I have recently encountered some puzzling arguments regarding what feminism is and what it should be and what it is doing wrong, or how men have become villianized by feminists. Being called an old-school feminist, recently, as an insult, I began thinking even more about what sort of feminist I am and what feminism means to me, and what it might mean in the US now.
I love the term old-school feminist, it invites images of the Iron Jawed Angels and Simone deBouvaire. Women who actively opposed the oppression of the male-dominated and misogynist societies in which they lived. Suggesting we still live in such a society seems to bring almost the same moral outrage that once encouraged political leaders to imprison Alice Paul for protesting for suffrage and force feeding her while she was imprisoned. For a woman to suggest this country fails half of its inhabitants, she must be crazy, surely. We now have the vote.
Women are still obscenely absent from our government, holding 20% of Senate seats and 21% of House seats. And accounting for less than 4% of leaders of Fortune 500 companies, our existence in business appears to be regulated to supporting roles. These are hard numbers, not some feeling or anecdotal case. The lack of women business leaders cannot be solely blamed on their role as mothers at home. There is an institutionalized culture of promoting men before women.
Perhaps being a feminist today is about ignoring the societal pressure to accept the position of women in society today; and instead focus on the numbers, which cannot lie. It is important to understand change which promotes the power and independence of a class of people who have been held down by their society must be fought for; those in power are often reluctant, at best, to allow those they have denied power to reclaim it. One of the most unique aspects of feminism is that it acknowledges all people, men and women, as having the same interests and goals in the fight for the rights of women. This is a societal matter. It will take our whole society to make the change necessary to be able to take advantage of all that women have to offer.
Being a feminist is not just about being a woman. Being a feminist is the understanding our society is weakened for hobbling half of its members; this does not require a vagina. Nor does it require a hatred of men or our nation. It is simply the acknowledgement of the reality in which we live, and a drive to change it.