Friday, February 23, 2018

Today's Feminism is for All

Suffragettes march in Bermondsey, south London, 1911
My 14-year old son informed me this year that “feminism” isn’t considered a good concept today. He seemed quite adamant that “everyone” thinks the term is a slam. His look while contemplating the subject screamed, “You look down on feminists, Mom. Come on.” Insert eye roll.

Do a quick Google search and you’ll definitely see that message in some camps. It’s yet another topic that has been divided and colored almost beyond recognition.

Sally Nicholls gives a nice review of the current status of the term in her article in The Guardian, The F-word: feminism must be reclaimed by today’s teens – they’re our future. Exactly as my boys indicated, a teen observed that:

“Feminism is a polarising subject for this generation. “You have one group that believes ‘feminism is cancer’, and that supporters are ‘feminazis’,” one 17-year-old told me.”

And they have “facts” to back up these claims. Wow. What an evolution of idea.

In the United States, women have had the right to vote for less than 100 years*, and that was achieved thanks to the work of suffragettes. My own grandmother was 20 years old when the 19th Amendment was ratified, to put it in perspective. That was one part of the puzzle. Being treated with respect encompasses much more beyond that. Suffragettes were just one type of feminist. In my mind, both of them are only 2 types of a bunch of connected -ists. Women, minorities, LGBTIA, those with chronic diseases or mental health problems, and various religions all face a range of biases today. Feminism can and should be rolled together with all these causes. We all deserve respect. None of these causes should be looked down upon by anyone, nor should members of these groups be denigrated for simply being who they are.

Together, we are stronger.

This idea is supported (I’m grateful to say) by some teenagers today, such as another teen in Sally Nicholls’s piece, who said:

“I really don’t understand why grownups think we don’t care,” one 16-year-old told me. “If you actually looked, you’d be blown away by how important feminism and equal rights for all sectors of society are for teenagers.”

Equal rights for all sectors of society. Yes!

As Sally Nicholls also discusses, the suffragettes and feminists of 100 years ago faced huge battles that seemed impossible, but they succeeded. Women can vote, divorce, own property and work outside the home. They can attend any college. Unfortunately, there is much work still to be done. However, while the obstacles are huge for all the groups I outlined, today I think we have a better chance. If we come together, we can improve things for all these groups.

What do “feminist” and “feminism” really mean today?

Feminism is the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of all. A feminist, therefore, is a person who values and respects all people equally.

Properly performed, feminism does not negatively affect the rights of anyone. If performed incorrectly, one is actually practicing feminism’s opposite, chauvinism. Going back to my observation that “Feminism can and should be rolled together with all these causes”, perhaps a better term for what we’re describing would be egalitarianism.
Ida B. Wells, Journalist & Suffragist

In 1918, feminism was advocacy in comparison to men and was lead only by women. (Including some women of color, as described by Lynn Yaeger in Vogue's The African-American Suffragists History Forgot.) That's not the case 100 years later. Today, someone of any sex can be a feminist, because anyone can be an advocate for women. Just as anyone can advocate for ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, medical conditions, mental health concerns, etc.

The beauty is that together, we can make things better for all of us.

*Edit on August 6, 2018
Let me be clear on this 1920 date. All women in the United States should have been granted this right by 1920 via the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution. Women of color, including journalist Ida B. Wells, were among the women who pushed for this change. Some states had already granted women the vote. A number of southern states opposed the amendment. Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia did not immediately ratify it. According to, Mississippi didn't until 1984. There has been a long and continuing tradition in the United States to stop people, especially people of color, from voting. We must all use our rights with purpose and consistency to respect the blood, sweat, and tears shed by our predecessors.  

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