Sixty-two comments, several emails and a few hours on Twitter later, I feel I have my thoughts in order enough to dig deeper. I originally wrote this when there were only 62 comments on last week’s post and I was afraid the meaning was lost in all the tangenty commenting. Now we’re up to over 160, so perhaps this second round is needed more than I first assumed
Last week, I anticipated that post to be sort of a softball, easy post. “These things still happen, so we still need feminism! The end!” to be met with, “Go on girl!” and “You’re right! Rawr!” When there was some opposition, I think I tried to make sense of all of my thoughts and instead just started sputtering, “THINK OF THE CHILDREN,” or something similar. I hadn’t anticipated needing to explain myself more than I had. So, why not follow up a good discussion by
capitalizing on the controversy taking a step back and more carefully explaining the backbone to what I was saying? I’m responding to several different lines of thought represented in the comments, so I’m going to break this into chunks.
On Rights vs. Treatment: As a whole, I think we assume that equal rights represent a sort of finality. An accomplished goal. And there are accomplishments! Progress has been made! But, equal rights are not the same as equal treatment. And law is not the same as social perception. (Besides, I’d argue the law is still dramatically farther behind than you’d imagine.)
On Where to Draw the Line: When we sit and watch the fellas on Mad Men openly discuss the cup sizes of their secretaries and uncomfortably laugh, we need to be aware that 1) that stuff still happens and 2) it’s not okay. It’s not simply a matter of being gross, rude or inappropriate. It’s a matter of making someone feel unsafe and vulnerable- a much bigger deal than simply, “Aw, get a sense of humor,” or “You need thicker skin.” Making general positive comments about someone’s appearance is not the same as commenting on specific body parts, making sexual remarks, making lewd gestures, or physically touching someone. As the things I just listed are more common issues for a female, I consider them feminist issues.
On Defining Feminism and Its Relevance: Knowing that there are women who everyday feel unsafe, it seems callous to blatantly say, “We don’t need feminism any more.” Perhaps your life is unaffected by sexism, but that doesn’t mean that these things don’t still happen daily. It’s important that we all- women who have been victimized in the past, women who haven’t, men- all of us, consider it a personal cause to fight sexism in all its forms.
Some are opposed to the term “feminism,” connecting it to specific politics or man-hating or baby-killing. I use the word to simply mean “fighting for the equality of genders.” Whether you use the term “feminism” or “equality” or “antisexist” or whatever else, fine. The point remains that saying that, “We don’t need feminism any more,” dismisses the current, real struggles of too many women. I prefer the term “feminism” because it highlights the empowerment of women. Not the empowerment of women beyond men. Not the submitting of men to the wills of women. The empowerment of women to be equals with men, in both rights and treatment. By using the term, I don’t hope to pit genders against one another, but I do hope to highlight that sexism against women is still very much prevalent.
On Modesty: I could rant all day about how I wish more women would dress modestly. I think it harms, rather than furthers, the cause of feminism when we ignore the connotations of specific varieties of dress. I wear certain clothes to work, certain clothes to the beach, certain clothes to jog. Wearing appropriate clothing with respect to functionality but also connotation is important. However, modest clothing is not enough to end sexual harassment. As many have mentioned, most instances occur while the victim is not dressed provocatively. As with any wrong, the problem is with the perpetrator, not the victim. I’ve found that men who are gross will say gross things regardless of what I’m wearing. And men who are not gross don’t say anything regardless of what a woman is wearing. Your choice of dress may dictate how much attention you receive (and, more importantly, from whom) but it does not justify the type of attention you receive.
On Responsibility: Certainly, we should be encouraging victims to speak out against what happens to them, but the truth is that it is often scary, dangerous or seemingly impossible to do so in the moment. We can’t shrug and declare that it’s every woman’s responsibility to defend her own self. That’s both impractical and unfeeling. Feminism is a social cause like any other. Those with a voice need to use it for the sake of those without.
These are the points that stuck out to me. Did I miss anything? Why do you think this is such a heated discussion on both sides? What makes the term “feminism” so loaded?