On Feminism

It’s a simple question, I just want to know what you think of when you hear (or read) the word feminism. What type of woman do you consider a feminist? When does feminism rear its head in your everyday life? I’m not looking for text book definitions, because we all know that terms tend to change once they are applied to our actual lives.

I realize I’ve brought somethig like this up before, but this is for a different purpose and I’d love to hear what you have to say. If you dislike leaving comments, please feel free to email me. Also, feel free to do so anonymously. (Anything goes, my friends. Don’t hold back.)

Thank you in advance!


  1. I remember once that one of my friends in college got called a feminist and was offended. She was like, “I am NOT one of those feminist types.” Which made me laugh b/c we tend to see eye to eye on things, and I do identify as a feminist! But I can see how the word has become loaded. Too bad.


  2. See, that’s the thing. It seems to me that the term means too many things to too many people to be made any sense of.

    But I am curious, what does it mean to people. I feel like what it means to me isn’t how it’s being used anymore, which is kind of confusing to me. I would love to say, I am a feminist, but when I see people throw it around to describe things I would never, ever do, I can’t get behind it.

    Does that make sense?


  3. Hmmm. I think people are abusing or misunderstanding the term. I never thought sleeping around or behaving like men (in a bad way) made women feminists, you know?

    I guess the first thing that pops into my head is Gloria Steinem. I think things have advanced since then (good or bad) but that’s the first place my mind goes!


  4. You know what I think about now that I’ve seen it? Mad Men. I simply can’t put that out of my head whenever I hear the term feminism. That’s probably a post for another day… but yeah. Truth be told, in my brain: Feminism = Mad Men.


  5. i do feel like the term has changed a lot over the years, and means different things to different people. so much so that i avoid using the term altogether, and do not identify myself or others with it. (except maybe if someone else self-identifies with it, in which case i might use it for them.) it’s too loaded of a term, both with negative and positive, and i find it’s easier to use words that are more descriptive rather than trying to use a catch-all term like this.


  6. Not to jump on the “I agree with Mihow” bandwagon, but all right, yeah, I agree. I shy away from the word, because when I use it to describe myself, I find the need to then try to explain it. Some people believe a feminist is a radical revolutionary with hairy armpits (and is a lesbian, of course). Some people believe a feminist thinks men are evil. Some people believe that a feminist is a woman who looks down at SAHMs or any woman who does not work outside the home. Some people think you can’t be a feminist if you for/against abortion. Etc. etc. etc.

    Every individual gives feminism a different definition. I don’t want to say that the word “feminism” has lost all meaning, but I definitely believe that its definition has become so diffuse that it isn’t particularly meaningful.


  7. Just read a great book on this, “Femininity” by Susan Brown-Miller. Put out in the 80’s so it is a bit outdated. Hope I got that right. I lent it out a few weeks ago and the toddler is demanding my time and attentions.

    Real quick-

    I think feminism is being aware of the historical role of women, how it still effects women today, and doing what you can to pave the way for future generations of women by demanding equal rights, services, and treatments.


  8. I do think it’s lost it’s meaning because I think the meaning was specific to a certain time.

    And it doesn’t mean breast feeing in public or waging war against facebook. It doesn’t meaning working 70 hours a week and paying for someone else to raise your kids. It doesn’t mean having a lot of sex with people no matter the consequences.

    I am not sure collectively women living in America today really have anything to REALLY fight against, to be perfectly honest.


  9. I think the 70s feminists actually hindered the long-term, big-picture discussion of woman’s empowerment by radicalizing the message and failing to make a place at the table for mothers. I think that was a fatal flaw in their message because it alienated women who were happy as mothers, alienated women who wanted to be mothers as well as have a career (by not advocating for more flexibility in work and more equality in home roles, and most importantly it alienated men by basically giving the message that men are unnecessary. And I think a lot of the super moms (myself included here) try so hard to do everything that men are left in the cold not knowing what their role is, what their worth is, what they contribute. That’s not good for anyone.

    I think women today who choose working and family aren’t the idealized empowered women envisioned by early feminists. They are over-worked, over-loaded jugglers who feel lost. (That’s me!). I look longingly sometimes at women who have chosen to stay home, no work at all, and be supported by husbands who are willing to do that. I look at the more traditional families in my neighborhood and often think they have it really good. They seem calm, their kids are well-rounded, disciplined, dinner is always on the table at 5 and the kids are in bed at 8:30 every night and they have a network of other mothers who are all in the same boat. But then I also feel like those women are Stepford, lacking any interests or activities of their own. So I feel like an alien, I feel that I don’t fit in anywhere. Is this what the feminists meant to do to women?


  10. Very interesting that you think feminism = Mad Men. I do think that show really is more about the women than anything else and I think that is why I am so absorbed in the show.

    I think the comment that feminism had a different meaning at the beginning than it had later and has now is right on. I do think the 1950s women were so stifled, the changes in the culture changed the way women saw themselves and their roles. Women were more educated and the work of running a home and family was less than it had been before. Modern conveniences, smaller families, increased standard of living. Women found themselves feeling useless, like objects. They wanted to be more, do more. And they deserved to do more and be more. But being a mother is important work and I think that message was lost and still is lost.

    What character or characteristic in the characters in Mad Men particularly exemplifies feminism to you?


