When You Say You’re Not a Feminist: A College Crash Course

This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.
Hi, everyone. My name is Carrie and I am a feminist. (This is the part where you all go “Hi, Carrie!”)

I’m here today because I’d like to talk about feminism. I’m not here to talkto you all through an open letter. Open letters are tired. Open letters talk down to people. I’m here to talk with you, kind of like a breakout group from a college lecture. I am here to teach your recitation for Feminism 101.

Before we get started, I’d like to call attention to a few details:

First, I am not an expert or a scholar on this complex subject. I’m not perfect at understanding all of its nuances. I’m a student, always learning, just like you, but consider me TA level — I’ll refer you to more sources throughout class, and I hope you’ll do some more digging on your own. But, I’m happy to give you the freshman year basic first seminar rundown while we’re all gathered here.

Second, it’s come to my attention that someone here doesn’t think that they’re a feminist, and they think that’s okay. To each her own, I guess, but… no… no it’s not the same. I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. You’re entitled to your opinion, but your opinion is wrong. Well, at least, it’s wrong because you are woefully uninformed. Let me explain:

I think we need to start with a very basic, broad, sweeping understanding of what the word “feminist” means. The go-to 21st century definition is provided by renowned scholar Beyoncé Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In her TED talk entitled “We Should All Be Feminists” (which is also the title of her book on the subject), she states: “Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”

That’s just skimming the surface. We haven’t even begun to talk about how nuanced inclusive, intersectional feminism is, but we’ll get those complexities later.

Amanda, I hate to single you out from the rest of the class, but you raised your hand and gave your opinion, so here goes: I’m concerned when you say you’re not a feminist.

“Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for equal pay. I think if a woman is doing the same job as a man (and just as good of a job), she should be paid the same.”

Amanda. That makes you a feminist. (Or, at least, it kind of does.) Would you agree or disagree, class?

“If this were the early to mid-twentieth century, I would be a feminist. But this is no longer the first wave feminism. We are currently in what is called the fourth wave of feminism. I don’t want the things that these feminists are fighting for. And further explaining it won’t change my mind.”

I’m sure most of you here have either read Ngozi’s incredibly overarching and broad definition of feminism before, or at least listened to the ***Flawless samples. She used it just a few years ago — definitely still in the 21st century, still the same kind of feminism.

Amanda, you could call what you wrote an opinion piece, but that’s a stretch. To write an op-ed, you have to present an argument. You have to present what exactly it is you oppose, which you flat out refuse to do. That’s no more effective than a 5-year-old arguing with her mother that she doesn’t like broccoli “just because.” This makes it too easy for critics to poke giant holes in your already porous argument.

On the subject of women being domestic and nurturing, you acknowledge that it’s okay to want to have children and stay at home and be a housewife. It’s okay to ask for a traditional marriage or to take your husband’s last name.“Feminists wouldn’t have you believe these things.”

Please tell me what so-called feminists told you this, and I’ll speak to them personally. Because that simply isn’t true. What’s so rad about feminism is that it acknowledges the rights of a woman to do whatever she wishes to do with her body, her time, and her life.

Class, here’s the sitch: Feminism is about the right to choose. Feminism means you have the choice to stay at home or to have a career and that whatever you choose is your choice, not one forced upon you, and one that is 100 percent okay. Feminism is “good for you, bad for me” — believing that all women have the freedom to make their own choices, even if they’re not the ones you would make.

“Listen carefully when I say that you are not called to submit to any man but your husband. And women are not lower than men. I will agree with feminists on that. But I do believe that the man is the head of the household. The man is to be the provider, protector, and leader of his family. That is a lot of pressure. And I don’t understand why feminists want to take it on. Why would you want that?”

Again, Amanda, you confuse your personal opinions with the goals of an overarching ideology. Women shouldn’t have to submit to any man, regardless of whether or not he is her husband. Let’s get that straight real quick.

You don’t have to understand why women would want to be the head of the house. You don’t have to do that yourself. Some women are natural born leaders and would gladly take on this role. Feminist ideals allow women to make work a choice, in theory at least. (Side note — that doesn’t take into consideration the women who aren’t forced against their will to work, but have to choose work, even if they don’t want to, because they can’t afford not to.)

Feminism is about so much more than choosing work instead of motherhood. Feminism is about so much more than getting equal pay for equal work. Feminism, Amanda, is about so much more than your sheltered, middle class, white, cis-gendered female life.

Class, I would like you all to know that by saying that you are not a feminist, you are saying that you do not care about

Proudly stating that you’re not a feminist spits in the faces of women everywhere, past and present, who have fought to give you the rights and the opportunities you have today.

Feminism is behind every single one of the facts listed above. I know I threw a lot out at you, but that’s just a starter list. There are a slew of other issues you should familiarize yourself with. Feminism is what fueled women’s gains in striving for equality with men around the world. Feminism calls for an end to the atrocities against women that we still see today. Feminism, like it or not, is exactly what gave you, a woman, the opportunity to write what you wrote in the first place.

It’s okay to admit how problematic your statement was. It’s okay to admit you’re wrong. I admit I’m wrong all the time. You’re uninformed, and that’s sad, but there’s always time to learn. Take it from Jane Fonda, a woman we now look at as a feminist icon, who wrote a Lenny Letter this week about her complicated journey to understanding feminism and identifying with it. I think this section can really help clear things up for you:

“[Feminism] is not about replacing one “-archy” with another, it’s about transforming social and cultural norms and institutions so that power, violence, and greed are not the primary operating principles. It’s not about moving from patriarchy to matriarchy, but from patriarchy to democracy. Feminism means real democracy.”

Amanda, I’m asking you, young woman to young woman, to do some research next time. Think before you speak. If you’re still convinced that you don’t care about any of the above and if you still think you’re not a feminist, then I guess I just can’t help you. As J.D. Salinger once wrote, “All morons hate it when you call them a moron.”

Class dismissed. Please feel free to reach out with any questions and I’ll do my best to fulfill some office hours.

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One thought on “When You Say You’re Not a Feminist: A College Crash Course

  1. Thank you for posting this! I had read Amanda’s piece a while ago and I was just shocked at how misinformed she was…like many people are who don’t understand the true definition of feminism but rather oppose it simply because of the reputation it has in mainstream culture.

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