Notable Women On This Thing Called Feminism

Feminism has become the word. But what's its message? Its goals? Why is it so divisive?
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People like to overcomplicate messages.There are several reasons for this, and these reasons are not usually well-intentioned. Feminism has become the word du jour. But what's its message? Its goals? Why is it so divisive? I'll try to keep it simple. And then share some thoughts on some of feminism's imperative issues by luminary social, cultural and critical thinkers.

We need a feminism that isn't afraid to love. We need to be careful of how we consume culture. We need to push back when we feel caged in as women. We need to remember that names hurt; words can put us in danger. We need to talk to one another, especially about topics that make us uncomfortable. We need to talk to kids about feminism, whether we're parents or not. If we decide to become biological mothers, we need to be knowledgable about the range of childbirth options that are available to us. Once we have children, we need to tell them about the work of the women in the 1960s and '70s who fought for many of the freedoms we enjoy today. We need to continue the work. We need money; economic equality is ideal, but not compatible with capitalism, so we'll take equal pay for equal work. We need bodies: yours, mine, the bodies of our brothers and sisters to stand with. We need to remember there's an ideology in place. And that ideology is solid, despite disagreement in the details. To me, these are feminism's goals. The following women explain it better than I, and in greater detail. Even if you think this message is familiar, read it again. Read what these women say, because even though there are no new stories, some bear repeating.

bell hooks on the importance of love:

I first turned to feminism for a more complete search on who I was. We need a feminism that isn't afraid to love -- there's the patriarchal notion of love and then there's the notion that to love is to be free. Any woman who is searching for love has to first turn to self-discovery. A lot of feminism's concerns have to do with choice. Whether we're talking about reproductive rights or love, part of our whole struggle has been to create a space where people can choose. We have to think of love as a choice.

-- bell hooks is the author of over twenty books, including Ain't I A Woman, Teaching to Transgress, Feminism Is For Everybody, and Wounds of Passion. A decade ago, she wrote a trilogy on books about love.

Roxane Gay on representations of women in pop culture:

When we're not as mindful as we need to be about popular culture, we can start to internalize the damaging messages we're receiving about gender, sexuality and what it means to be a woman in the modern world. I'm always trying to push back against that, because I believe there's more than one way to be an empowered woman. The healthiest way to consume culture is to look for things that treat women as multidimensional human beings while eschewing the rest. This is rarely possible, because so much pop culture is terrible to women. A better question is, what can we do to make pop culture creators produce less toxic culture for both women and men? I suspect people of all genders internalize how they are represented (or not) in pop culture. It seems more pernicious for women and transgender men and women, because we're still trying to claw for equality in so many realms. We can demand more from the people who make decisions about the ways women are represented. We can believe we have a right to use our voices. We can believe that how we see the world is just as legitimate as how anyone else sees the world.

-- Roxane Gay, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at Purdue University. She is a cultural commentator and the author of the novel An Untamed State and the New York Times bestseller, Bad Feminist.

Carol Queen on rape culture, slut-shaming and sex education:

I'm distressed about rape culture and the associated element of slut-shaming among youth. It doesn't matter at all how much we think about sex positive feminism as an option for adult women if kids are being pressured to think their sexiness and self worth go hand-in-hand. Then they go to a party and everything goes to hell. You can be slut-shamed without being sexual. It's become a convenient way to hurt another kid you want to hurt. President Obama called for an end to college campus rape. The university is one of the easiest places to have this discussion. But one of the reasons campus rape is so problematic is because middle and high school students aren't getting the sex education they need; instead, they are taught the value of being sexy. We can write or speak from the White House, but kids, parents, students and educators need to be talking about this.

-- Carol Queen, PhD is a writer, speaker, educator and activist with a doctorate in sexology. She is the founder and director of The Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco.

Ruth Fowler on the business of giving birth:

A lot of pregnant women don't want to educate themselves about birth because they think it's too frightening. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves so we can make empowered decisions. Of course, I speak from a position of privilege, but if those who have the ability to educate themselves about birth don't bother, what happens to the women who don't have the privilege to do so? The U.S. and a few other select countries (most notably Brazil) are unique in that they treat pregnancy as a disease and a pregnant woman as sick. The reasons why births are controlled and monitored are primarily financial. Hospitals and doctors can get women in and out of hospital quicker, with more expensive procedures billed to their insurance companies, while doctors can cover themselves from a liability point of view. By putting finances over nature, we have engineered a system of birth that is predominantly controlled by men. Midwifery is a women-led industry for women, which works on the assumption that every pregnancy is healthy and every woman can give birth with as little intervention as possible. I believe midwives should handle low-risk, healthy pregnancies and assist laboring women in hospitals, birthing centers and homes, while OBGYNs should be relegated to what they do best, handling emergencies or pregnancies which require more medical intervention.

-- Ruth Fowler is a Welsh writer and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. Her memoir, Girl Undressed is available on Amazon. Links to other published work (essays, journalism, opinion pieces and more) can be found at The World Breaks Everyone. She gained notoriety in December 2013 for live tweeting pictures of her home birth taken by her husband, photographer Jared Iorio.

Judith Kuppersmith with Phyllis Chesler on equal pay for equal work:

Until women have the same economic freedom of men, they will always be the second sex. Economic independence, and by that I mean money in our hands, makes things happen. In our culture, getting paid means getting respect. Back in 1965, 1966, I was teaching with my friend Phyllis Chesler along with several other young and radical women academics. We found out that we were earning less money than men who held the same credentials as us. What did we do? We had to 'steal' the data -- to hack the system and bring out the reality. In 1973, 25 City University of New York faculty members including Phyllis Chesler initiated a class-action lawsuit against the City University of New York for sex discrimination in the hiring, promotion and tenure of women. It took 17 years to win the case, but we won it. Where is that activism today? Feminism needs to be a movement and not a brand. Without a movement, it's really hard to take a stand. You need sisters and brothers and an ideology behind you.

-- Judith Kuppersmith, PhD is a psychodynamic oriented therapist in downtown Manhattan. Phyllis Chesler, PhD is the author of the bestselling Women and Madness, Mothers on Trial and the recent memoir An American Bride in Kabul.


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