  11. Feminism to me means empowering women. Fairly simple.

    But I also agree that there are other interpretations including a more militant sense where promotion of women as equal or greater beings who should attain all that is possible. This meaning becomes divisive when women have different ideas of what “attaining all that is possible” is.


  12. simple. Feminism is the belief in the political and social equality of women and men: that all human beings have equal rights and equal dignity, regardless of gender and that all human beings, have sovreignty over their own bodies.

    the fact that there is such debate and shame over the meaning of “feminist” or that women feel the need to say that they aren’t “X kind of feminist” etc. shows that we still have a long way to go in these matters.

    And of course men can be feminists. The end.


  13. Anyone – ANYONE – that believes women deserve to be payed equally for the same jobs that men perform and have autonomy (about their body, health, finances, life decisions) is a feminist.

    The good news: There are a lot more feminists out there than we think.

    The bad news: The statistics probably include Paris Hilton.

    Feminism is often relegated to areas involving sex and reproduction, but I believe feminism is actually about power – who has it, who needs it, who wants it. We only hear the subject of feminism broached in the mainstream media when coupled with abortion rights, maternal issues, or sexual assault. It does a great disservice to the continuing power struggle at the foundation of all civil rights movements (including feminism) by distracting people from the task at hand.

    Being a feminist does not mean you stop shaving your legs, you cut your hair short, you burn your bra, you refuse to give birth to a child, or to stay at home and take care of that child. But it DOES defend your right as a woman to do all of those things and more and still be within the scope of the feminine ideal.

    Bear in mind that I’m currently a women’s studies major, and I think about this question ALL DAY LONG.


  14. Lillet, you’re doing exactly what some folks feel is too alienating. You have a very specific and personal definition of feminism whereas many others may have differing ideas.

    Not trying to attack you or single you out but do you see what I’m saying?

    Also, your definition is very textbook. Not that it’s wrong, or that I necessarily disagree, but I would love to hear how it trickles into YOUR life.


  15. oh! And Michele C.

    This is probably going to get me attacked, but I think of Mad Men because I feel that many of the women in that show are feminists. I think that generation (era, whatever) really defined feminism.

    The housewife trying hard to make her man happy, keep the kids safe, make dinner, etc etc etc and who’s having anxiety problems because she has no self left? That character brings ideas of feminism to me.

    The sexy secretary who is raped by her husband on the floor of the boss’s office because “isn’t this what you want?” the same women who worked her ass off to get the TV department off the ground and was then replaced by a man who was awful at it? She’s a feminist, one fighting against a very obvious wall.

    The blatantly obvious one is the woman working her way up the ladder while sacrificing her ability to meet a man and settle down, the one ruthlessly picked on for being ugly. She’s a feminist to me.

    I feel that these women even though they are fictitious say a lot more about feminism than anyone in my life.

    I guess I just don’t feel worthy or something. I feel that the term has gotten misused to much, people just toss it around and it’s lost it’s meaning or whatever.

    See? That probably makes no sense.

    I am not rereading this. Thoughts are coming from within, unfiltered.


  16. eGirl: “Feminism to me means empowering women. Fairly simple.”

    I have to politely disagree here. Feminism is about so much more than empowerment.

    We ARE empowered. We can literally go out in the world and do whatever we want (spoken from the scope of an American woman) under the protection of the law.

    The question here, and where feminism comes into play, is what are we able to DO with that power? How are we limited? WHY are we limited? Who is limiting women and to what end?


  17. Hate to say it, but I think to some degree (at least in my life) women limit other women. Just a thought.


  18. Mihow:
    Right on – I totally agree. And that was my point – you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist, and you don’t have to be a man to be a misogynist. Or, to put it in lighter terms, someone that perpetuates the cycle of limitations on women.


  19. See, I find it so hard to see why being clear and specific is alienating. I think that my definition is made much broader BECAUSE it is precise. Because acknowledging that women and men are equal and should be treated as equals politically and socially is in no way a proscriptive decree on what it means to be “feminine” or “masculine” or decreeing certain behaviors other than oppressing other human beings based on their gender “unfeminist.” It’s not about zomg can I wear makeup or not wear makeup or be a stay at home mom or be a work outside the home mom or like rough sex or not want to have sex or any of those false dichotomies that get thrown into the umpteen stories about “Is This Feminist???” in the media every other day. It means that if a woman personally is more comfortable working than staying at home that is fine, and if a woman wants to be a stay at home mom that is fine, or if a woman just doesn’t want to have kids it is fine. All those women are equal and deserve equal consideration for their choices, and the same with men.

    The nice thing about a definition that is “textbook” is that then everyone can take that an apply it to their personal, particular situation. You asked us what we think feminism is—that’s my particular answer. How that applies to me personally? I think the biggest way is in the quality of my marriage as a partnership. We have each taken turns being the sole breadwinner, we treat each other as equals and best friends, we make all of our decisions together as a team. I never dismiss my husband in any way because he’s “a guy” and I know he never dismisses me in any way for being female. And I have a ton of Agent Provocateur underwear and knit and do all the cooking. He does all the dishes. We both cry a lot. He drives, I don’t know how to. It doesn’t make us any less equal.

    As for Michele Chaves’ awesome comment above: I think that in an intensely patriarchal society, women internalize what is the dominant set of “values.” When women are relegated to the home and treated like second class citizens, it seems natural to want to have the privileges and respect accorded to the people in power, and not being aware of their own internalized disrespect for the “domestic” sphere—when that is just as if not more important in many ways than what traditionally was a male-dominated “professional” world. If that makes any sense.

