Feminism is Not a Four-Letter Word

By Keiko Zoll (Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed, June 22, 2011)

Whether I call myself a women’s health advocate or Vagina Warrior, it boils down to this:

I’m a feminist.

(Shocker.)

What a loaded word, right? Images of unshaven armpits, gross looking white-girl dreads, floppy bra-less boobs, a man-hating smirk on my face, my fist raised in the air. Now, granted, if this describes you… um, cool! More power to you. But it’s not me. And honestly, that’s not what feminism looks like.

Feminism looks like women and men who want to take the world by storm to make the world a safer, better, more empowered place for women and girls. If you want men to stand by your side and advocate with you, feminists can’t be man-haters. Are there some feminist man-haters? Sure. But if feminism is going to make any kind of global impact, it’s got to be a collaborative effort between both sides.

Why the heck am I talking about feminism? A few reasons, actually. First, to be an advocate for women’s health is a pretty fundamental aspect of feminism. It’s about leveraging equal access to healthcare. Second. Esperanza at Stumbling Gracefully has a post that asks the question Do we want too much? and third, Schmoopy in our Prompt-ly Writing Group posted a link to a Guardian article that asks Why is feminism still so afraid to focus on its flaws?

The two are truly interrelated and it got me thinking about stereotypes that even I’ve held about what it means to be feminist, who is and is not considered feminist, and what it means to want more than we have.

I took a few women’s and gender studies courses in college. I was both vice-president and then president our of GLBT student alliance. I performed in the Vagina Monologues. As a young empowered woman in my early 20s, I was rockin’ the feminist label and damn proud of it.

Like so many things in my early 20s, I wouldn’t really appreciate all of it until now, as I approach my (gulp) early 30s. Feminism has become less about the rallies and the petitions and the student activism for me. Feminism for me has now become an active effort to make good in the world for women and girls where I can with the strengths and talents I have to offer. I blog about infertility and women’s health. I blog about why we need to care about the cultural norming of misogyny in America. I support and promote the work of the Red Tent Temple Movement. I think very intentionally about the kind of world I want to shape for my niece and hopefully, my own daughter should I be so blessed.

I’ve been doing the SITS Girls 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (SITS31DBBB). Much like their Bloggy Boot Camp blogging conference I went to in May, I am out of my league here. I’m one of a very small group (as in, you could probably count us all on one hand) of infertility bloggers participating. SITS is a very Mom Blogger focused forum of support. I’ve stuck with it because I’ve got a lot still yet to learn about blogging and as I’ve come to realize from reading both Esperanza’s post and the article Schmoopy shared – I’ve got a lot to learn about feminism too.

Did I turn my nose up at Mom Bloggers? A little, yeah – I’ll be honest. Part of it was jealousy – I want what they have. Part of it was being judgemental – how can nothing but reviews and giveaways be good for the blogpsphere? But as I’ve spent the last 3 weeks interacting and networking with these fabulous ladies, I’ve realized my stereotypical judgments were wrong. The Mom Blogger niche is just as varied and valuable and has as much to offer as the ALI blogosphere. I’m realizing it’s time to stop passing judgment and start taking a closer look at blogs outside of my niche to see what I can learn.

Oh Diane is one of those Mom Bloggers I’ve met through SITS31DBBB and she posted a fantastic post on why the Mommy Blogger market is so hot right now. What followed in her post comments was a fiery discussion about why Mom Bloggers get all the attention from advertisers while may of us childless folks sit here twiddling our thumbs.

My point is this: Mom Bloggers – and Mom Blogging in general – can be feminist too.

The Guardian article elaborates:

“Women bear the children and, far more often than not, they wish to be the primary carer for those children. At its most strident, feminism can be mistaken for an ideology designed to make women feel they are wrong to want that.”

Mom Blogging is not counter-productive or counter-intuitive to feminist ideals. Even when I was in college, I got horrified looks from other college feminists who were shocked – shocked I tell you – that I didn’t really care what my degree was in because I eventually just wanted to be a SAHM and pump out babies.

This is the point: it’s not about creating an army of empowered career-women. Feminism is about having  equal access to and support for making empowered choices, be it career, motherhood, health or otherwise. Wanting to be a SAHM mom – like my own mom was when me and my sister were kids, a fact that I am so grateful for to this day – doesn’t make me any less feminist. The fact that the Mom Blogger market is growing says to me that women’s voices in social media and technology are rising, and people (especially advertisers) want to hear what they have to say.

Which brings me to my last point: does feminism want too much? Again, from the Guardian:

Worse, feminism has accidentally promoted the idea that it’s pretty easy to work and have children, with the right support in place. On even an average income, it’s never easy, even once children are at secondary school (though it’s certainly easier then). Your priorities change. Work is no longer the most important thing, for a while anyway. Ambition can dissipate.

Let me rephrase that: do we want too much? In fact, let’s drill that down again:

Do I want too much?

Take a look at what I grew up with: a mom who stayed at home for the most part, picking up seasonal part-time work to pad out Christmas and birthdays. My father still works almost 60 hours a week. He traveled extensively when I was much younger, leaving the brunt of the child-rearing to my mom. I’m stating this as fact, not to pass judgment. This was what worked for my parents and they were in agreement about their roles as caregiver and provider, respectively.

I grew up with a big, two-story house with two cars. My sister and I went to public schools and college. We pretty much got to do just about any lesson or extra-curricular we wanted. We lived in comfortable New Jersey suburbia. For the 18 years I grew up and lived in that house, this is what The American Dream looked like to me.

Is it too much to want the big, single family house? Is it too much to want a husband that brings home the bacon while I stay at home and serve as primary caregiver to our gorgeous genetic children? Is it fair to place that kind of burden on my husband?

Folks, I struggle with this. These are things I want really bad, I can’t necessarily have and boy howdy, I don’t like taking No for an answer.

But let’s step back for a second: in an time of record foreclosures, a flailing economy, and my seriously busted reproductive system, The American Dream I grew up with isn’t realistically even possible anymore.

Esperanza challenges us:

“The reality is, we might not get to be what we want to be, or we might have to sacrifice greatly to get there, and the same can befall our children. If certain lessons are learned; that frequently life brings disappointment, that sometimes their is no just reward for our efforts, that we must be grateful for what we have and stop continuously looking for more, that sometimes we won’t be happy, maybe, just maybe, we will wake up one day knowing how to be satisfied with our life.And maybe some day, if we’re very lucky, we can learn to be truly happy with what we have.”

I counter with this:

If the status quo was okay though, we wouldn’t need a feminist movement in the first place. And you know what? After all this, after this huge and rambling post, it’s not about feminism anymore.

It’s about being active participants in shaping a just world.

Feminist labels aside: where do we fit in to shape that world?

Where do you fit in? How are you helping to shape a just world?

1 Comment

Filed under Feminism, Hannah Wept Sarah Laughed, Keiko Zoll

One response to “Feminism is Not a Four-Letter Word

  1. Great post! Thanks for your honesty!

    Like

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