Something is happening in feminism—something good, for a change.
Declared feminists have spent so much time trying to make the term popular that they’ve emptied it of any discernible meaning. For some it means making our own choices how to live. For others it means the standard post-’60s definition about making specific choices about how to live. For others still, it means “gender justice,” basically solidarity against the patriarchy with others, who may or may not be women. Those are just a few ways to break the term down. There are more. It has gone though many adjectives in the past five decades.
But for popular culture, for casual feminists, it means equality of opportunity and freedom from oppression for women. That’s the definition feminists trot out when they want to shame women who don’t claim the term. For every “I’m not a feminist, but…” uttered there is a feminist ready to pounce with a, “Yes, you are a feminist. You just don’t understand the term. It is just about equality.”
By that definition, however, most of the women I know are feminists, although they’ve spent so much time being insulted or turned off by declared feminists that they do not claim the title. I’ve not claimed it for decades, yet since I started freelance writing, friends introduce me to others as their feminist friend. They assign the term based upon the definition they know.
Meanwhile, declared feminists keep berating us about our lack of understanding while acting and writing in such contradictory ways that only people who follow the movement closely have a shot at understanding what it is about these days. (See this “Incomplete Guide to Feminist Infighting” from The Wire for a hint at the level of complexity.)
The lack of clarity presents an opportunity. Why not take the word back?
Feminism Was Once a Force for Freedom
I am aware that women of the Right, #womenagainstfeminsim, mothers of sons, and humanists don’t care for the term, but it was once a force for good and freedom. Why not restore it? As a simple practical matter, today the term is used to exhaust and isolate women, weaken our daughters, and bully our sons. We should consider retaking it if only as a defensive measure. The tactic has precedence. It worked well for U.S. progressives when they took over the term “liberal.”
One might object about feminist association with abortion. But pro-life feminists exist. They are currently ostracized, but they exist.
One might object to the socialist aspects of the term, as well, but they needn’t pose a problem. Yes, along with the useful idiots, the little women of Marxism have allowed women to be used as pawns in the larger socialist class war. (Since the ’60s ,feminist power brokers have argued for the independence of women as a stealth means of destroying the nuclear family, which is the last and best defense against Marxist ideology.)
But while Marxism needs feminism to destabilize society, feminism doesn’t need Marxism. Women can achieve without the restrictive governmental ideology. That is, there is no reason feminism needs to be socialist. In truth, by reclaiming the term we could provide clarity for women and everyone else. Let the Marxists call themselves Marxist. And let women call themselves feminist. Then perhaps we could stop arguing over definitions and actually achieve for women. Why should we allow declared feminists to continue to use women as pawns?
People Fight for Ideas
Oppression does still exist. We need to act. People fight for ideas. They rally to them. We need words that invoke those ideas. “Feminism” can do that. Ayaan Hirshi Ali made this her main point recently at the Independent Women’s Forum Women of Valor dinner in Washington DC. Most noted how she called out the silliness of modern feminism. I noticed what she proposed to do about that silliness.
As an individual I am in a place, and in a country, and in an environment where I refuse for someone else to speak for me or to victimize me. And that is what we need to reclaim.
Let’s not throw away feminism. It’s like throwing away the Civil Rights movement and its history. It’s like throwing away the history of the Apartheid movement, or the anti-slavery movement. Feminism is not the monster. Some women are. We can reclaim it. We have to make it serious and you’re on the right path by standing up and giving them opposition.
I am a feminist. I am a grateful and vicious feminist. I’ll tell you what we need to fight against – the real war on women.
Right now, the term is wasted on novelties like armpit dye, all the while there is still work to be done. There are more women who believe in equality of opportunity for women than the current crowd of women claiming the title. Retaking the word is simply a matter of claiming it and then acting for equality of opportunity for women. The women who align the definition of the movement with the action of the movement—we are the feminists.