Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Is Feminism Dead?

Is feminism dead?
Posted by Courtney E. Martin
27 November 2007

What picture pops into your mind when you read the word feminist? Is it a woman layered in petticoats with a big, swooping hat, picketing the white house for her right to vote? Is it Gloria Steinem in her aviator glasses, sleek, straight hair hanging down both sides of her pretty face?

These are the dominant images that so many people associate with feminist history, and for good reason. The first image—the suffragist—represents the so-called “first wave” of feminist history. These women, philosophizing and organizing, from the late 1800s through the 1930s, were primarily focused on legal and institutional changes that would allow women to gain more power and autonomy.

The “second wave,” then, was most active in the 1960s and 1970s, and was concerned with social and psychological liberation (think dishes, contraception, and objectification). This era is best explained by its most effective slogan: the personal is the political. (Disclaimer: This, of course, is only a modern western history I’m referring to. Feminism has taken all kinds of triumphant and fascinating forms in other parts of the world, at other times.)

But what about now? Is feminism, as Time magazine and other short-sighted publications like to claim, dead?

Well of course not. My vibrant community of feminist friends and I are, last time I checked, breathing. Our hearts are pumping new feminist blood. Our minds—the most educated in history—are formulating visions of what feminism can and will be in the twenty-first century.
We are sometimes called “third wave,” though perhaps it could even be argued we are the fourth, after our Gen X older sisters and mentors (women like Deborah Siegel, Daisy Hernandez, Jennifer Baumgardner, Amy Richards, Sarah Jones, etc.).

My vision of feminism is defined by three major components: educated choice, genuine equality, and radical authenticity. Ask my friend Jessica or my pal Daniel and you will get slightly different answers, but you can bet that we’ll all be talking in the same general language and in the same philosophical country.

Educated choice: Both men and women need to have access to choices and, even more, they need to have the tools necessary to make good choices. It is not enough to just say that women should have access to abortions, for example. They also need to know all of their options and feel like they have a full understanding of the health risks and quality of life issues that each entails; they also need to have the economic provisions to make whichever choice fits their lives and values best.

Genuine Equality: We all deserve the same opportunities, the same access. This is a pretty straight forward concept in theory, but in practice, it is hellishly complicated. Take something like U.S. college admissions. Sure anyone can apply to Harvard, but not everyone comes from a family that can pay for an SAT tutor or has the cultural capital to encourage college. Until the U.S., and other western industrialized countries, recognize the way that networks and subtle class/race/gender dynamics influence supposedly non-discriminatory institutions, our work will not be done.

Radical authenticity: This facet of feminism gets talked about far too little in my opinion. A visionary twenty-first century feminism should aim to support both men and women to be their most authentic selves in the world, shedding prescribed gender roles and really getting in touch with their authentic desires, passions, and ethics. Feminist workplaces, for example, would nurture both men and women having present relationships with their children and fulfilling work lives. Men should be empowered to express a complex range of emotions, just as women must learn how to handle conflict healthily and assertively and take care of themselves, not just everyone else.

The most exciting thing about feminism, is that it is ultimately about leading more fulfilling, ethical, joyful lives, characterized by more healthy and genuine relationships. Who could argue with that?


freedom-is-slavery said...

Toward the end of this post, feminism is defined as providing for, both women and men, a “more fulfilling, ethical, and joyful li[fe].” I would have to disagree with the final characterization applies to both men and women. While this writing seems support the noble goal of making life better for both men and women by urging an equality of both genders, this has never been practiced in society. Men are fearful of being left behind if women ever achieve the qualities spoken of. The argument in this essay seems to be the same argument as William Bennett makes in regard to equality of black people which I characterize as being “If we all just pretend we are equal, then it will be so.”

Why can’t women work on their issues and then if ever achieved, men can experience their own enlightenment later. Men have never had to deal with the subordination issues that women experience, so I do not feel it would be quite fair for them to reap the rewards of the seeds that have been sown.

Women have distinct issues to deal with in regard to the oppression of women just because of their gender. Women deal with sexual oppression because men are in control of society. Men have to relinquish this stronghold before they can be invited into the feminist experience.

feMENist said...

If the author wishes to define feminism in the manner prescribed in her article, feminism is most surely headed in the wrong direction. A wrong direction for feminism to continue to be productive and undoubtedly not a direction 'first' and 'second' wave feminists had envisioned the future of feminism to be.

The main problem I see with this proposed definition of feminism is the inclusion of men within the ideals of feminism. Feminism turns on the axis to gain equality for women. To call for equality for both genders undermines the aim which feminism seeks to identify and correct. It seems that what the author is describing is patriarchy, which, while it does apply to feminism, does not apply in the manner prescribed by the author.

All advances and achievements of feminism, to date, have been the result of identify male oppression and correcting it. The methodology identified by the author will not allow for that. Changes don't happen all at once but rather are the result of time, effort and consistency. Why would anyone want to stray away from a system that has been successful in the past?

andsoitgoes said...

Feminism is very much alive. This leads me to my image of Feminism. In three different but equally important ways the three mother figures in my life have given me a sense and shown me differing images of feminism.

My mother is a single parent. She has had to take on roles that are socially not befitting her gender but she has done them. Her story takes me to the article where it stated ideas on educated choice. My mother had to be very aware of all her options, she had to strive to know all she could all the time with minimal help in the larger context. She made decisions based on wht was best for her and for her children. She found ways of learning from all mediums and then made her own decisions on the way to raise us based on what she knew, learned and thought best. She is a prime example of having to use educated choice constantly.

