Oberlin Blogs

The F Word

November 17, 2014

Emma Davey ’18

If you know me well, you know that pretty much nothing gets me going quite like discussions of feminism. I can't tell you how long I've been a feminist because I don't know. It always seemed kind of like common sense to me that I would stand with a movement that wanted to advance my rights on all fronts. This issue has been at the forefront of my mind the past few days, more so than it usually is. I've been in a reading mood and have devoured about three books within three weeks, all of which touched on the issue of feminism: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, and Yes Please by Amy Poehler, all of which were hilarious, informative, and thought-provoking. But the thing that made me want to put on Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl" on repeat while shouting obscenities at the patriarchy (besides the recent midterm elections) was Time magazine's inclusion of the word on their list of words to ban in 2015.

Here's what they said: "feminist - You have nothing against feminism itself, but when did it become a thing that every celebrity had to state their position on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party? Let's stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade."

Well I'm here to implore you to NOT LISTEN TO TIME MAGAZINE! I don't see why celebrities declaring themselves to be feminists should be considered a bad thing. Celebrities wield more influence than the average citizen. When Taylor Swift revised her previous comments and stated that she was now a feminist, I hope the countless youngsters who look up to her were listening. Amy Poehler is not only who I consider the funniest woman on the planet and who portrays one of my favorite feminists in the media, Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation, but she's also a feminist in real life. One of my favorite quotes from her (or from anybody ever, really) is when she discusses how often people will say that they believe in equal rights for women but don't consider themselves to be feminists:

"I don't get it. That's like someone being like, 'I don't really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don't know what I would do without it.'"

The word 'feminist' has negative connotations for many people. They think it sounds too militant, too emphasizing of one gender. Well, if it seems like we're being militant, it's because we have to be. Each and every day, politicians introduce and advocate laws that will harm us, or they fail to support laws that will do us good. But why is it called feminism if we're supposed to be advocating equality? Doesn't that seem counterintuitive? Or sometimes people believe that the word 'feminist' implies the rise of women over men. But that's not what feminism is about. It means the equality of all genders, not the dominance of one. Some feminists also resist calling themselves feminists for various reasons (Google "Joss Whedon feminist" and you'll see what I'm talking about). But I say to those people, we can play games of semantics all day long, but in the end, it was decided a long time ago to call it "feminism" and it's the movement that got women the rights we have today.

I like to tell people that feminism is a simple concept with complicated implications. The definition of a feminist, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in her wonderful TED talk "Why We Should All Be Feminists," is "a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes." Boom! That's it! It's really that simple (although in the interest of intersectionality, I would change 'sexes' to 'genders'). However, what do we consider to be feminist causes and how should we deal with them? That's when feminism gets complicated. And how we as feminists deal with dissent in the movement is not always one of my favorite things. I think we get too caught up in what I call "feminist policing," comparing views of feminism and taking away someone's feminist card if they don't fit into what we agree with. Yes, the modern feminist movement is whitewashed and Western. It doesn't focus nearly enough on women of color, transgender women, and queer women. However, instead of simply just calling out certain feminists and holding them accountable for their actions, many people jump to take away their right to call themselves feminists. We should recognize each other's flaws, but instead of breeding hate, we need to focus on informing ourselves. We need to check our privilege and try to rise above it. I don't like it when people see feminism as an exclusive organization that one must fulfill certain stringent requirements in order to be a part of. I think that feminism requires you to hold certain beliefs, but once you have those beliefs, you are a feminist. You are, of course, responsible for keeping informed and checking your privilege. You are accountable to others. But you are allowed to slip up, provided that you seek to do better next time. As Roxane Gay said in her book, "I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all."

But what does any of this have to do with Oberlin, you say?

A lot. Since leaving my conservative high school, where the thought of having a GSA was merely a pipe dream, it was imperative for me to get involved with some type of feminist organization here at Oberlin. I began going to meetings for Students United for Reproductive Freedom, which is always a highlight of my Tuesday. I have a love/hate relationship with these meetings. I love that when I go, I'm surrounded by people who have similar ideals, who want to make things happen. I love that the meetings always educate me about what's going on, and it's the kind of knowledge that helps me become a better person, a person who tries to check their privilege and recognize their position in the world. However, I hate that it's rarely good news that I hear about. Instead, I discover the myriad ways we still have so far to go in achieving true equality. But each time, it reinforces all the reasons that I decided to call myself a feminist.

I am a feminist because I don't think it's right that I will only earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. I am a feminist because I shouldn't be afraid to walk down a street at night. I am a feminist because little girls shouldn't walk into the girls' clothing aisle in any given store and being greeted by only pink frilly clothing. I am a feminist because Malala Yousafzai's demand for education shouldn't have been met with a gunshot to the head. I am a feminist because Amy Poehler shouldn't have to consider herself very lucky that she hasn't been a victim of rape or sexual assault. I am a feminist because Emma Sulkowicz shouldn't have to carry around a mattress in order to persuade Columbia University to act on her behalf. I am a feminist because I think it's wrong that my mom has to worry if my generation will be worse off than hers. I can think of so many more reasons to be a feminist, but you the reader and me the author both need to get on with our days.

The bottom line is this: feminism is a simple concept - the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. But applying that little concept to the real world - that's where things get tricky. You can disagree with aspects of modern feminism but still be a feminist. Feminists don't all share the same beliefs. I'm not claiming to know all the answers because I don't. I'm still learning, which is why I'm lucky to be at Oberlin, surrounded by people who are on the journey with me.

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