Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What it means to be a feminist

What does being a feminist entail? I've never heard it defined in vivid detail. I'd like to think of myself as a feminist, it sounds good, catchy, strong, but until I actually know what it means, I'd just be a fraud on the 'feminist' bandwagon.

How about this for a definition: a feminist is one who is an activist for all causes unique to females - experiences  unique to females such pregnancy, abortion , birth, breastfeeding,  motherhood and menopause;  unique societal issues such as female discrimination, chauvinism, prejudice, objectification, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and domestic abuse;  unique health issues such as breast and cervical cancer, menstrual and fertility problems (deeply sorry if I've left anything imperative out, also I know many experiences such as domestic abuse go both ways, but I am speaking of the female experience).

But it goes deeper than that to the 'role' of a woman. How she is controlled, pressured, pushed, harassed, criticized, objectified, labeled, oppressed and depressed into a tiny little box. And with that I'm confused as to what it is my society wants a woman to be. Is it a stay at home mother, a career woman, a family manager, a submissive wife, a busty sex queen, or a modest cookie cutter soccer mum?

None of that is me, I refuse to be labeled by anyone. Maybe I'm too proud, but to me a person is so much more than a mere description. I don't want to BE anything in particular, I just want to be, I just want the world to let me be.  And for the record ‘woman' describes anyone with female genitalia, and I'm happy to own that, but any other societal expectations and prejudices placed on me because I am a woman can go shove it.

When researching for this post I found over 17 different types of feminist movements, all of them generally believed women were oppressed by dominating men. I don't feel oppressed, do you? But often what we think is normal, healthy and fine, is actually abnormal, unhealthy and unnatural – we just have nothing to compare it to. I can not believe some Muslim women have to wear burka's or be escorted by a man in public! But I haven't been brought up in a strict Muslim community, which to many women, I suspect, feels very normal.

The one way I do feel oppressed however, is in the fact there are so few women in positions of influence and power running the country. That's what many mothers excel in – managing a family, negotiating conflict, understanding different points of view, nurturing those in need, making sure everyone is fed, clothed and cared for. Every night I shake my head in disappointment at the deployment of more soldiers sent to resolve a conflict – WTF??!! I bite my tongue out of respect for the males in the room, but what I really want to say is, "is violence the only way men know how to solve a problem?!" I know all males aren't like this, I have three boys, and I know, like females, they are exposed to immense pressure to conform to societal gender norms. I make a conscious effort to encourage their individuality in whatever interests they pursue, and I am determined to raise little boys that see gender prejudice as needless and oppressive.

Feminism starts with parents in the home; raising daughters with confidence and high self-esteem, with the belief they are held under no one's thumb. This is the beginning of a generation of women who may hopefully infiltrate government, bringing with them the immeasurable skills of motherhood, and with that a country that resembles more of a gigantic family rather than a warzone.

Yes I do consider myself a feminist – not a man hater or a lesbian (though those certainly do exist in the feminist community), but a person who recognizes most females go unrecognized, undervalued, underestimated, and underutilized in their strength, potential and abilities, that could not only be a massive contribution to the running of our country, but the major influence steering our country in a more individual, family and community oriented direction.

Simply put though, as one feminist said, "A feminist is a woman who just doesn't want to be treated like shit." Enough said.


Strengthening Our Daughters:
  • Encourage Discussion: Discuss the history of feminism and the struggles women have faced in the past and still face today. Discuss how images of females in the media are portrayed; how it makes her feel; how she feels about her own appearance and achievements?
  • Try and try again: Encourage her to never stop exploring and trying, offer suggestions but help her feel capable and confident that she can solve her own problems. Resist the urge to always protect and rescue her.
  • Provide Diverse Opportunities: Experiment with a wide range of people, activities, hobbies and skills – never assume you know what she may like.
  • Regular Sports and Physical Activity: This enhances mental health, reducing symptoms of stress and depression, and can provide a sense of strength and accomplishment. It also reduces the risk of chronic diseases. Female athletes have been shown to perform better academically and have lower school drop-out rates than non-athletes.
  • Education: Studies show education plays a key role in improving the quality of women's lives. Math's has shown to be key in achieving equal pay to men.
  • Be the Role Model: Monitor your own comments about your self and your daughter. Watch your own stereotypes; help fix the kitchen sink and let dad make dinner. Surround your daughter with other strong confident women. Give her real-life role models that are inspiring and encouraging.
  • Get dad involved: Girls with active, hardworking dads attend college more often and are more ambitious, more successful in school, more likely to attain careers of their own, less dependent, more self protective, and less likely to date an abusive man.
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2 comments :

  1. Love this!! Your definition speaks volumes as to what a feminist should be. I hope this is what others see in me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks so much Hera! So glad there are like minded women out there.

    ReplyDelete