Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Feminism is not a dirty word

Feminism: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

Gee, that sounds pretty good to me. Something along the lines that all persons (not just men) are created equal. All persons should have equal access to education, health care, and the legal system. All persons should have equal say in the political process. That sounds like something that the vast majority of Americans would agree with, in fact.

So why are so many American women so insistent that they are not feminists? And why do they say it with such righteous indignation, such a sense that "feminism" is bad and evil and so very, very beneath them? What is so damn wrong with identifying with the idea that men and women are equal under the law and in inherent value as humans??

I am so sick of women who have gone to college and have careers in whatever field they wanted and can express their sexuality without facing unwanted pregnancies and have the right to vote and know they can be taken seriously as political candidates or social leaders claiming they want nothing to do with the very philosophy that made all of those opportunities possible. This new generation of young adult women can take for granted the fact that we truly can follow whatever path we want without anyone telling us we can't. But we shouldn't turn our backs on what got us here.

When my grandmother was born, she was born to a woman who wasn't allowed to vote. Fortunately, feminists (those radicals who thought men and women were equal) fixed things so by the time my grandmother was 21, she did get to vote. She was smart. Until the last year of her long life, she was one of the best-read, best-informed people I've ever had the privilege to meet. She wanted to go to college. Her parents told her no. They needed to save money to put her four younger brothers through college so they needed her to get a job and help out. Sadly, my grandmother was too dutiful a daughter to disobey her parents, so she never got to go to college. But nothing was going to stop her daughter from going to college and graduate school. And you can bet she was thrilled to know that her two granddaughters grew up in a different era when no one would tell them they had to defer to the boys. I think she loved finding out that I had surpassed her brother, the retired lawyer, in courtroom experience. For her sake, and the sake of all of the other women of her era who were discouraged from pursuing an education, let alone law school, I loved it, too!

I will never distance myself from the movement that made it possible for me to live my life without arbitrary, unfair limits placed on me for something as arbitrary as my sex. I will never be ashamed to say I believe that all people, regardless of sex or gender, are equal and should be free to pursue whatever path they want. Thanks to feminism, women on the whole are valued members of the workforce and men are more involved fathers. These are good, good things.

I am a feminist and I am damn proud of it. I am ashamed of the women of my generation who would deny that label for themselves.

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