Earlier this month, I wrote a post entitled “Don’t Denounce Feminism if You Don’t Understand It.” In it, I argued that feminism doesn’t require women to leave their families, go to war, or dress provocatively. Rather, it promotes a society in which women are allowed to make these decisions for themselves without being perceived as less of a woman, or less of a person. I claimed that no woman should “forsake her individuality for the sake of a being accepted by a system.”
In the comments to this post, Judithann of Why I’m Not A Feminist disagreed with my conclusion about feminism, claiming that “Feminism is about achieving total equality at any cost; it isn’t about supporting individuality.” She cited writers like Simone de Beauvoir and the potential passing of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would potentially mandate females to be enlisted in the draft, as evidence that feminism is actually just another system of oppression. You can read that particular conversation here.
JudithAnn justifies her disavowal of feminism by returning again and again to one particularly glaring straw man. On her blog, she writes:
…We must judge feminists on the basis of the laws that they are trying to pass. There may be all kinds of different kinds of feminists, but they all have one thing in common: they all want to see the ERA become the law of the land. The ERA has nothing whatsoever to do with letting women be whoever they want to be.
The Equal Rights Amendment, which would explicitly ban discrimination based on gender, was reintroduced in 2011. It applies to everything from health care to employment opportunities, not simply the draft. And yet, she repeatedly equates the entirety of the feminist movement with the support of this amendment, claiming that if feminists disagree with the ERA, “then they aren’t really feminists; if they don’t, then they could care less what other women want.”
Unfortunately, this is a terribly narrow way of framing the issue. There are feminists who support the ERA but disagree with the way it applies to the draft, just as one votes for a political candidate despite never meeting eye-to-eye on every issue. There are also feminists who do disagree with the ERA on the basis of that clause. To narrow down an entire movement to one issue, and make the massive generalization that all the members of that movement think the same way and promote the same legislation, is mindbogglingly foolish.
This is a really good example, I think, of why I don’t think anyone should be “against” feminism. The movement itself is an idea- the idea that we currently live in a society in which women are the constitutive Other, and are commodified, stripped of individual power, held to unjust standards, and subject to absurd scrutiny in areas of appearance, lifestyle, sexuality, etc. It’s the interpretation and application of these ideas that vary widely between individuals. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy so eloquently puts it:
Feminists differ on what would count as justice or injustice for women (what counts as “equality,” “oppression,” “disadvantage”, what rights should everyone be accorded?), and what sorts of injustice women in fact suffer (what aspects of women’s current situation are harmful or unjust?). Disagreements may also lie in the explanations of the injustice: two feminists may agree that women are unjustly being denied proper rights and respect and yet substantively differ in their accounts of how or why the injustice occurs and what is required to end it (Jaggar 1994).
These types of disputes are common to any movement. You’d be hard pressed to find two vegetarians, or anarchists, or agnostics whose beliefs are completely symmetrical, and in each of those groups there are radicals who rock the boat. It doesn’t negate the validity of their message, nor the importance of their concerns. And while you may disagree with vegetarianism, anarchism, or agnosticism, you hopefully don’t do so because of the views or practices of an individual. In that spirit, no particular feminist is the authority on what feminism entails; as my boyfriend observed, the process of making society equal, positive, and safe for both genders is an ongoing conversation.
In all of her comments and blog posts, JudithAnn makes one thing very clear: she’s not a feminist. She “cares deeply” about women, believes “men who perpetrate violence against women must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” and doesn’t “believe women were put on this earth to serve men,” but she’s not a feminist. She vehemently disagrees with systems that impose government force or outside agendas on women, their bodies, and their choices, but she’s not a feminist. She just believes that women should be treated with respect and allowed to make their own deci… wait a second…
A year ago, I wouldn’t have called myself a feminist. But then I discovered a beautiful truth: more often than not, it’s not what you do that makes you a feminist, but why you do it. There is no contract to sign, no explicit terms to which to agree, no laundry list by which you must abide. There is no Feminist Constitution or Pope of Feminism (and it’s certainly not the ERA and Simone de Beauvoir). You don’t have to wear fishnets, or be pro-pornography, or believe chivalry is dead, or stop being a stay-at-home mom. And if anybody tells you any differently, they don’t understand feminism either.