Sunday, August 3, 2014

I Need Feminism (And So Do You)

Perhaps you have seen some of the Women Against Feminism tumblr that went viral some time ago. 

Most of the messages fall along the lines of being angry at the personal being politicized or a reaction to individual encounters with self righteous, anti-man, or otherwise extreme feminists. 

Okay, I get that. When I was an undergrad I was turned off a bit by feminism after encountering several batshit insane feminists who did and said horrible stuff, such as squirting male supporters at a Take Back the Night march with pee-filled squirtguns or holding up signs saying, "All men are potential rapists." 

But then I realized that there are a lot of dipshits in the world, and a few dipshits don't invalidate an entire movement that brought women property rights, the vote, reproductive rights, education and employment opportunities, and shifted the mainstream perception of women in society to the point where we can now easily be accepted as leaders in any industry. 

Knowing the broad history of feminism, which is the history of the movement for women's equal rights, I see how much I and every other woman of my generation has benefited from it. I simply cannot allow the heroism of people like Susan B. Anthony and Betty Friedan be overshadowed by the foolish behavior and ideas of the powerless and downright absurd feminist fringe. Every movement has crazies on the edge. Doesn't mean we sensible folks should stop associating ourselves with noble and necessary battles. 

Issues of racism still exist and need to be dealt with even if some activists do or say dumb things in the name of anti-racism. We don't stop fighting animal cruelty because of idiots who break into research labs to free mice. The short-sighted degradation of the environment by companies seeking only profit is still a serious issue even if a few idiots sabotaged trees, injuring innocent loggers. 

Many feminists have created our own memes in response to the anti-feminist tumblr campaign. The first photo in this blog post is my own response. I decided to be all serious, even though my favorite response - Confused Cats Against Feminism - employs humor. 

I included personal details from my life because as a white, educated, middle class American woman I'm supposedly the type of woman for whom women's equality has been fully achieved. And I did sort of feel that way for a long time (with much gratitude to all the feminist pioneers who fought to get the society I live in to be so great for women like me by the time I came of age.) 

Then I had kids while living far from family support (have to stay put, too, 'cause hubby's good-paying job with benefits is here) and realized that my husband's job pays too much for us to quality for any subsidized child care, but doesn't make enough that we can actually pay for any kind of day care. So I did what most of the moms (and some dads, but way more moms) I would soon meet in play groups did - I quit most of my jobs and stay home with the kids. I network like crazy to do babysitting trades for when I do work. I pay much less into my own social security since I work less, so let's hope my husband doesn't die or become disabled or divorce me before he retires. I'll probably be fine (cross fingers) but this is not a secure position to be in. Spending almost every waking hour either watching kids, doing housework, scheduling my and my kids lives, or working on my actual career (which is obviously now part time) - I do start to resent how financial vulnerable I have become, despite how hard or how many hours I work. 

When I head on over to the National Organization for Women's website and see how much they are fighting for "caregivers", for the first time in my life I don't just feel grateful for feminists of the past. And I don't just feel supportive of feminism for women in poverty or foreign countries. I feel like part of feminism here, today, still is for women like me. Despite all my privilege (and I'm not denying that I have tons of privilege) in some ways I have been disadvantaged. I'm not whining about it. Like I said, I'll probably be fine. I'm lucky enough to have enough people in my private life to keep me afloat even if the worst happens. But my class advantages don't negate my disadvantages as a women, specifically a mother. 

(Of course even if feminism wasn't benefiting me personally, shouldn't I still support it for the sake of the all other women in the world who need it? Abandoning the movement just because I got mine already seems rather shitty.) 

So I'm just sick and tired of reading "anti-feminist" memes and sentiments on my facebook feed, often by women who are not only obvious benefactors of past feminism, but who are smart, articulate, and exactly the sort of women needed to maintain the women's rights movement. My advice for anyone who doesn't think feminism is necessary or relevant anymore, please take a look at how women, especially mothers and female heads of households are disproportionately represented under the poverty line, look at how wages for women drop after we have kids, and then seriously tell me that we don't need a women's rights movement in America anymore. 

And some people think feminists have no sense of humor!
That's just in America. In some nations women can't even drive a sick child to a hospital without a male escort. This is often in countries where women used to have that right, but lost it. Because rights can be lost - look at Iran. Look at Afghanistan

Feminism isn't something we champion when we need it and abandon once we've achieved everything we personally needed. As long as we women are the incubators of the next generation of humans, we are all vulnerable to gender roles enforced by law or social norms that might put us at serious disadvantage. 

Women  today who do enjoy equality, who have power and influence, who don't feel victimized, are in the best position to help maintain rights achieved and speak out for the most vulnerable and most harshly victimized. It isn't about being anti-men (I don't know how feminism can be called anti-man when so many self-declared feminists such as myself are happily married to men!) It's simply about equality for women. 

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