Genuine Equality is to me shown in all my god-mother does and is. It is hard to tie such an abstract concept to a person but when I read what Courtney E. Martin wrote concerning it my god-mother stood out to me. She is a teacher and in her class every student is subject to the same rules, discipline and oppourtunity. This is the same with her children. She takes the education of her students very seriously and is helping genuine equality along. Not taking into account their financial status, their gender, or who their parents know is very hard because she teaches in a small community. She has recieved some mixed reviews because she makes it an equal playing field for all of her students.

Radical Authenticity is my grandmother all over the place. What is most definite is that my grandmother gives everyone their share of responsibility. She does not allow any family member or staff be they male or female get by with anything. She places everyone in an equal mindset. She has always encouraged and supported people to do what they want, to feel how they feel and to find their own way. This has been mostly apparent with my brother and myself. She has always embraced how gentle my brother was and never discouraged his soft side and she has always been supportive, though worried at times, about my need to be constantly involved.

These women were strong images of not only the concepts mentioned in this article but many others that I relate to living feminism.

Scottye said...

Upon reflection I think the criticisms offered against this piece are wrong. Feminism can never work if it is just about separating women from men. Just like the civil rights movement would have failed had it been solely about separating African Americans from whites.

Someone made the analogy that this reminded them of William Bennett’s color blind argument. Again I have to disagree; to me this has more in common with Martin Luther King Jr’s appeal to the white moderate. Men should most definitely not be excluded from the feminist movement, they should be included and used to help convince other men and women that equal rights for women are both just and necessary for us to have any type of moral society.

“Why can’t women work on their issues and then if ever achieved, men can experience their own enlightenment later.” How can women ever achieve equality of men aren’t enlightened? Are you suggesting that women revolt against men, usurp control of society, and then begin to dominate men so that men can have some sort of enlightenment? It seems that is what you are implying.

I can tell you that unless men are enlightened along with anti-feminist women than any gains made by feminists will surely be hollow victories along the lines of rape and abortion laws. Feminists need to unite everyone so that we can have real change.

whitney said...

I would tend to agree with the author of the piece when she talks about radical authenticity, and includes men in her ideal of a feminist future. What she is talking about are gender roles, and the specific and different pressures that society places on men and women. It is not fair for women to have to be or act a certain way because they are women, and the same is true for men. It starts for boys and girls at a very early age. One example I have is from when I worked at the daycare. I took care of 1-year-old toddlers, and there was a little boy that cried when his mom dropped him off. Instead of hugging him and telling him it would be alright, like she probably would have done with a girl, she sat him on the floor and said, “Be a man!” He was just a baby, there was no way he even knew what that meant. Men have pressure on them to be a certain way, and its just as unfair for them as it is for women. I think to get rid of female gender stereotyping, there has to be a change for both men and women.

Anonymous said...

This is a well written article but its a little too to soft for me. We can all pretend to be feminists and say that we believe in the feminist causes by talking about being fulfilled and enjoying life, but that doesn't really promote any changes in society. When we talk about feminism, it others me that so many people try to pin down one definition of what it should be. Feminism is about diversity in my opinion, its about several different groups of women and men having feminist ideas. People need to be more receptive to this idea. It seems to me that throughout history there have been many different types of feminists and who is to say which one is right. I think there needs to be a broad range of feminists for the cause to work. There may be several different types of feminism that are dead but as a whole the movement will never be dead. There will always be people out there who will always be concerned with the equal rights of women and as long as those people exist, the movement will never be dead. I think the people who say feminism is dead, are the ones who just want it to be dead so they can continue the system of oppressing women.

theory's over :( said...

I believe that feminism is very much alive, but I feel that it is not always an active as it was during the initial waves. During the first and second wave of feminism there were identifiable images of what a “feminist” looked like. Today feminists don’t have an image and you cannot spot a feminist on the sidewalk or in a group of people. There’s no dress code for a feminist, or a certain set of beliefs that she or he must follow. For this reason I feel that feminism has reached a new level and truly reached some of its initial goals. When a socially progressive movement can branch out into different types where each player in the movement has different beliefs then the movement has reached so degree of success. Feminists who come from differing backgrounds bring new opinions and experiences to the table and allow new avenues to be opened up. Feminism is based on true equality and in order to reach equality there must be diverse players in the game. If males want to partake in feminism I believe it should be openly accepted and welcomed. Only by male cooperation for equality can gender equality be achieved.

James said...

After reading the post and the attached comments I have to join Scott in questioning the reasoning behind the first critical post. Specifically, what is the rationale supporting rejecting male participation in healing and formulating new mutually informed ways of living ethical and joyful lives?

I interpret the comments as a desire for separation, which equates to one of the white responses to slavery: send them away because we do not want to deal with it. It appears to be an attempt to shift responsibility for the present hierarchical nature of sex relations to women. "Why can't women work on their issues and then if ever achieved, men can experience their own enlightenment later." The problems of a sexist society cannot be solved by the efforts of only half the society. It is vital that men recognize their culpability, and make a sincere effort to reformulate how gender is proscribed and what that means in our culture. Men suffer from the darker side of sexism too, as it warps their sense of self, and deprives them of genuine friendship and companionship.

I also want to comment on another very interesting post from “Theory’s Over.” I find that formulation of feminism refreshingly optimistic after a semester in which we all seemed to see certain aspects of sexism and misogyny as too powerfully ingrained to overcome. Particularly interesting is the idea that a feminist does not have to look a certain way, or act a certain way; there is not proscribed role that delineates what it means to be a feminist. We can all be feminists, living in our own distinctive ways, recognizing difference but not assigning value or location for that difference.