If you’ve explored this blog, you’ve heard me toss around that lovely word “feminism.” And I bet a few of you cringed, rolled your eyes or ignored it: “Feminism is the idea that men and women are equal. We get it.”
Traditional gender roles inflict thousands of double-standards on women and men, and I’ll discuss them in greater detail soon. But feminism is so much more than that. Despite the “fem” in feminism, women’s rights are neither the limit nor the core of equality. As Gloria Steinem recently said, it’s about challenging hierarchies. It’s about saying, “You’re not the boss of me!” There is no other word for opposing all hierarchies based on characteristics about which we have no choice: our ethnicity, our sexuality, our race, our gender identity, our class background, our physical traits and capabilities, our mental capacities. There should be.
Because chauvinism is the common enemy. Feminism started off aiming to liberate women. And that includes poor women. And women of every possible ethnic background. And in every country. And women with physical differences and disabilities. And women with mental disabilities and psychiatric disorders. And women who are attracted to women. And women who are attracted to both genders. And women who transition into their sex. And those who transition into another. And those whose biology or sense of self does not correlate to either male or female. And those who are men. As a woman with achondroplasia, how could I ignore anyone who is screwed over for the way the way they were born? As a woman with achondroplasia who chose to undergo controversial limb-lengthening procedures, how could I condemn anyone forced to make deeply personal decisions directly linked to their identity? And the questions logically expands to: How could anyone?
Do “human rights” or “egalitarianism” adequately imply opposition to any manifestation of chauvinism? Labels are so problematic. Internet and library searches for “egalitarianism” usually produce discussions of class and poverty, while “human rights” tends toward macrocosmic, international issues of war, poverty and suffrage. In effect, these terms can be narrower or broader than feminism. Yet there are advantages to redefining a well-known term like feminism rather than trying to invent and disperse a new one. When self-proclaimed feminist Amanda Palmer defended a project objectifying conjoined twins, Sady Doyle at Tiger Beatdown gave her the lecture of a lifetime that sums it up better than I’ve ever heard:
… this “feminism” thing: it’s not for some people, it’s not for you specifically, it’s not a fun little badge you get to slap onto your actions when it suits you. It is a system of carefully worked-out thoughts, which has been developed for many, many years by many thousands of people, and one of the most unavoidable parts of this system, which we can’t get away from if we are thinking for even a second with any ounce of intellectual rigor or honesty, is that everybody matters. Everybody matters precisely as much as you do. Which is why you don’t get to use them as a means of gratifying yourself with attention when the attention is good, or deny them the right to be heard or respected when the attention is bad.
Feminist history is stained with instances of female chauvinism, racism, ethnocentrism, classism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism, and continues to be by the likes of many. And we’ve got to keep calling that out with the same vigilance we accord any issue. As the xenophobic view claims that multiculturalism and universal human rights are inefficient and the only battle worth fighting is your own, a non-violent society only functions when based on the concept of reciprocity. Despite the structures in place that assume otherwise, everybody’s health, job, relationships, sex life, family, and happiness matter exactly as much as yours do.
That’s what the F word means to my husband, my mom and my dad, my sister-in-law, my closest friends, my favorite teachers, and me. And if that still makes you cringe, if you still find the label too problematic, leave me a well-thought out argument in the comments.