Archive for March, 2015

What if we’re not all supposed to be feminists?

rosieI know, I know.  The title of today’s post probably has you wondering if I’ve been kidnapped and replaced by a MeganBot meant to undo all my work to promote women’s rights. Don’t worry, I’m still here.  (I’d have figured out a way to send a Snapchat distress signal by now, guys.)
But I do want to raise this question: Should all people identify as feminists?
I watched a video today from performer Katie Goodman, who has delivered a witty song about whether or not you should call yourself a feminist (spoiler: you should). After describing an anonymous actress who denounces the term, Goodman goes on to sing/announce that since the actress presumably appreciates equality, driving cars, and voting, “Sorry, babe, but you’re a feminist!”
“Feminism” is currently experiencing an explosion of popularity, with celebrities like Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Emma Watson freely using the term to identify themselves.  Added to this, male public figures like Aziz Ansari and John Legend are also joining Team Equality.
In many ways, this is fantastic news. It is a positive and encouraging sign that more folks are willing to wave the feminist banner.  ”Feminism” is losing its status as a dirty word.  Stereotypes associated with the movement (man-hating, bra-burning, lesbian, prudes, sluts, bitches) are slowly  being eradicated.  And, although we have a long way to go, it has become more acceptable recently for women and men to publicly call sexists out on their bullshit!  These are all great developments, which hopefully will lead to a world  in which all spaces, physical and virtual, are safe and free for women.
But I take issue with the argument that because you have benefited from decades of the feminist movement, you are automatically a feminist.  All women and men have benefited from feminism, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still sexist people and ideas out there. If you’re a politician who calls yourself a feminist, but then supports abortion restrictions, I’m going to give you some serious side-eye.
Normally, I do not believe in defining anyone’s feminism.  I would never want to scare people from identifying with a movement that does have a fundamentally simple principle: Women and men are equal. But I also don’t think that we should lasso everyone into a big feminist kumbaya campfire.  After all, if we are including in our membership those who do not embrace feminist principles, what does the word mean anymore?  As Jessica Valenti asked, “If everyone is a feminist, is anyone?
At times, it seems like this growing fascination with feminism is more trendy than empowering.  I am nervous that we are watering down the meaning and history of feminism to make it more palatable.   I am suspicious that celebrities and public figures are jumping on the feminist bandwagon to sell more stuff, not to create a more equal society.  And I am afraid that we are on a dangerous trajectory to post-feminist feminism: a feminism that celebrates itself but ignores the gender-based injustices still occurring in the world.
We cannot forget that feminism is a historically activist movement.  That doesn’t mean you need to be an activist, yourself, to identify with it.  But the movement is born from centuries of oppression, biological reductionism, and internalized and externalized misogyny.  We cannot forget these important roots or whitewash the movement into a rah-rah girl power trend that contains no substance.
Feminism is constant questioning.  Feminism is a fight.  I’ll be the first to pop the champagne bottles when every man and woman espouses feminist principles.  But  I am unwilling to compromise those principles in the mean time.

The Personal is Political: Angelina Jolie Edition

Angelina_Jolie_Cannes_2013In a New York Times op-ed today, Angelina Jolie publicized her recent decision to surgically remove her ovaries after learning she was at a heightened cancer risk.
Jolie discovered in a blood test two years ago that she carried a mutation in the BRCA1 gene that brought with it an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.  Shortly after receiving this information, she underwent a preventative double mastectomy— a decision she also publicly announced in order to spread awareness about options available to women with the same genetic mutation.  In today’s op-ed, Jolie explicated the complicated decision-making process that led to her choice to remove her ovaries (a surgery that forces the body into premature menopause, carrying with it a host of side effects).
Her letter is truly an example of bravery.  Not only has the award-winning actress and humanitarian  undergone a life-altering procedure, but she has shared a highly personal decision that affects her body, mind, future and family.
That act is empowering for all women.  In an age where we are still seeing (mostly male) legislators try to exert control over women’s medical choices, Jolie owned the narrative about her own body and health.  She spoke about her reproductive capabilities, her ovaries, her breasts, her uterus.  And, most importantly, she did not apologize for it, as women are socialized to do in the name of delicacy and “privacy”— itself, a construct that perpetuates the silencing of women’s experiences.
In speaking up, however, Jolie was careful not to fall into the second-wave-feminist trap of speaking for all women.  She said:

I did not do this solely because I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, and I want other women to hear this. A positive BRCA test does not mean a leap to surgery. I have spoken to many doctors, surgeons and naturopaths. There are other options. Some women take birth control pills or rely on alternative medicines combined with frequent checks. There is more than one way to deal with any health issue. The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally.

By making this statement, Jolie has exemplified a nuanced feminism that recognizes the full humanity of women.  Women are not a monolith with singular health care beliefs, needs and options.  Rather, each person must independently make decisions that are right for her unique situation and history.

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