    I guess for me it is most about respect. Respecting the choices other women make, and respecting the choices that men make, if these choices are made not at the expense of the rights of others. And having the self-respect to know that another woman or person’s choices aren’t a referendum on my own, and thus trying not to judge or undermine other women and other people.

    (god sorry this is so long. this could go on forever!)


  20. don’t you dare apologize! Well put. Gonna chew on it for a bit.


  21. as just about everyone has already touched on, i find it impossible to talk about “feminism” when clearly we are grappling with “feminisms.” i also stake my claim close to what lillet first wrote. it might be alienating – just like definitions of “patriotism” that hinge on perpetual war alienate me! in my own life, i am affected by hierarchies of filial love (growing up in a family of adopted siblings, all of us of different races, now creating a family that begins with two queer-identified folks). cultural understandings of the nuclear heteronormative family as the moral superior is just one instantiation of (often invisible) epistemic violence.
    what i wish is that the divide between academic feminism and what is circulated in the quotidian weren’t so great. i put a lot of responsibility on the academy in this regard – they need to use accessible language and take their work out of the classroom (and when i say ‘they,’ i also mean ‘i’). bell hooks writes in a super accessible way for anyone who is interested in stepping into the (unfortunately far-removed) world of feminist theories, but hesitant for whatever reason.
    thanks, michelle, for starting the discussion.


  22. I had to skip over your entire entry on Mad Men, Michele. The husband and I have only just started Season 2 (we were late getting into it, but thank heavens for i-tunes and an American bank account when you live overseas…). ANYWAY, I was just making a similar comment to the husband when we were watching – Mad Men, to me, is really interesting because you get to watch a dramatized version of the genesis of feminism and female empowerment.

    I have been thinking about this feminist thing a lot lately. I have been doing some reading in the area – fiction and non-fiction- and am trying to define it for myself. I embrace the term feminist. I am a happy and proud feminist. What does that mean? It means I have the right to make choices independently about my life and about my family. Equality and power as human beings.

    My husband is probably one of the biggest feminists I known and he has really helped me to figure out what I mean by feminist. I tend to ignore the more militant interpretations and filter things through my own lens – I just wish I could be more eloquent on the topic.


  23. I think the comments about power hit on an important point here. It is about power. I also think the traditional feminist discussion fails to address or even mention the realities of motherhood and parenthood and I think that is an important part of the discussion. It is easy to talk about reproductive rights and sexual liberation. But society doesn’t want to really talk about mothers.

    Being a mother is empowering in some ways, but in others ways your power is completely taken away, second-guessed and questioned. There is something inherent in the experience of being a mother, to this very day, where society removes some of our societal power when we become mothers – even when we remain in the workforce. We become a little invisible as mothers, we are viewed and spoken to differently, the work of mothering is given no financial value and societal value only when it is done to societal expectations, when it isn’t, we are hung out to dry.

    I guess my point in a nutshell is that mothers have no power or real value (other than rhetorical) in the American culture. Women who choose to stay home or put careers on hold for kids are not largely better off than women in 1955. The women’s movement has done very little to address or discuss ways to help empower women with what for most is the most primary role in their lives: motherhood.

    And as for the Mad Men discussion – I think all those characters are kind of all women. I think we are all those women at different times in our lives and I think it paints a very sad picture of women in America. But also a pretty accurate one.


  24. I have a few minutes before putting my son to bed for the night, a ritual that can take a while.

    But I wanted to say, Michele C., I could not have said that better myself. And I agree with you completely. You may have even brought a few tears to my eyes just now.

    Thank you for writing what I wish I could have.


  25. Thanks for giving me a forum and for bring up these discussions. You know, I get a lot out of it. I don’t have a community of women in person who discuss these issues…who discuss anything bigger than their individual lives. So this is very valuable to me. :-)


  26. Equal treatment for men and women under the law. Equal opportunity. Freedom from society’s definition of gender-appropriate behavior. And that is all.


  27. Can it ever really be equal? We take care of children, that completely changes the dynamic. It might be equal for single women and men (married or single), but it isn’t equal for married mothers.

    As the victim of pregnancy discrimination and witness to snickers and comments in a very progressive office about women and the way they have to juggle roles that men never have to juggle, make choices and sacrifices that men don’t have to make. I know first hand that mothers do not have the same opportunities as men or as single women who don’t want children.

    It just isn’t equal and the feminist movement failed to address this reality. Even in the most ideal situations – the most involved, enlightened husband, the most supportive workplace – it is never really equal for us. Never. I’m kind of at the point where I don’t think equality is possible. I think the equality discussion is false and problematic. I think the power discussion is more valid, however.


  28. Michele C, i’m not sure i follow. You’re saying it never is equal, but isn’t that what we’re fighting for? Sounds like giving up. I realize this will make enemies, but perpetuating the idea of mother dominated child care is part of the problem. You say women make sacrifices that men don’t have to make, maybe it is time they start. My wife had 12 weeks off work, now she’s back and things are where they were, how much do you think i got? There is absolutely no reason that women should have to make any sacrifices for becoming mothers. You’re just making a stronger case for why there is still work to be done.

    i am a new father who’s ideals have been deeply shaped by feminist co-parenting theory (chodorow dinnerstein, balbus) and am actively “coparenting” my son. I’m at home 3 days and my wife is at home 2. It ain’t easy but it is right, by me, and my wife and my son.

