Friday, January 19, 2007

New-Wave Feminism?

I was poking around on and discovered (among the cheesy and the dreadful) a couple articles that piqued my interest because their tags included the words "sexism" and "Feminazi." The first was an article decrying women who want to call history "herstory." I can agree that the word thing is silly – I've always wanted the real thing with words and titles I've earned; the word "chairman" may be sexist, but it is what it is and I'll be damned if I'm going to let it become "chair" or "chairwoman" when it applies to me (an opinion sharp-eyed readers will know I share with my character, Jane). But I’m appalled that anyone would consider such wordplay to be proof that feminists are "feminazis" and feminism is "crap," as one commenter pithily (if not elegantly) wrote.

The term "feminazi" evidently started its life as a label for man-haters and other extremists. It didn't surprise me to learn that Rush Limbaugh is credited with broadening the use of the term to mean any female who is intolerant of any point of view that challenges militant feminism. Every movement has its fringe elements and even its thugs. True feminism, if you ask me, is nothing more or less than the belief that women, like men, are human beings entitled to social, political and economic equality.

The second article stated that women who grew up in the 80s consider sexism to be something they grew up largely without and feminism to be a movement they no longer need. Because I prefer not to think that a whole generation of women is either blind or half-witted, I trust that the article is wrong. According to it, though, the mindset of the majority of 20-somethings is post-feminist and they think the word "feminist" conjures up negative images. Apparently, they consider the "angry feminist" to be at best a relic and at worst a feminazi.

Well, what a load of crap that is! I've never been able to understand why any woman wouldn't be a feminist – and, given the rampant inequality that still plagues society even in 2007, at least a provoked feminist, if not an angry one. Don’t even get me started on listing examples of current sexism; I’d exceed the limits of what I can store on this site in no time! Angry feminism is not outdated nor is it necessarily extreme; it's a completely suitable (if not always the most effective) response to ongoing inequality. Despite anger, and despite what those threatened by the notion of social, political and economic equality for women may choose to believe, feminism has nothing to do with hating men or, for that matter, with hating marriage or children or other women who make different choices or anything else. It’s not about hate. It’s about refusing to tolerate inequality and seeking to eliminate sexism.

"Feminazi" is a horrible term, despite its catchiness. It connotes fascism and the notion that one group is superior/dominant relative to another. Evidently, the term is used by (among others) liberal, self-identified feminist women to deprecate other women who hold "extreme views." (Perhaps another thing women who grew up in the 80s grew up without is an understanding of the repressive and dangerous impact of Nazis and fascism.) For solidarity as well as linguistic reasons, I don't think this is where we want to be heading.

1 comment:

Crystal Marie said...

Thanks for sharing this thoughtful post. I am continually fascinated by the history of the feminist movement and how it has evolved into our present day reality. Terms like 'Feminazi' are incredibly frustrating to me, as they reflect a dismissive, closed-minded attitude. Although, it isn't surprising considering the nature of our media; we are usually more interested in combative, one word zingers than in understanding the complexity of an issue.

I am a 24 year old woman. I grew up in the eighties. I can say with certainty that the article dismissing the need for feminism in my generation is wrong. Betty Friedan wrote about "a problem that has no name," but our problem does have a name. We grew up in an America more aware of sexism than ever before. Some of us believe that because the problem is named…because we talk about it in our employee handbooks…and publicly condemn it on our television that this means the problem is cured. I'm sure you'd agree, that is absolutely not the case. Now we face both old and new schools of sexism. Today, you might see one or two women in high ranking positions so that a company might fulfill some pre-conceived commitment to "breaking the glass ceiling." Though, they won't hide their snickers when that woman gets pregnant. And she might say a few words at the board meeting, but she won't escape the constant scrutiny about her appearance, weight, and sex appeal. (See: Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin) I think feminism is as essential for today's women as it was for those who grew up in the 1950s.

So the question becomes, how do we unite behind this movement? - its purpose you so eloquently defined. It seems feminism is muddled in a wide range of controversial topics (from abortion to sexuality) and it also faces angry opponents (some of whom created the very term you mentioned.) I hope women my age reach a point where apathy is no longer an option - where euphemisms are no longer enough - where we reclaim the original intent behind the word feminism: equality for all.