Thursday, April 13, 2006

What IS Feminism, Anyway?

A reader wrote:
"What do you think of feminism/feminist now?...it seems like i always disagree with EVERYONE...I kind of feel like everyone calls themselves a feminist now, without getting what feminism means."

I have had this debate over "lesbian" (can a lesbian still be a lesbian and sleep with a man?), over "feminist" (can a feminist like porn? can she be sex radical?), over "Christian," and I suspect we could continue to have this discussion around any identity group. If you think about it, what identity groups have in common is that there is always someone policing their borders - and there is always someone else insisting that the borders are fluid.

What makes me a feminist, I think, is that I think women (and, to a lesser in some ways but certainly different extent, men) are oppressed by gender as constructed by society. I think that society generally thinks less of women than it does of men. We've got tens if not hundreds of ways to put down women that are gender-specific - from "cunt" to "whore" - and only a handful of words that do the same for men. And language, I think, tells us a lot about what a society values and what it doesn't value.

Then there's that whole pesky issue of things like having Viagra covered under insurance policies while women still struggle to get access to the Pill and to EC. Or the fact that women are earning something like $.76 for every dollar that men make. And I could go on and on, but I will spare you.

Like any ideology - political, religious, or otherwise - there are a LOT of schools of thought within feminism. There's liberal feminism, for example, which basically accepts the status quo but wants to push for women's equality within that status quo (and Gloria Steinem used to be an example of that - I don't know if she still is, but I always think of her as far too mainstream for my tastes). There's radical feminism, which sees gender as the primary form of oppression and which has sometimes morphed into "men are the enemy" (though that is a very stereotypical and not always accurate depiction). There's sex radical feminism, which argues that women's sexual expression has the potential to be liberatory, even if it includes sex work and pornography. There's anti-porn feminism, which argues that sex work and porn are always exploitative of women and by definition not liberatory. There is Black Feminism - and Womanism - which focus particularly on feminism as it relates to and is born of Black women's lives and the lives of women of color.

And that's not even touching on ecofeminism, separatism, lesbian feminism, or many more of the myriad branches of feminism that exist. It goes without saying, of course, that there is no way in hell we will ever all agree. About anything.

For the reader who posted that comment - I'm curious. What were your disagreements about? What are the "feminist" opinions that people hold that suggest to you that they don't know what feminism is really about?

What do others think?

1 comment:

blacksweatpants said...

That there is discussion, divergence, and controversy within feminism (whatever that word means in your schema) is beneficial and healthy.

Be proud of such disaggrements!

When no one questions, no one fights, and no one wants to hold a dissenting opinion... then your group comes dangerously close to a cult.