    About Feminism, i think the ambiguity in the term is actually a virtue. It forces a discussion. If everyone agreed on what it meant, it would lose some power. Calling oneself a feminist is an invitation to talk about what that means, and that is when things happen. When terms fall dead and become reified they lose political power. What does it mean to say you are a liberal? or a conservative? Ever met a libertarian that scoffs at the suggestion that she must be a fundamentalist christian? So why should feminism be any simpler? The constant articulation keeps it alive and relevant, or lets you discover that maybe it isn’t.

    As an aside, i’d highly recommend Miriam Schneir’s book “Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings” something for everyone in there.


  29. I am not sure how I feel about men and women being equal in motherhood. I need to think about this more probably before responding. My initial thought was that as long as it’s the woman carrying the child for 9 months and then having that child come out of their own body, I’m not sure it’s ever going to be possible for both the feel equally responsible for that child. Putting care aside, the attachment—good or bad—I am not sure I believe it equal. I’m not sure it’s supposed to be equal or CAN be for that matter. Ever.

    But, like I said, I am very new to this concept. And I could change my mind, but for now, yeah. Not sure I think it will ever be equal if only for the fact that both sexes may not feel the same attachment toward the creature they brought into the world. That’s not to say men feel lesser or woman more, I think we need to move beyond ideas of quantification when it comes to this comparison. I do think it’s profoundly different because of our natural roles. Granted, this isn’t ever really possible to prove.

    It’s early and I haven’t yet had my coffee. Let me think on this a bit more.

    And also, thank you everyone for such a great discussion! I love you guys.


  30. I’m sorry if I’m taking this topic a little bit off the path, but your last comment, Michele, got me thinking about the roles my husband and I have regarding our son. And now, of course, I feel the need to run off at the mouth.

    Sometimes I think we forget about men. We are talking about feminism and equality and power and lots of other things. Sometimes, it sounds like men have reached some pinnacle and we women are fighting tooth and nail to reach a similar pinnacle. OK, but seriously, and I know this isn’t necessarily a popular idea, but men aren’t omnipotent here. Some of the very things we are talking about regarding society’s views on mothers and motherhood can be seen from a male perspective as being just as cloying, just as limiting.

    Take, for example, something that happens to my husband and me all the time, that pisses us both off equally but for different reasons. He feeds Matthew in a restaurant, and every woman in the place fawns over him, oh, what a wonderful father, oh, it’s just so fantastic to see what a great daddy you are! And on and on. I feed him? Nada. It’s expected. This whole deal pisses him off because he is seen as some stumbling, half-witted male who has no idea of how to care for his offspring, but has miraculously figured out how to do one or two things and is therefore celebrated. This pisses me off because I can run around at 100mph, backwards, on my hands and knees, and no one says anything, because, well, I’m a mother. That’s what we are supposed to do.

    I’m not trying to say that feeding my son is a task for which I want a parade, I’m just trying to give an example of my point. We go to visit the in-laws, if my husband changes a diaper, the Hallelujah chorus walks in the room. Me? Not so much. The list of examples goes on and on, and I’m sure we’re not the only people who go through this. It’s hard for me, because I never get any outside recognition of what I might be doing right, or better yet, what I might be doing WELL. Whereas my husband feels like he is getting false praise, empty flattery. Neither situation is fun.

    My point is just that men get pigeon-holed, too. Check out any TV show or commercial. Count how many competent men you see who are capable of doing anything related to the home or to the care of a child.

    I apologize for the tangent. I know this wasn’t the original point of your post at all.


  31. Actually, not a tangent at all. Oddly enough, this is kind of what I had in mind whenever I posted this. Motherhood and feminism.

    I am sorry my last comment seemed to suggest that men can’t be equal as far as mothering goes, goodness knows, toby does at least (if not more) half of all the parenting work around here. He gets up at night, feeds Em regularly, changes a lot of diapers. Bathes the baby, you name it, Toby does it. He has no problems with it and is very, very into coparenting.

    My lame comment before was suggesting that there’s a deeper level to being a mother biologically speaking. I guess. I feel that I am responsible for Em in a way that isn’t necessarily a good thing. I am having a great deal of trouble finding ME again. I can’t do something alone without feeling guilty. I don’t have fun even when I go out because I feel like I shouldn’t put the responsibility on someone else. It’s not healthy, by any means and I know I am not alone in my feelings regarding motherhood. I know many other women who feel this way. Do men? I don’t know nearly as many men who feel this way. Why?

    Does that make sense?

    Toby feels guilty for doing something without me. I sometimes passively or aggressively make him feel that way. But that’s probably because he still knows a bit of himself and is able to enjoy himself when he’s alone, without our son. I, on the other hand, can’t seem to do that yet. And I resent myself for it to some degree.

    Does that make sense?

    This TRULY is a ramble at this point and it’s not nearly this cut and dry.

    Point I am making is that since having EM, a creature I am solely responsible for creating, I have a great deal of trouble having ME anymore.


