I hadn't realized that some women, particularly those who are not old enough to have lived through the women's movement of the 1960s, consider the word feminist to be "dirty." When this was recently suggested by a colleague in the lunchroom of our workplace, the feminist bubble that I have apparently been living in for most of my life was burst wide open. "Are you a feminist?," she asked. "What does feminism mean to you?" The ideals of feminism are so deeply embedded into who I am that I found myself unable to immediately produce a thoughtful answer. I decided to write this essay to both explore and articulate those latent feelings and to demystify and illuminate a few basic concepts for reluctant feminists.
My views about feminism have certainly been influenced by others' ideas, and in very significant ways; however, my perspective is mine alone and I cannot claim that I represent any generally known or accepted mainstream, or radical, feminist viewpoint. This is perhaps indicative of the inquisitive nature through which I investigate, interrogate, and weave together multiple, even conflicting ideas and this, in the past, has sometimes agitated those who consider themselves to be entrenched in the feminist experience. I consider the ideas contained in this essay to be a beginning, not the end, of a conversation about what it means to be a feminist.
And this leads to my first suggestion, that feminism is about opening up space -- provoking discovery rather than accepting predetermined definitions and promoting continual creative genesis rather than egocentric endings. In other words, feminists -- in my view -- invite others to participate in the joy of exploration rather than simply present a tainted picture of the final destination. As a feminist, I prefer to unify people in a loving and sustainable way through expansive, inclusive approaches rather than through the subtle yet destructive violence of dogma.
Secondly, feminists do not define or understand ourselves or anything else through the lens of, or in comparison to, an opposite - for example, men - but rather through the unique, intrinsic value we have both individually and collectively. Trite statements such as, 'women can do anything men can do' are degrading and only serve to reinforce superficial hierarchies such as patriarchy.
Similarly, feminists embrace womanhood, femininity, and sisterhood but are not defined or bound in any way by limited perceptions of these ideas. We conceptualize and embody each of these things in a way that is valuable to and for us as women. Feminists also courageously appreciate nature and beauty. Not the contrived exoteric beauty pushed on us by a very unfeminist society, but the beauty of art, potentiality, and mystery that can be found nearly everywhere if we only look thoroughly and deeply enough.
We radiate hope and optimism in the face of conflict, prejudice, and other means of division. Feminists are never victims, nor are we perpetrators; we are consistent provocateurs of truth and goodness. We understand that we are entitled to the same personal and political rights as all other living beings with whom we share the planet, and work in solidarity with others to protect and expand those rights for all.
Lest you think feminism is an exclusive enclave for pompous academic types as admittedly I can sometimes seem, let me assure you that there is indeed space for everyone as feminism is inclusive across boundaries such as race, class, geography, and ability. Participation requires no special qualifications other than an aligned and open heart.
If anything I have shared resonates with you, please join in. Claim your feminist identity with pride. Reject others' definitions of feminism which have deterred you in the past and work with me and others to reinvent the movement in a way that reflects who we truly are and the possibilities of our future. It's the feminist way.