What does it mean to be a feminist? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, jumpstarted by the Wiscon controversy over Elizabeth Moon, and most recently the controversy over Bitch Magazine’s 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader. In the latter controversy, Bitch took heat because they removed some of the books from the list after readers complained. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has an excellent rundown on their blog.
By the way, I really dislike the word bitch used in this way. I get that it’s an insult co-opted by the insulted group, thus taking away the power of the word, but I hate it the way I hate the word “nigger,” which has been co-opted the same way. It doesn’t do any individual of either group any good.
So from these incidents and others, I started to think that it’s kind of hard to be a feminist. You have to take into account the history or feelings of anyone you come in contact with, even if you don’t know that history or those feelings, lest you hurt their feelings or traumatize them. That was the lesson from the 100 Books brouhaha. Or, only some people get to be feminists and that is defined by the dominant group with no exceptions. That was the Wiscon brouhaha.
So what I thought was, being a feminist is simple — not easy, but simple.
Feminists work for a living.
That’s it. You are responsible for your financial well-being and welfare, so as part of that responsibility, you get yourself educated and you train for the job you want and do what you can to the best of your ability to not be dependent upon someone else.
Okay, okay, that’s too simple. So here’s another rule.
When feminists have children, they are responsible for their financial security as well. You still have to work. And you have to work at a real job, one that brings in enough money that, if your partner or spouse is no longer able to work, only half the family income (say) is lost, not 90 percent of it. So knitters and crafters, Etsy doesn’t count.
This is quite difficult, as anyone who has ever had babies knows. We don’t have good maternity policies in this country, and daycare isn’t uniformly great and sometimes it is downright dangerous. But being a feminist is not about how easy it is. And a lot of people are creative about putting together childcare that turns out right for their kids and themselves. This is where women can turn to each other to work out what they need, if good daycare and preschools aren’t available, and maybe become politically active.
Here’s another rule:
Feminists are responsible for their reproductive choices and support access to birth control for all girls and women. There are some feminists who say you can’t be a feminist and be anti-choice. I don’t go that far, because this is such a deeply human issue that I can understand the anti-choice stance while not supporting it. At the very least though, you can’t be a feminist and not support access to birth control for all girls and women. Having control over our reproduction is probably the most important factor in the well-being of women in the Western world. Death in childbirth is practically a nightmare of the past.
That’s pretty much it. [Thinking, thinking…]
Yup. That’s it.
- Feminists work for a living.
- When they have children they still work.
- Feminists support access to birth control and reproductive rights for all girls and women.
Feminism changed my life. Heck, it changed the world. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and their generation have been knocked for their brand of feminism, with critics saying they only took into account middle class and upper-middle-class white women and their concerns. I think that’s unfair, and it’s also allowed the current wave of feminism to be derailed from its primary focus — the specific rights of women to take their place in the economic and cultural marketplace in this country.
I’d like to return feminism to its roots. I’d like to bring it back to what matters. I like to think that this is a start.
All the best,