  32. Not soley responsible, but you get my point, right? Ugh


  33. not sure if i missed out on this open forum but thought i would drop my two cents – to me, feminism is when a woman can feel the freedom to be able to do what she wants. feminism is the ability to make your choices and alter your life, future, etc.
    to me, those characters in mad men are generalized examples of how women tried (are still today trying) to do that. the begining of feminism. they are trying to successfully fufill their goals. feminism is when a woman has the choice to stay at home or go to work while rasing a family or to not have children and not be made to feel a failure for it. but obviously from these comments, it is a a very personal definition for everyone.


  34. Unfortunately, many, many women (americans) aren’t given the choice to stay home because we’ve gotten ourselves into a position where mortgages, car payments, etc can’t be afforded if both parties aren’t working full time. I hate to say it, but it’s true.

    Where does that fall into feminism? If capitalistic America doesn’t give the family a choice in the matter?


  35. Hi, me again. I should just shup up, but not shutting up has always been of my not-so-great personality traits. But I’ll keep this comment shorter.

    As a woman who works outside the home, I get praise often for what I do and for how well I do it. I do a good job, I excel. I know this. This feedback – this “praise” if you will – gives me a little bit of that ME you mention. Of course, I do not go out like I used to, and I see my friends less, but that job thing gives me some of that ME. Definitely less ME than there used to be, oh yeah, but a smidge nonetheless.

    I have definitely heard from many of my friends who are SAHMs that since they are in a round-the-clock job that offers very little of that ME, they struggle with the same feelings you talk about. Believe me, I am not advocating for one way or the other, I’m just saying that I can see where SAHMs have a much tougher road to travel when it comes to reclaiming some of their own identity, especially in the early years. And as some people above have mentioned, society doesn’t exactly help you down that road. And of course, if you’re the kind of person who likes to please others (and I think you are), you internalize that societal pressure and double it upon yourself. A no-win, for sure.

    Yeah, this was supposed to be short.


  36. How do you do the whole picking up the child thing with both people working? Does one sacrifice leaving early? Do both of you flip-flop? I have been curious about that and never thought to ask my friends who both work and have children.

    Also, if you are a SAHD and you are reading this, do you have trouble going out and getting to know yourself every now and again?

    I am battling with this. And sadly it sometimes seeps into my home life, especially with how I relate to Toby. I really don’t get alone much and when I do I feel guilty that I’m not with my child.

    This has been hard. I won’t lie. I know it will get better or easier, but it’s been hard.

    Thanks for listening and writing and commenting everyone.


  37. Woah, I’m late to the game here, but I love these discussions and wanted to join in! I guess I’ll number my thoughts and see if that helps keep them straight.

    1)To me, Anon up there put it best: “Equal treatment for men and women under the law. Equal opportunity. Freedom from society’s definition of gender-appropriate behavior.” Not everyone may agree on things like how many sexual partners are okay or whether high heels are good or bad, but the point is that everyone should be entitled to their own opinions and actions here as long as they’re not infringing on anyone else’s right, no? That seems kind of like what it’s all about – hey, I don’t agree with your choice there but you should HAVE the ability to make that choice.

    2)The motherhood thing….the trials of becoming and being a mother in this society today are not to be taken lightly, as I have realized throughout my current (and first) pregnancy. It makes me angry to know that I can’t take much of a leave, that my husband will get no leave. I don’t even have it that bad because my employer loves me and is willing to work with me, but I have friends who have had terrible experiences regarding their pregnancies and their careers. And I guess that’s the thing you fight for – sure, I have it pretty good, but I know that other people do not and that’s not right, and if I were in that position I would hope that someone would fight for my choices with me.

    3)I think the reason for fighting for equality and the ability to make choices is because I think it’s a healthy thing to work towards and that we learn a lot about ourselves as a society and as people when we strive for more equality across the board.

    I mean….I don’t know if I’m saying it right…I’m certainly not suggesting that people should HAVE to split parenting duties equally. There are women who are happy to stay at home and do the hard (and underappreciated) work of raising their kids while their husbands go out and do the hard work of earning the money to provide for the family, and that is OKAY. And it should be okay, because that is a choice that every family has to make for itself based on what works for the family and what makes everyone happy. But the thing is – people should be able to choose all KINDS of different scenarios in terms of how they structure their families and their childrearing, don’t you think? And that’s what’s missing.

    I will also say that the feminist movement is often polarizing because people get very defensive about what their personal choice is and moving that choice to the forefront of the battle for equality. I really think it’s more helpful when we band together and say you know, your choice and mine are COMPLETELY opposite, but I will stand by you and defend your right to choose that if you’ll do the same for me. It’s all about solidarity. And frankly, my personal opinion is that if we don’t do things that way, then it will always dissolve into kind of a retreat away from each other, you know? And I think it’s better for societies when people come together, not when they split apart.

    And so I guess this is a very longwinded way of saying that to me, feminism is really about defending choices – even the ones that I personally wouldn’t make – because I would hope that someone, somewhere would defend MY choices too.

    Whew. That was long!


  38. eGirl: “Feminism to me means empowering women. Fairly simple.”

    Danielle: “I have to politely disagree here. Feminism is about so much more than empowerment.
    We ARE empowered. We can literally go out in the world and do whatever we want (spoken from the scope of an American woman) under the protection of the law.”

    Since I qualified my statement with “to me” I think my point still stands, Danielle. And it is valid. It obviously isn’t your view, but it is mine.

