What is Feminism?

OK. Square one. Men and women are different, obviously. This is a good thing. Politically, they are not equal. This is a bad thing. Certainly they should be equal, considering society would not exist without the contributions from both sexes. No-brainer, right?

Science says there are some basic differences between the way the men and women process information. Society adds another layer of gendered expectations. While it’s good to know there’s a potential explanation for how emotionally retarded men can be, or that women may be hard-wired for relationships as opposed to autonomy, that’s clearly not the whole picture.

As so many of the world’s modern cultures are built upon dichotomies of good-bad, light-dark, etc., it is easy to believe in the opposition of male-female. But this is a trick of ration and language, not the true nature of this world and the sexes within it. Life is bigger and more complex than that, and we can do better as humans, finding what we have in common. Men and women seem quite capable of negotiating personal peace and yet, somehow, in the greater world at large, there is disconnection, misunderstanding, and fear. The war between the sexes, as they say.

And, speaking of war, I wonder what our world would look like if women were in charge all these millenia? What if the organizing principle for society was childbirth, not warfare or property rights??

So, what is feminism? As a political orientation, narrowly defined, feminism studies the relationship of women to the current socio/economic/political power structure. Feminists seek to improve the status of women within that power structure, to make it more fair. Feminists are champions for an equal opportunity for women in the world and here in the US. Feminists, both men and women, recognize that since women are half the population, and they make up half the workforce in this country, they should have half the say. They also recognize that since women have 100% of the babies, they should have 100% reproductive autonomy. Women should not be forced to bear children.

Men have been dictating the rules of society for millenia and claiming either biology or God gives them the wisdom to do this. Thus we have evolved a patriarchal society, very hierarchical, that advantages men, and values women only for their reproductive service and domestic skills (and doesn’t value them very much at that, generally speaking). It’s only relatively recently that these largely unconscious rules of society have been questioned (perhaps it started with Martin Luther challenging the Catholic Church? perhaps it was John Locke claiming man has a natural right to be free?), and really only in the last few decades have women been questioning them. But we are all waking up. The status quo is in many ways as outmoded and damaging to men as it is to women.

So, is Sarah Palin a feminist? Well, she’s female, but that doesn’t make her a feminist. She doesn’t support some of the most basic tenets of feminism: full reproductive rights, equal pay for women (as more than just a theory), the idea that women (even those less fortunate than herself) should be able to afford health care. So, no, she’s not a feminist. Sarah Palin and other conservative women cannot have that word. And hopefully here I’ll be able to take back some of the other words that conservatives have appropriated: patriot, family, traditional values, and freedom.

All these issues and more I plan to explore in this Feminist Field Guide, and invite participation from savvy feminists everywhere.



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