I am taking a Women’s Studies class right now, wherein the topic of feminism is discussed every day at great length and breadth. Incidentally, the subject matter is not altogether different from several other classes I have taken in recent semesters. In my experience, higher education literary professors like to champion feminism any chance they get, whether in American Lit. or Poetry 101 or Victorian Novel or just plain Remedial English. So in every class I’ve taken over the past two years, feminism has been discussed at least a little, but mostly a lot.
This does not make me an expert on feminism.
But it does make me a little bit educated on it.
And I think that’s why this post from the well-known (and generally beloved) CJane, which I read four months ago on its original publish date, has bothered me ever since.
I really do urge you to read the post before finishing this post of mine, because it will give you the background necessary to see where I am coming from.
If, however, you choose not to read the post, I will summarise it this way: CJane purports that, according to the definition of a feminist as one who “believe[s] in, support[s], look[s] fondly on, hope[s] for, and/or work[s] towards equality of the sexes,” she is NOT a feminist. And here’s why (in her own words):
“Equality has never done any good for [her.]”
“[L]ife is not fair. So how can it be equal?”
“Male and female will never be equal.”
This particular post of CJane’s bothered me instantly, but I never pinpointed exactly why until just this week. I thought at first it might’ve been the annoyingly cliché photograph at the head of the post, showing Courtney in a flowery dress sitting demurely, cross-ankled on a loveseat, bottle-feeding her infant; while her husband sprawled out on the sofa perpendicular, sleeves rolled up, glasses perched atop his masculine head as he poured over the day’s newspaper (the business section, no doubt).
Or maybe it was simply my general tendency toward liberal-mindedness that forbade me to make peace with such a concept, I thought.
At length, though, I could not accept that general explanation. I needed to know why it irked me. I needed exact reasons. Details. Similes!
Of course, being the pathetic excuse for a crusader that I am, I pushed the entire experience to the back of my mind for several months while I took time to finish the semester, and holiday in Arizona. Still, throughout the course of my denial, the thought popped up on occasion: Why does CJane’s declaration that she is not a feminist bother me so tremendously?
And now, as I find myself slowly reacclimating to the university environment, especially in a Women’s Studies class, I have finally given myself the time to sort it through, and I think I’ve got the answer.
CJane’s post is not, as she purports, discussing equality, but instead discussing sameness.
Equality is defined as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.”
Same, on the other hand, is defined as “identical; not different; unchanged.”
I fully agree that men and women are not, and will never be the same. Physiologically, emotionally, whateverally. We were created differently. We are innately different. We will never be the same.
And yet, I fully believe that men and women are and will always be equal.
For a woman in 2010 to publicly announce that “equality has never done [her] any good” seems the epitome of ignorance. Which doesn’t make sense, because CJane has never come across as ignorant to me. Always before, she has seemed intelligent, educated, open-minded, thoughtful. (In fact I always have, and continue to enjoy reading her blog. I don’t intend for this post to become a let-me-hate-on-CJane heyday.)
In one of the 679 formal responses to said post—responses of which the first 150 (I couldn’t muster the stamina to read more than that) seemed pretty equally divided between support for and rejection of CJane’s assertion—a commenter said that she didn’t really think women had it all that bad 100 years ago.
I was aghast.
100 years ago, in the year 1910, women still couldn’t vote. Not much before that, married women couldn’t divorce their husbands; if their husbands divorced them, the children automatically went into the custody of their father. If married women earned any money, it belonged to their husbands. If their husbands squandered it, too bad, so sad. If anyone else ripped them off, their husbands had to sue on behalf of their wives; if he didn’t feel up for a legal battle, again: too bad, so sad for the woman.
So here, in 2010, is Courtney Kendrick, a woman who runs her own (presumably lucrative) business, who not only votes but also campaigns publicly for her chosen political candidates, whose mother is on Provo City Council, who served a mission for her church, who has been divorced by her own free will and choice…and for whom equality has never done anything?
I don’t follow.
Putting my CJane-anxiety aside, all I can really say is this:
I am a feminist.
The way I learned it (just last week), there are several main types of feminism, and a score of subtypes.
In my generation, feminism often gets a bad rap leftover from the bra burning hairy-legged radicals of the 60s and 70s. A lot of people in my university classes refuse to consider themselves feminists based on the belief that doing so will be yoking themselves to said “fanatics.”
By this definition, I am not a feminist either.
I mean, look at me:
I shave my legs.
I wear a bra (often an ill-fitting one, but still).
I am unemployed.
By the radicals’ definition, I am an horrible feminist.
But according to the definition from the original post that sparked CJane’s claim of nonfeminism—feminism n (1895) 1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes—I am a model feminist.
Because if you look a little closer, you’ll see a woman who…
…wields a sledgehammer right alongside her husband as they tear out their picket fence (an interesting symbolism in itself, I think).
…attends university, and outscores 95% of her fellow students of both sexes.
…chooses to vote. And sometimes chooses not to.
…feels comfortable enough in her own skin to skip shaving her legs if it suits her (sometimes for months at a time).
…goes to her husband with difficult decisions, not for his permission, nor even for his blessing, but simply for his opinion, as an equal (yes, an equal).
…is plotting a career, and fully expects to accomplish her goals someday.
I am a feminist.
I do subscribe to the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.
Biological sameness? No, never.
No bra-burning necessary.
(Though I really should see about replacing mine one of these days.)