    And I really don’t think we are as empowered as you may believe. I probably grew up in the same generation as you – the generation that told us that anything is possible, but we still don’t have all the opportunities that men do. Can I fly a fighter plane in the military? Nope. Why is it that women in two income households still do a majority of the childcare and household cleaning? Why don’t we earn as much as men do for the same work? I think it is a little shortsighted to say that there is true equality or that we are fully empowered and that that concept is accepted throughout society.


  39. Just to reply to your question about scheduling pick up/drop off when both parents work. I work 7:30-3:30, my husband works 6-2. I drop Matthew off at 7am, my husband picks him up at 2:30. My husband often has days off during the week, so on those days, Matthew either stays home with him or goes to school for just a few hours. I stay with Matthew during weekends.


  40. The pick-up/drop-off is a delicate balance! I drop him off at 7:30 and my husband collects him at 4:30. Because my husband must be in at a specific time and my job will usually keep me a bit after hours. But to be honest, it seems every day can be different. When I was nursing, I would go at lunch and pick up because he would need to eat right away. The day care thing adds extra stress. We needed to get two car seats right away. And of course I wish I could stay at home but just like Anonymous said many of us don’t have the SAHM choice because we’re drowning in mortgages, car payments, etc. I would also agree with Milissa. I get feedback about my work and my productivity every day. And I have adult dialogue with my co-workers and my job keeps me up to date with current events, etc. All these things help to continue to identify myself within various facets: woman, mother, friend, researcher, etc. My trouble comes in defining my wife role because the minute I get home it is ALL baby. I’m having trouble finding a place for being “all-things-wifey” to my husband.


  41. I thought about this a lot last night. The roles of men have been touched on here and I wish we had more male perspectives. Women do have more choices today, undoubtedly, but we’ve mostly added new responsibilities onto our old ones (in my opinion). There are, of course, some very enlightened men out there who make a very big effort to divide the roles and responsibilities of family life more equitably, but I have to say in my own experience and that of most all my peers, that is not the norm. Men do participate more in the household duties than they did 40 years ago, but reality is that women still largely carry the load of raising children and maintaining the home in addition to their work outside of the home. The greatest burdens are still on women. So what does this say about men?

    I think men are just as confused as women about their roles. I think a dialogue about men’s roles would be very positive because I don’t really have any idea what most men think about their wives requests to share the responsibilities. Are men conflicted about it? Are they resentful? Do they think it takes away their manhood to care for children, cook dinners, sit at the doctor’s office with a sick child? Does it bore them? Why do they always want a standing ovation when they complete a simple task that a woman does multiple times a day, day after day, without applause or the slightest recognition? I don’t know if men and women, husbands and wives, are really honest with each other about how they feel about these new roles, about sharing responsibilities, and if they really communicate in a way that will bring about understanding and true problem-solving of these complex issues. But I do see a lot of overloaded moms and a lot of withdrawn fathers.

    Deep down, I think I honestly believe that the stay at home mom scenario is best for families. It may not be best for the woman, but I think it is best for families and children. That being said, it should be noted that I am not a stay at home and never have been. I think our choice to be working mothers is the harder choice because is confuses the roles that have been in place for hundreds of years and requires new thinking that I don’t think the majority of men (there are obviously exceptions) and society are willing to embrace. Maybe someday, I always have hope, but not today.


  42. Been wanting to chime in here for several days but been – heh heh – too busy with childcare, home care, and work. Since men & male perspectives have come up a couple of times, consider this merely one of those.

    First, it’s worth noting that this question about feminism feels imperative – even possible – in part because of a certain reactionary triumph over the last 25 years. From the 80s onward (surely energized by the defeat of the ERA – more below), there has been a broad assault on feminism and its symbols and tenets. That assault has been political, sure, but it’s also been pop cultural, diffuse, and pervasive. And it has worked. The entire issue got reframed. Feminism has become a cringe-inducing near-epithet, especially for many younger people, women as well as men. It got bound up with so-called political correctness (another fairly innocuous and human notion that got browbeaten into submission); it got tarred with the label of radicalism (read the ERA below and tell me how “radical” that seems); it got stapled to one-off images of bra-burning and anecdotal horror stories about deteriorating maternal instinct and capacities, ruined marriages, ADHD, fringe thinkers like Andrea Dworkin and fringe arguments like all-sex-is-rape, and god knows what all. Most people can’t even tell you exactly why they’re reluctant to apply the label to themselves; they just associate it with something vaguely yucky and strident. I submit that this has little if anything to do with what feminism actually was, and everything to do with what feminism was believed to have threatened. If you haven’t ingested it already, Susan Faludi’s “Backlash” gives a pretty solid mainstream breakdown of some of the manifestations of the antifeminist impulse. At its heart, it’s an anti-woman impulse, which is why it’s painful that so many young women these days find labels like “feminist” a turn-off.

    BTW, here is the Equal Rights Amendment in its entirety: “Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”

    That strikes me as pretty innocuous, pretty common sense, pretty unobjectionable by anyone of the slightest conscience. And yet it could not pass. The fight was vicious. I would further suggest to you that an amendment written word for word like this could still not pass today – might even have less chance of passing today. The general tenet of the mainstream argument against it would run something along the lines of “We’ve already come so far, we don’t really need this. You’re wasting time/money/blah blah.” And yet women still get paid 85% of what men get paid for the same work. I submit, again, that you’d never hear such arguments in this day and age about the Civil Rights Act. There’s a weird assumption that because the general female population no longer objects so much to thong underwear or porn, everything’s cool. The numbers don’t bear that out.

