Monday, June 30, 2008

What is Feminism?

Last week before bed I caught one of the George Carlin HBO Specials that have been playing on a loop since his passing, and I found the datedness of it to be interesting (it was certainly early 80s). The bit that captured my attention the most concerned feminism and feminists. Carlin defined the feminist movement as being propelled by women who want careers instead of kids – by women who want to be equal to men in the business world – by women who want to be strong. I found this interesting.

My idea of feminism has certainly been shaped at least in part by roller derby. It’s also been shaped by my being a woman and those things I’ve experienced in my life. It also has to do with the way my mind has been trained by those around me – my expectations for my life as a woman and my future.

As a general disclaimer, I must admit I have no idea if Carlin’s perceptions of feminism actually reflected the majority view of feminism in the 80s, but for the purpose of this entry I’m going to assume they did.

I was somewhat confused an intrigued hearing about feminist ideas that I take for granted – things I know to be true: that women are equal to men, that we can work, that we can be strong. “Of course, we’re strong,” I thought. “Why wouldn’t we be?”

It made me instantly think about how even the ad campaigns of large corporations take these things for granted now. Secret deodorant’s slogan use to be “Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman.” Now it’s “Strong like a woman.” Duh. Was there ever really a question as to if women were strong? Hello? Who cares for the sick? Who traditionally bears the mental burdens? Who’s strong for their families and friends? Women. And it’s always been women. We may not all be able to bench press 200lbs, but we certainly can carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, and we do.

The most striking difference I thought of when I was listening to Carlin was the idea of women as mothers. Basically, women as mothers were not feminists, Carlin indicated, because they didn’t work and still perceived their job or duty in life to be “pumping out units.” My god, this is 180 degrees from today’s feminist view!

Today, the majority of women work. It’s hard to live with one income. I certainly grew up with the expectation that I would work and that if I did get married I would still have a job. Why wouldn’t I have a job? Even today, the idea of my not working is bizarre to me. Not working was never an option in my mind (nor in my parents minds, which is why I’ve always thought this way). I was taught and expected to be self sufficient, as were almost all of my female peers.

Today, in a world where everyone works (and I take for granted that we’re all equal for the most part) it’s feminist to put your job aside and stay home with your kids or only work part-time, so you can spend more time with them. It’s feminist to sacrifice more money or nice things in order to live out the role of mother. In fact, I can tell you that in my life, it’s only the most hard core of liberated women I know that have kids, and many stay home with them, at least part of the time.

So, what is feminism? Is it just doing the opposite of what you’re expected to do? Thinking the opposite of what you’re suppose to think? Feminism is such a loaded term but really such a vague concept – it means different things to different people.

To me, feminism is the recognition that women have the right to pursue happiness any way they see fit, just like anyone else, and I personally will support (and have supported) many different women who want many different things out of life. If you want to work, I support you in that. If you want to be a mom, I support you in that. If you want to be a working mom who also plays roller derby, well I support you in that too.

Perhaps we’ve actually come a long way in the past 25 years, or perhaps my idea of feminism is radically different than everyone else’s. I’m not quite sure. What I do know is that I’m surrounded by hundreds of women who have asked themselves “what would make me happy,” and I think that’s amazing. A woman who is mindful of what she wants and who acts on those thoughts is more than a feminist, she’s free.

1 comment:

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