I continue my “Blog Blog Project” this year as part of our seventh annual National Agenda program. As part of this class, students are required to blog about their experiences meeting speakers and observing the daily (or in some cases, the minute-by-minute) news cycle. So far, students have met with Congressional candidate and GamerGate victim Brianna Wu; Appalachian novelist David Joy; NPR reporter Asma Khalid; and Vice President Joe Biden with Ohio Governor John Kasich. You can view all the programs at https://www.cpc.udel.edu/national-agenda/national-agenda-2017-as-we-stand-divided. I’ll be posting blogs that the students vote as their favorites over the next few months. This one comes from Senior Sarah Fritz, a double-major in Communication and Political Science at the University of Delaware Communication with a minor in Legal Studies. Here, she lays out a personal story of how to understand feminism from different ideological perspectives.
“Feminist.” It’s a word that’s been causing divides between women since the 1920s.
When it comes to political alignment, women who proudly consider themselves feminists usually lean left, and those who want nothing to do with the movement usually lean right. But what those on the right don’t realize is that a lot more of them are feminists than they realize.
Some conservative women may not consider themselves feminists because they are under the false impression that to be a feminist means you must be politically liberal, hate men, or love abortion. But contrary to popular belief, this is not the heart of feminism at all.
The heart of feminism is equality and empowerment.
As women have become more empowered throughout the years, the original gender roles placed upon them have been removed and have started to be replaced with a mutual respect. For example, laws regarding the abuse of women have begun to change. Sixty years ago, people may have looked the other way at a man hitting his wife, but today, those kinds of actions don’t always fly. And if you are reading this thinking about how happy you are that women can’t be pushed around by the men in their life anymore, then congrats, you’re a feminist.
I had the realization that many conservative women don’t realize they’re feminists while I was at dinner with a friend of mine who is extremely conservative. She defends Trumps, loves the Second Amendment, and doesn’t want the government to interfere with practically anything. In the past, when I shared my own feminist views with her, she kind of brushed them aside. This worried me. How could I be close friends with someone who couldn’t even agree that women deserve the same rights as men? But that assumption of her I had quickly changed as we found ourselves on the same side of a different argument.
Another friend that the two of us share (let’s call her Ruth for the sake of this story) has found herself in an unhealthy relationship. Her boyfriend has taken on a very misogynistic role. Not only has Ruth’s boyfriend told her that she cannot hang out with me or my friend anymore, he has started dictating the places she can and cannot go, has told her that she is not allowed to drink alcohol, and now speaks for her whenever there is an issue.
I was surprised by my friend’s reaction to Ruth’s predicament. For a woman who had sworn off feminism and had talked about wanting a dominant man, she found the behavior of Ruth’s boyfriend to be extremely upsetting. She couldn’t believe that a man was treating a woman like this and she wanted to fight to make him change his ways.
That’s when I realized that not only her assumptions of what it meant to be a feminist were wrong, but that my assumption that she wasn’t a feminist was wrong too.
I had the same realization as the “#MeToo” campaign gained traction.
Some of my most conservative Facebook friends who will defend Trump until the day they die started posting about their own sexual harassment experiences and expressed how they wished the way our culture treats women would change.
While it causes cognitive dissonance within many to hear a woman support Trump but also be an advocate for change when it comes to sexual harassment, those on the left cannot discount those women as feminists. And those women on the right who want the culture to change cannot discount themselves from the movement either.
I think that what has happened over the years is that women have taken on what Carl Sagan calls an “us versus them attitude.” Instead of banding together as women and saying “we might not agree on everything, but we’re still going to work together on what we do agree on,” we have put one another into two categories: Us and Them. And because of this tribal mentality, our culture, which still allows for men to get away with raping and assaulting women, has not changed.
According to Sagan, we can’t let “our reasonable convictions slip into self-righteousness,” because when we do, it creates polarization, which is exactly what is happening among women right now.
A whole population of women is not going to agree on everything; that would be impossible. But by getting to know the heart of those we disagree with, and realizing that we do agree on more than we think we do, we can stop the polarization and meet in the middle.
So here’s the feminist test:
- Do you believe women and men should have equal rights?
- Do you want to empower women?
If you answered yes to these questions, you are a feminist. And that is the beginning and end of it.
So to the women out there who cringe at the thought of being called a feminist, you need to realize that you can be whatever kind of feminist you want to be. You can be conservative and still want equality. And to those who are already feminists: let the movement be that of an inclusive one, instead of a club where you have to know the secret password to be let in.
We can get a lot more done together than we can separately.
Sarah Fritz is a Senior at the University of Delaware.