Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Who gets to be a feminist?"

"Who gets to be a feminist?"

Slate recently asked several feminist activists/writers to answer this question in 500 words or less. My writing skills and “feminist” background both in the academic and political sense are nowhere near on par with these ladies, but I thought I’d give it a go. For shits and giggles.

*When you try to answer the question “who gets to be a feminist?” that automatically implies that some people don’t get to be feminists. Frankly the idea of having a checklist or litmus test for who gets to be “in the club” really turns me off to the whole idea of labels like “feminist.” I feel this way about religion too. You could do this same exercise with a variety of religious scholars and influential leaders, asking the simple question “Who gets to be a Christian?” and you would get a similar variety of responses with conflicting answers in the same way that the answers to the question on feminism are conflicting.

Of course there’s the dictionary definition of feminism - the doctrine advocating social, political, economical and all other rights of women equal to those of men. Anyone who is not a sexist asshole is going to say they agree women should have rights equal to men. To most people today, women not being able to vote or own property seems like something from a crazy novel. You tell people that as recently as the 1970s women weren’t allowed to own their own credit cards or get birth control unless they were married and people will look at you like you just said the earth is flat.

But just because women have made great strides in the last 100 years doesn’t mean feminism is over or no longer necessary as many have declared. Sure, culturally, women have great influence and are all over the map. Forbes recently compiled a list of the Most Powerful Women that included Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, and Beyonce Knowles in the top ten. I’m a fan of all these ladies! Also of Oprah Winfrey (3) and Ellen Degeneres (10) But when you look at who is in power in business and politics, the numbers are skewed less in the ladies’ favor. It’s strange to see a female CEO of a major conglomerate (PepsiCo) like Indray Nooyi (#6 on the Forbes list).

And the pushback I get on this is always, “well women need to realize they can’t have it all.” And by have it all they mean have a career and a family. But yet no one seems to question a man’s desire or ability to “have it all.” One thing I couldn’t help noticing on Forbes list is that in addition to the ladies’ age, title, and source of income, their marital status and number of children is listed. (To be fair this was pointed out to me – h/t Broadsheet). I don’t recall many top ten lists of successful business men including marital status and number of children.

I’m not going to say who does or doesn’t get to be a feminist, but to me someone who is working towards the stated goals of feminism (see dictionary definition above) is someone who is an advocate for women and also for men to be able to “have it all.” Both men and women should be able to raise families and pursue any vocational aspirations they may have.

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