The feminine feminist???

October 4, 2011 at 8:32 pm (Uncategorized)

For much of the last century the word feminist has amassed a number of negative connotations; accepting and wearing the label of feminist doesn’t always come easy.  Traditionally the word has been rife with anger, militancy and hate instead of the intended positive ideas of humanity, equality, pride and acceptance.  Feminists have been dealing with a negative stigma for nearly a century.  What started as a progressive and forward-thinking movement is now stained with a serious backlash of misconception, judgment and close-mindedness.  Many women that actively believe in feminist ideas and theory are wary of accepting the label because of its existing undesirable connotations.  For some, the word conjures up ideas of hairy, unwashed, “butch” women that hate men and wish to have them extinguished.  This old-fashioned paradigm is a shame for the women’s movement and contributes to the great detriment of a group simply fighting for their rights as human beings.  Our society has effectively turned feminist into a dirty word.

Where did this stigma originate from?  The first wave of feminism traditionally associated with the early twentieth century suffrage movement featured trailblazers like Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone and Alice Paul.  These pioneers worked tirelessly to achieve the right to vote and gain improvements in professional settings and healthcare.  Though at the time these women were perceived as “radical” women fighting for “radical” causes, this alone surely could not conjure up such detrimental ideas of what a feminist is. 

I suggest that the possible launching point for negativity associated with feminism is likely based on three factors: the dividing of the sexes as fallout based on the push (by women) for equality, women’s anger toward men as their oppressors and men’s rising fear of women gaining power.  This ardent battle for freedom and egalitarianism has serious penalties.  Because the original feminists were solely women and most feminists today are women, the movement has misguidedly become a woman versus man issue instead of a feminist versus non-feminist issue.  This leaves an unfortunate residue over the importance of inalienable rights and instead manages to separate the sexes into opposing forces.  This important acknowledgement is part of what contributes to the societal idea that being a feminist equates to hating males.  Though most feminists do not, in fact, participate in male-bashing or hatred, it does bring to light an important question: is it emotionally possible to not feel some hatred toward one’s oppressor?  Warranted anger on this level is a sad, yet understandable progression that will continue until the suppression ends.  Forced by these patterns of oppression, women have been forced to fight endlessly and ferociously for equality. This tenacity, determination and doggedness have no doubt contributed to the stereotype of a militant woman.  However, it should be noted that social change rarely comes without a serious degree of obstinacy, fight or firmness.  It has largely and aptly been identified as a fight for civil rights because to achieve this opportunity, women were forced to go to battle over it; anger, after all, is imperative to any dominated group.  Since men are granted a certain amount of power from time of birth, they never have to stage a battle for equality, thus the thought of a woman enforcing her constitutional rights is alien and threatening. 

The feminist movement attempts to seek equality between the sexes, not to target women as superior.  This line of thinking was foreign to most males.  Their subsequent denial and refusal forced women to attack, therefore perpetuating the idea and cycle of “hatred” toward males.  Achieving equality without painful backlash is no easy feat.  Filmmaker Therese Schecter’s independent film, I Was a Teenage Feminist proves the ever-popular mislabeling of feminism by filming men and women in New York City’s Times Square describing feminism in one word: Lesbian  (After Ellen staff, 2008).  While lesbians can of course be feminists, these misguided ideas serve to reinforce incorrect stereotypes associated with feminism.

  The unfortunate stigma of the angry, male-bashing woman continues to follow feminists to this day.  Some of this can be contributed to radical feminists’ actions.  Not wearing make-up, not shaving under arms or legs, not conforming to traditional female dress or beauty standards; this was a way to physically show abhorrence to the unrealistic standards of beauty women are held to.  Because gender roles are so pronounced in our society, these women have become the “face” of modern feminism, mostly by default.  Our media informants tend to flock to the most dramatic sources available, eager as we are to label others and put them in our confined, easy-to-figure-out boxes.  These examples of radical feminists become the norm in our social world, as they are portrayed by our ever-critical and biased media sources. 

