Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Am I a feminist? Are you? I've been reading about Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and it's obvious that if one of us were to time-travel to visit the other, and she were to question me about what I felt women were fit to do, she would consider me a radical feminist. Probably you, too, if you believe that:
  • Women ought to be able to own property, instead of having a man (husband, father, brother, son) own and dispose of all property.

  • Women can decently write books and be paid for it.

  • Girls should go to school, not just to learn to sew but also to think and reason.

  • Girls should be allowed some modest exercise to keep their bodies healthy.

  • A grown woman is responsible for her own moral behavior.
Ok, maybe 1792 is too easy to compare to. Do you believe women should vote? Then according to the mores of UK, US and Canada in 1906, just a hundred years ago, you're a suffragist and feminist.

How about comparing to a time less than 50 years ago, then. In 1963, the Kennedy administration published the findings of a moderate commission on the status of women, and in 1964 came the Civil Rights Act which covered sex as well as race discrimination. Do you agree that:
  • It's unfair discrimination if a qualified woman is turned down for a job, and a less-qualified man hired instead, particularly in government and government-funded jobs.

  • Women should be allowed to use contraceptives.
Even though I know nobody, personally, who strongly disagrees with any of these points, I also know nobody who calls themselves a feminist, and thinking back 25 years can't remember knowing any self-declared feminists. Yet of course I know many women who wear pants (heh) and have technically-demanding careers, some of them also raising children. I also know many husbands and boyfriends who support demanding careers, help with housework, and have spoken in favour of equal pay and equal access to promotions and high-status jobs. There's some social differentiation around sexual acts -- it's better for your reputation to be sexually promiscuous if you're male than if you're female -- but I still have trouble of thinking of many people who would seriously discriminate on that basis (e.g. refusing to associate with an adulteress or reproving her while approving the company and behavior of adulterers).

What turned "feminist" into a nasty epithet? Was it the introduction of issues around sexual promiscuity and pornography? Was it the opposition of domesticity to feminist belief, making a woman who enjoyed cooking, sewing or having a clean house feel like she couldn't be a legitimate feminist? Was it fictional portrayals of feminists?

I can't decide if it's a good thing that we don't have as deep a need to be feminists any more, or a bad thing that the word is still so tarred after 30 years. I'd be interested in hearing opinions on that and whether you, male or female, consider yourself a feminist.

Blog Archive

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.