    So there’s that.

    Second thing I’ll say is that it seems to me that feminism was, at its core, always about access. Most broadly, it was about access to choices; but specifically those choices amounted to power, and efficacy, and self-actualization, and a determinative role in the culture. I think from the beginning feminism was broad enough to refrain from defining the specific routes to those things – access to what was kind of up to you; the point was that you not be denied it. See, again, the language of the ERA, which was the mainstream distillation of the feminist impulse: “shall not be denied or abridged.” I have to say, feeling language like that on my tongue, that it strikes me as nothing more than the application of the motivating American political spirit to gender. As such it’s remarkably supple, remarkably accessible, and – one would think – remarkably subscribable. Its essence is “Don’t keep me down.” That’s the language of the Declaration and the Constitution and the bill of Rights, and so on. Who among us could object? Turns out many. See my original point above for part of the reason why.

    Finally, and on another tack entirely, about men and their relation to all this, particularly in the venue of parenting. This is a subject profoundly close to my heart these days (as it is to many of yours, clearly), so apologies if what I say comes off as raw. While I will stipulate 2 things up front – that it seems utterly likely that women have an irreplacable, irreproducible bond with their kids as a result of the bodily entanglement (call me a skeptic of studies suggesting that adoptive parents do in fact develop similar bonds: what I’m stipulating here is that not all bonds are created equal); and that the work of parenting a child is both far more enormous than anyone publicly acknowledges and utterly unvalued, in economic terms, by US culture – I will also say that I find the position of fathers in this dilemma deeply complicated and troubling and, for my own part, sad. If you think mothers are invisible, I would encourage you to consider our culture’s view of fatherhood. And then send me an email when you find it. Because as a father, I can’t. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know where it is, I don’t know what kind of language we’re supposed to use to talk about it. As an off-the-cuff test of this, try to calculate the ratio of motherhood blogs to fatherhood blogs. It’s gotta be something on the order of a million to one.

    Something else, too: in my experience, the culture has a built-in deference to mothers and motherhood that is utterly absent from its treatment of fathers. In every official context I come across, my wife – our son’s mother – is considered the default and final authority on our son’s care. My wife’s a smart and capable woman; I have no objection to this on the grounds of competence. But it’s curious and sad to me that I am often considered an also-ran in the business of parenting. Someone mentioned already the disparity in parental leave – it’s off the table for men (at least those who aren’t widowers). I had to go back to work a week after my son was born, and I can tell you I was not ready. It pained me every day to be absent from him and from the context of his new life. But I had, realistically, no choice. Perhaps it’s an outgrowth of the generalized belief in the greater profundity of the maternal bond, but it strikes me that the dominant attitude of our culture toward parenting is mother-centric. Maybe that works out great for some men ‘cause they don’t like changing diapers or giving a bottle. But I’ve been changing diapers and giving bottles since his life began, and I object to being treated like a passenger on this ride.

    Temperamentally, I’m probably better suited than my wife to staying at home to parent. I’m a loner; I don’t really like my job that much; the things that give me a sense of self are not really social or professional. Yet this, too, is off the table. What is on the table is the need to make more money, get a better job, advance, etc in order to buttress the family financial position. Motherhood may be binding, but I’m not convinced it’s less binding to feel like your primary value to your family is as a money-making machine (and not even a good one at that), bound to a job or a career you have little control over, don’t care for much, and must spend tremendous amounts of time and energy indulging. I see my son briefly in the evening and briefly in the morning; I might get to change him, I might get to give him a bottle, but I don’t get to spend much in the way of time with him. When I arrive at night he’s tired and cranky and ready for bed; in the morning he’s hungry, and there’s lots to do. I feel a tremendous sense of loss of his company, an inability to witness the life that is, at this moment, the most important piece of my own life.

    Could I cut back at work? Maybe. A little. But then the overriding imperative at the moment is, again, greater financial security, not less. Margins are thinner than ever, and more necessary. Cutting back is not realistic.

    The sad fact is that it makes no difference who’s better suited for staying home, because neither us can do it whether we want to or not. We must be a two-income family; we can’t make ends meet otherwise. (And don’t think that doesn’t weigh on me – that I don’t make enough after all that to allow my wife to stay home – not that she necessarily wants to, but still… it’s a failure, isn’t it? On my part? As a husband, as a father?) So the care of our child is entrusted to others for most of the day – certainly most of his waking hours. I’m not terrified of what this will do to him; I grew up with a single working mom and had babysitters through much of my childhood. But I don’t like what it means for me as a parent.

    What is the answer to this? I am sure it is complex and multifocal. But I am also sure that it involves a greater sense of humanity on the part of our culture, political and social. And financial: value must be assigned to parenting, whether it’s mothers or fathers or both doing it; investment must be made.

    Lastly, to the person who asked above about what men feel about their kids, I can say only this: that I have no words for it. That it is the most profound, moving, gratifying, stupefying feeling I have ever experienced, with the possible exception of deep and true love itself – and I had far more context for that and so was able to process it more competently. That, as the father of a son who did not himself grow up with a father much of the time, I am terrified of the mistakes I will surely make, am already making; that I suppress this fear or mask it daily with bromides about the durability of children in which I only half believe; that I am frequently convinced I won’t be able to prepare him properly, provide for him properly; that I will let him down. That he is the most vexing presence in my life, and also the most gratifying and delightful. That’s what I can say, at the moment, about how I feel.