Women have been fighting insulting stereotypes for decades; however there is a wave of modern feminism racing through the country that promises to challenge these stereotypes.  A feminine (traditionally defined, of course) feminist that embraces a love of pink, lipstick, and high heels along with embracing a love of human rights and equality for our country’s gals.  Some are confused by this notion: isn’t a feminine feminist an oxymoron?  This new paradigm shift can be indefinite and difficult to decide upon: where does one draw the line between playing into unfair female roles and beauty obligations while maintaining a status of fighting for equality in the sexes?  Slowly however, some feminists are coming to a personal and inspiring bridge between these two worlds.  Confusing and subjective as it might be, there seems to be a new trend of embracing some modern beauty standards (such as fashion, makeup, or highlights) while eschewing others (such as breast enhancements, Playboy magazine, or Botox).  The new vision of feminism seems to promote navigating your own way, while still actively pursuing and engaging in the commitment to women’s rights.  This back-and-forth can be confusing, no doubt; what message are we sending with images of Barbie dolls, cheerleaders, and Victoria Secret models?  Things are not always black and white.  The ultimate question being, does one have to give up their femininity to be a feminist?  And conversely, if over-exposing sexual images and ideas to girls/women is dangerous, could it also be dangerous to encourage girls/women to suppress their femininity?

In our materialistic and beauty-valued world, it is nearly impossible as a young girl or woman to not grasp onto the most basic examples of femininity.   From a very young age it is cultivated; we are taught that it is not only valued to be beautiful, but preferred.  The key perhaps rests in how strongly we pursue this ideal beauty.  We obviously do not intend to teach young women that their value lies in being merely decorative, but how far should the pendulum swing the other way?  Is this new brand of feminism simply riding on the coattails of sexual exploitation, or opening a whole new adaptive and welcoming chapter to our manicured and well-groomed sisters?

Author Linda Scott writes about this touchy subject in her book, “Fresh Lipstick; Redressing Fashion and Feminism”, surmising that feminism needs to terminate its long-standing fixation on the principles of personal appearance, as it is an issue that has separated women much more that it has assisted their movement.  Fresh Lipstick; Redressing Fashion and Feminism (as cited in Chamberlain, 2005). Again, we are forced to examine the issue of unity within the movement itself and its relevance when standing up to injustice.  Why should women spend energy nit-picking about the details of our equality when the equality in question has yet to happen?  As Scott writes, “Voices from around the world report a variety of conditions and systems under which only one thing holds constant – the universal second-class status of females. If there was ever a moment when the women of one culture had a responsibility toward their sisters in other nations, this is it. We should not waste time quibbling over what to wear to the conflict.”  Fresh Lipstick; Redressing Fashion and Feminism (as cited in Chamberlain, 2005).  Scott’s poignant argument demonstrates that there are more weighty problems to tackle when looking at the worldwide condition of women.

In this feminist’s opinion, the change is an optimistic and encouraging one.  Our united cause should be just that: united.  We all wish to be as valued, heard, esteemed and respected as men are.  Simple awareness of the issue could be half the battle.  As long as lines of communication are open, feminists are possibly finally on a healthier track to changing the horrible association with the “f” word.  Though a cohesive and united objective of feminism might not be existent anymore, this new paradigm is now allowing women the freedom to adopt their own definitions and embrace differing determinations of what feminism means to them.  Cultivating the idea that feminists, like women, come in all varieties can in itself create a feeling of empowerment.  Women are now coming up with inventive and socially-exact methods in which they “recast femininity as a richly-textured and subtly nuanced way of being, no longer at the opposite pole of institutionalized feminism, but intertwined with it in a mutually-enriching symbiotic relationship.”  (Miceli-Jeffries, 1994).

As definitions of feminism become increasingly varied and convoluted, so do our perceptions of the notion of “femininity”.  Now it seems that women are grasping the concept that these two formally polarized philosophies of feminism and femininity can co-exist harmoniously, albeit in a truly personal and individualized way.  Feminists have fought for decades for freedom in their choices; now is the time to embrace and support one another’s efforts to carve our own path to that freedom.  We are all different, distinctive and intriguingly unique individuals, but amidst those differences lay the common cause of equality.  I hope feminism has a future that includes holding tight to our most precious commonalities, while relaxing our quest for a model version of the word, “feminist”. 

 

 


Chamberlain, C. (2005). Beauty and Fashion vs. Feminism. The Feminist ezine. Retrieved September 16, 2011 from http://www.feministezine.com/feminist/fashion/Beauty-Fashion-Vs-Feminism.html

Miceli-Jeffries, G. (1994). Feminine Feminists: Cultural Practices in Italy. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.  Pp. xxiv,272.

Review of: I Was A Teenage Feminist. (2008). Retrieved September 18,2011 from   http://www.afterellen.com/movies/2008/10/teenagefeminist

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When women hold up half the sky…

April 19, 2011 at 3:39 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve been reading the book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn.  They are a husband and wife team and  NY times reporters (and Pulitzer-prize-winning couple) , who have written a book on the oppression of women all around the world; focusing on human trafficking, slavery, prostitution, maternal health, education, rape and violence toward women and girls.  It is not an easy book to read as the material is often upsetting and depressing, but it is sort of a call-to-arms for men and women everywhere to become involved in these issues.  Americans often don’t take the time (or want to take the time) to understand how women are suffering worldwide. 

