Friday, October 08, 2010


Who gets to call themself a feminist, and are there core beliefs which one must affirm to claim that label? Several women are debating this, in a series on The genesis of the article is whether Sarah Palin and other politicians should be allowed to use the term, but it moves beyond that pretty widely.

Amy Bloom writes, "Feminism, I'm pretty sure, means a commitment to equal opportunity, equal ability, and equal potential for all women. It doesn't mean (and I realize that reasonable women differ on the definition of feminism—that's why it's feminism and not algebra) that a possession of a womb brings with it a special spiritual gift, or that women are avatars of goodness, entitled to yell, 'Misogynist!' whenever it is to their advantage...
there are, apparently, honest-to-God feminists who believe that abortion is murder and even though I think that that's not true, I have to respect that...But there is no such thing as free market/anti-legislation/I've-got-mine feminism."

Nora Ephron disagrees: "You can't call yourself a feminist if you don't believe in the right to abortion."

Katha Pollitt weighs in: "In the 1970s, feminists alienated a lot of women by being too censorious about clothes, makeup, and other personal choices; these days, feminism seems to mean supporting a woman's 'choice' to do just about anything, no matter how degrading or disempowering or socially harmful or foolish. Eventually, this kind of feminism bites its own tail: If choices cannot be discussed or (horrors!) criticized, there is no way to challenge, or even examine, their social context."

Anna Holmes notes that the term "feminism" has often been "rejected by minority and working-class progressive women, whose concerns, efforts, and agitations toward gender equality have historically been ignored or dismissed by the progressive movement's overwhelmingly white, wealthy standard-bearers."

Amanda Marcotte quotes Lisa Jervis, "Real feminists support a society in which biological gender 'doesn't determine social roles or expected behavior.'"

I like Jervis' definition, because it would dovetail nicely with a form of "masculinism" that would also support a society where being born male does not require being strong, silent and self-sacrificing. There is some complexity here: being born male *does* mean that I cannot conceive, nor nourish and carry a child in my body. But widening our understanding of social roles and expected behavior seems like a good goal.


At 10:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes. I'm with you. We have to accept biological limitations, but only the ones that actually exist. Not all women can conceive. Not all men are fertile. Not all men are physically strong. Many women can do "men's" jobs. Female athletes are at a higher risk for certain injuries and do have different nutritional needs...women can be physically active and not harm their tender uterus's as once believed.

Beyond that--let's be human and whole and not limit each other either to what is for men or for women or to a narrow politically correct androgynous identity (lipstick and high heels for any who want them--and whose back can tolerate the heels!)

I think the real divide is actually around whether observed differences--say in tenured professor posts or who chooses to stay home with the kids--should lead to an investigation of systemic sexism or whether they're the result of differences between the sexes (on the whole and in aggregate). And further, if we believe systemic changes are societally beneficial--say like some European countries reserving some of parental leave for the male partner and the male partner only (you don't get it if the guy doesn't take it). Benefits include closer bonding with babies and dads being emotionally closer and involved with their kids even after a divorce.

I guess think that anyone who isn't willing to investigate these complexities and consider intervention of some kind isn't feminist.


At 11:04 AM, Blogger Bill Baar said...

Re: The genesis of the article is whether Sarah Palin and other politicians should be allowed to use the term...

Who has authority to deny anyone a label?

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Chip said...

Indeed, Bill, that is one of the questions they debate. You might be surprised by their responses--check out the whole series on

ECZ, thank you for your thougtful post--"willing to investigate complexities and consider intervention" is an important part of some definition, whether of feminism or another identity.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger Bill Baar said...

Christine Rosen seems to get it right in my opinion, but I also like to think we're getting past the age of "isms" as ideologies and abstract constructions haven't served us very well the past century or so.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Cynthia Landrum said...

Thanks for drawing my attention to this series of articles.


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