    Apologies, again, for the rantish quality of some (if not all) of the foregoing.


  43. Am I a feminist? I’ve asked this of myself before. The answer is I don’t know. Having said that, I share what has been said in that at some point the feminist movement seemed to become radical, a turn off for me. The feminist movement also DID bring to the forefront job equality, equal pay for equal work, and etc. I believe that we are people first and woman or man second. True not everyone thinks like that, but it is my way. Have I been paid less than a man for the same work? Yes indeed. Are there double standards, yes. Are work environments better than they were in the 1970’s ? Absolutely. Nothing is perfect-– but improvement is welcomed. Conversely, I have had women bosses that were terrible. Revengeful, petty, and just plain old mean in ways men rarely behave. Perhaps they were not as secure as they should be? -shrug One of my core beliefs is….. I am empowered and I am powerful in my own space. If I feel less powerful that is my fault. I do not give up that power – to a boss, co-worker, family member, or my lover. It’s like an old saying that applies to Sales – Never take NO —from someone who can’t give you a YES. If I accept NO…. then I am doing myself a disservice? Yes. It doesn’t mean there is never compromise. ….. :) So in terms of a radical approach to feminism, no I am not as such. In terms of pushing forward, feeling confident and empowered to make my choices, make money, and live my life in terms that I want… yes I would be a feminist. Kim


  44. as you may surmise from my user name, women’s studies, feminism, and women’s lives/experiences in general has been/is an interest of mine and not just because i choose to live it. i am so tempted to read other’s comments first, but that would not answer your questions.
    a) my reaction to the word: feminist. today i take it as a compliment. when someone calls me a feminist – and there are those who consider it an “old-school” term – if i don’t say thank you, i’m certainly thinking it. since you’re not looking for a pat/dictionary def., then i am left to share a part of my operational def. someone (m or f) who advocates and/or practices the equal treatment of women in any given circumstance. this is undoubtedly incomplete. underpining that is the recognition of the fact that people come in all shapes, colors, sizes, generations(ages), levels of education and (insert variation here). it is possible to infer how i am true to this stated framework by the way i treat/react with anyone (male or female). there are those that like to break down equal rights into tight pidgeon-holes, but in the real world, it really doesn’t play out that way – even though superficially it may seem as if there are distinct catagories. for example: a sexist. the common view is that a sexist treats someone of the opposite sex differently than their own. well, duh. right? i maintain, that the longer i know someone, the more i notice that their behavior tends to overlap/diffuse into areas that are not readily labelled as , say, sexism,but are decidedly discriminatory(based on prejudice). in other words, there are common features of discrimination/prejudice. consider how this same person would treat anyone they’ve learned to simultaneously disrespect and love/hate. wouldn’t a sexist of either sex exhibit a set of behaviors in response to the opposite sex? any way, whether you see my point or not doesn’t matter so much as the fact that you now have (some of) my reaction to the word: feminist.
    b)a woman that i consider to be a feminist is one who exhibits behavior that i have described. just as there are many types of people; there are many types of people who practice feminism and therefor might be labelled a feminist. ie; full time, part time, aggressive, assertive, situational,”the best of both worlds” type, feminists who like others despite their flaws, and those that are less tolerant in their pursuit of the elusive “holy grail” of ideal feminism – the latter being nonexistent (which is sad mainly for the person seeking it). nuf said?
    c)i encounter feminism on (at least) a weekly basis. mainly, this is due to the fact that i’m currently in a situation where i have more control of my external environment and can largely limit my interactions/socializations to people i want to react with. also, feminism has been more main-streamed, in it’s many forms. this does not imply that anyone will not encounter discrimination in it’s many ugly forms. the best analogy i can think of is the availability of heath food. just a short time ago, it was largely considered kookie and bizarre. now it is readily available for those who want it. sometimes one has to urge and push for it, but it still is much easier for me now to buy it. the same with feminism/equal rights and treatment for/of women. i encounter more equal treatment now, than i did before. people are a bit more sensitive to being sued for sexual harrassment and take it more seriously now than they ever did. i mention s.h. as a type of barometer one can use to measure/infer how seriously others are in their treatment of the opposite sex. also i find that if i act seriously, it tends to illicit serious consideration. this is also true when one acts aggressively toward another. it tends to illicit a similar reaction in kind. no guarantee, and no absolutes, but something to consider. despite how i am treated, if i respond in a manner that tends to illicit the treatment i want, then it tends to encourage that reaction. so to tie this in: when i act as an adult human, then i am treated more like an adult human, than if i had acted like a spoiled, entitled child, with a chip on her shoulder (however much it really is justified to be there).
    hope this provided a bit of info for you.


  45. I see myself as a feminist and beleive strongly in the rights of women.

    The one closest to my heart is the right that women should have to stay at home with their children and not have to go out and work, kids need someone at home.

    I think the old types of feminists are now having their “right to go out and work” used agaist them now.

    I also think men and women see women as an easy target to make money from i.e. cosmetics, clothing creams ect, now even cosmetic surgery.

    Women should not be made to feel insecure if they have no make up on and natural boobs.
    I personally am proud to be who I am and resent anyone telling me I should change myself to fit in to a modern society which is capatalist and based on greed.
    P.S. I also beleive in loving and caring with your heart and soul :)


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