I didn’t think I was a feminist. I said so in a paper I wrote for my Freshman English class. I turned in a research proposal saying as much and my professor returned my paper having circled and underlined that particular sentence with a comment all in capital letters “WHAT?!?” Her reaction shocked me. How was not being a feminist any worse than not being a democrat? It was all a matter of personal and political inclination.
It wasn’t until I took a sociology course that I truly understood feminism. Feminism, in my mind, had always been portrayed by unfeminine woman and a far left political position. However, that is not feminism. It exists within feminism, to be sure, but those individuals do not encompass the whole idea. Feminism, in its essence is about equality. While some use feminism to campaign their right not to shave their armpits, original feminists used it to campaign for their right to political, social and economic equality. They wanted to vote, go to college, be doctors and lawyers, run for public office, take out loans, and own property. They wanted to be treated as equal to men.
When you’re treated as an equal, you are treated as having the same level of dignity, yet at least for me, the argument as to whether or not men and woman are the same is irrelevant. We have obvious biological differences. However, what role these biological differences actually play in our behavior has been far too long connected to socially constructed gender roles. Having a vagina does not make me more capable of cooking, cleaning and nurturing than someone with a penis.
Gender roles make the world go round and we learn them from a very young age. We learn that girls and boys wear different things. That boys and girls play with different toys. That they are expected to be gifted at and interested in different things. Yet it is not a matter of biology that I wear skirts and make up. Gender roles and gender are not the same, yet they are so often tangled up in the conversation of feminism, which as you will recall is about equality. Can I have the same dignity as a man and wear mascara? Absolutely.
In short, I am a feminist because I think that woman are equal in dignity and rights to men. But I am also a feminist because I think that woman should not make about 75 cents for every male dollar. Because I think it should not be a social norm for woman to have work the second shift. Because the average male says it would “bother him” to have a female boss. Because when a woman can’t run for public office without her gender being considered her most defining characteristic. Because woman are subject to a level of objectification in the media that men are not. Because I don’t think a woman should have to choose between her career and having a family. Our society places woman at a disadvantage, and I don’t think that’s okay. So to set the record straight: female is a matter of biology. Feminine is a set of culturally defined characteristics. Feminist is a political position. I happen to be all three.
*A lot of ideas are vauguely plagarized in this reflection. I caution readers to take wording and exact numbers with a grain of salt. If you have any questions about my sources or reasoning, I would be happy to do my best to dig up a credible source that reflects my claims.