The Authors of Half the Sky

Even though I consider myself to be pretty well-educated in the above topics, there were still many surprises and disturbing discoveries in the material.  It’s hard to sit in my cushy little Hawaiian apartment, with a cup of warm tea in my hand, reading these stories of women experiencing the most atrocious things any human could ever envision.  I go through an enormous array of emotions when reading; I am angered, humbled, threatened, saddened, inspired and awed all in the span of one chapter. Though the content is often difficult to read, the writers have a wonderful way of bringing a vision of hope and love to the work.  Their heartfelt wish to see women succeed and overcome these traumas just leaps off the page and makes you feel moved to wonder what you can do to help. This type of information isn’t just for feminists; it is for everyone.  There is insane, unjust and horribly indescribable violence happening.  I call out to everyone to help in whatever way they feel they can; saying a prayer, donating money, being educated and active in the subject, volunteering time and energy, getting involved politically…whatever you can do to contribute to the end of this anti-woman violence.  This is a human rights issue, as is feminism.  But if you don’t want to claim the word, claim the action of a loving, sympathetic human that cannot stand for such violence to continue.

This book inspired me on many levels…even comprehending the atrocity these women have seen is beyond me; but to hear their triumphant stories of overcoming such huge obstacles really makes a person think.  It definitely shows how strong the human spirit is, how resilient…while at the same time proving how fragile life is.  The writers will relay a story that will leave you feeling traumatized and then save you by telling a redeemable, beautiful story about someone who has turned their tragedies into lifesaving projects, helping those that are unable to help themselves.  They often deliver data from different sources and key projects but manage to stay true to their roots as journalists by openly discussing the weak points in the information as well as what we need to learn from such data.   They consistently come back to the idea that grassroots organizations and education for women is the key to the social change needed to end this violence.  Again, the book is meant as a call to action.  It’s very intent lies in asking readers not only to be concerned, but to understand the harsh realities of life – the cruelty AND hope that these women face.  The authors ask that we simply choose a method of helping, be it large or small.

I think this book touched me in particular because for many years now, I’ve had a strong desire to help women.  I can’t really explain why.  Some people say they feel a calling…toward teaching, the ministry, to be a parent…I feel a calling to help women.  I’m not sure what form it is supposed to take yet.  Maybe it will be teaching, maybe it will be through counseling or social work, maybe it will be international work.  At this point, I’m ok with with waiting for the opportunity to present itself clearly to me.  In the meantime however, this book has encouraged me to stay focused on my ultimate goal: to make a difference, be it large or small.  So for that, I say a great big mahalo to Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn.  Well done, and I’m on board.  🙂


**Half the Sky Official Website**

http://www.halftheskymovement.org/stories



**Video of the authors discussing women’s rights**


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Feminism needs a new marketing campaign…

March 30, 2011 at 8:02 pm (Uncategorized)

Several weeks ago I sat around with a group of friends and my husband, discussing feminism and this blog site.  We talked about the different kinds of feminism out there and how many people seem to immediately go to the most radical notion as the definition of feminism.  Why is that???  I consider radical feministic theory to be the basis of feminism, not what is now at the forefront or most common.  When feminists came on the scene, their behavior in some ways almost had to be radical…they were fighting for the most basic of human rights.  They struggled in ways that we cannot ever comprehend.  They had to be loud, fearless, angry, and yes, RADICAL.  How else does social justice ever come about?  Think of the abolitionist movement; the two are quite similar. Though I try to spread the word on the basic dictionary definition of feminism; (the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes) it seems that feminist is still very often considered to be a bad word.  Like every important issue or movement – it has many layers.

Despite the hardships women have endured for their freedoms, despite the 150 years of pushing to gain equal rights, despite the many ways in which you, dear reader, have endured unjust criticism and scrutiny and unfair treatment because of being a girl, so many are still afraid to utter the word, feminist. I sometimes think about our feminist fore-mothers and how shocked and disappointed they would be to hear that.  The pain and suffering they went through for others to simply feel free to claim that word.  Please know I am not attempting to shame anyone into feminism…just trying to open the lines of communication and help those who are ignorant (read: not stupid, just not knowledgable about this particular subject) about the ideas that concern this issue.

