want to wear it, and no one else makes those choices for me.....or expects me to act a certain way because of what I have on.  

But I'm still waiting for Prince Charming and "happily ever after".
Many of us aspire to find "the one" and go on to lead happy, blissful lives.  It's OK and even natural for us to long for deep connections with another human being, to long for partnership and companionship.  That is, as long as you're realistic that "Prince Charming" may come with a ton of baggage, may one day become unemployed, and does indeed belch and pass gas.  Without the crown and horse, you'll probably want to make sure that you remain in full control of your own "happily ever after".

And around here, we call that feminism, my friend.

So what do you say we shed the formalities, get rid of those pesky theoretical terms?  And whether or not we identify with the term "feminist", as women, do you think we could simply agree on just one basic notion?  That we should have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else?

I certainly hope so, because our daughters are counting on us to start working together to create a better, safer world for them.

Not Your Textbook Feminist
(forgive me, bell)

            Photo credit:  Housewife from 1950's by Michael Kennedy Photos

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