How can we change this?  How do you get rid of a stigma?  In all my years of activism, I’ve only encountered one woman I would consider to be a radical feminist.  And believe me, I’ve been around ALOT of feminists over the years!  😉  When I confront someone that is honest enough to admit that they don’t know if they are a feminist or not, I start asking questions:  Do you think men and women should be treated equally?  Do you believe that women should be able to hold property, vote, and receive proper education as a man does?  (You may think this question silly but in large parts of the world, this would be unheard of).

There’s a popular joke/phrase in the feminist world; someone will say, “I’m not a feminist but…” and then go on to make several very beautiful, powerful, feministic statements.  I even had one friend say, “I’m not a feminist, but I think women should have the exact same rights as men.”  I looked at her with astonishment and this beautiful, intelligent friend of mine said, “What?  AM I a feminist!??!”  The answer of course being a resounding, gong-clanging, head-slapping YES!!!! And just like that, another feminist was born.

I believe most confusion comes from the question of separation.  Meaning, many think they can’t be a feminist AND a stay-at-home Mother, or pro-life, or (dare I open these heavy, meaning-laden doors?) a Christian.  Being a feminist is all about having the right to choose what you see fit for your life.  Having the option to stay home or to work, for example.  It doesn’t mean you don’t want to get married, or have babies, or avoid church, it simply means that many amazing, strong women before you fought to have the right to choose these particular choices.  And because there is still so much to accomplish before men and women are truly equal, we must keep fighting and evoking change for our future daughters, nieces, granddaughters and so on.

I think it’s time to give this word a makeover.  Let’s stand together and teach others that the word feminist is just a lovely, fancy term for a woman that wants to be acknowledged as equal.



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“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”

February 16, 2011 at 7:52 am (Uncategorized)

I have pondered a great many hours over how to introduce this blog to you. I couldn’t decide if I should I present it as a learning tool, a representation of my passionate belief system, or a befuddled mess/mass of my musings on feminism. I came to the unfortunate conclusion that I have no conclusion. Whatever form it takes, I simply want it to be honest. I want my readers to understand that I in no way believe that my values are righteous or superior to yours.

I came from a small Kentucky town and probably never even heard the word feminist until college. My countrified and rural upbringing never exposed me to the struggles of women. Wait, I need to alter that…I was exposed, but had no knowledge of my exposure. You cannot see what you don’t notice or understand. Learning about feminism in college was like having a magnifying glass thrust in front of my face. All of a sudden, I saw things in a new light…I saw unfair gender roles in every tv commercial. I noticed my Mother’s struggles and all of the work heaped upon her, simply because of her sex. I learned in ways bigger than I could comprehend of the unjustices to women all across the country, the world. I saw the disadvantages of being a woman at what seemed every turn. You’ve heard the phrase that “with knowledge comes responsibility”, right? Well, in my case, with knowledge came ANGER. I missed my blissful ignorance. I hated this new world. I longed for the easy luxury of being in the dark.

I learned and grew and read and observed and absorbed. I never completely got over my anger (it’s always sort of there in my back pocket), but I also no longer want to be in a state of ignorance. In fact, I have made it my mission to educate others because the issue is so imporant and valuable. And social change can only happen from intelligent thought and action. ACTION. Perhaps even blog-like action.

Though I am a feminist and proud to be one, I still wrestle internally with what that means. I would like to talk about being a feminist in a most simplistic way; because in my mind, it is a very basic concept. Feminism = equality. Not superiority. It is about justice. Feminists want to be valued in the same way that men are valued. No more, no less.

I want to impress upon readers the fact that anyone can be a feminist. According to some, I am probably a different kind of feminist. I love makeup and cute little hairstyles. I shave my legs and keep up on the latest fashions; but I am here to tell you that you can be whoever you want to be and still be a feminist. While I sometimes feel some guilt that I am bending to expected societal female standards by taking part in some of these things, the fact is…it is my choice. I expect to get into that at a later date, as I feel it is a fascinating subject.  My point is, you can be a tom boy, a girlie girl, a man, a woman, or a even *GASP!* religious and still be a feminist.

I wanted to begin with an introduction:  My name is Katie and I am 31 years old, living in Honolulu Hawaii on the island of Oahu.  I have been married for 7 years to an environmental engineer.  I am a runner, a musician, and a soon-to-be grad student at the University of Hawaii. (Please see the “about me” section of the blog for further info).  I entitled the blog Tales of a Fumbling Feminist as I feel it’s an appropriate description of what I want to represent here.  We’re all human, complex, malleable and flawed.  I am hoping to use this website as a forum for communication, thoughts, articles, videos and announcements for students, alumnus and teachers. It’s beginning as a Women’s Studies project, but I have hope that it will continue to generate interest with lively debates and discussion.  Welcome to the fumbling feminist!



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