June 04, 2014

I'm not a feminist, because reasons:
Once I was afraid to be a feminist too

Shailene Woodley has made quite a stir over the past week or so, with her comments on her stance as a feminist. Or rather, on her belief that she isn't one.

Woodley said:
No because I love men, and I think the idea of "raise women to power, take the men away from the power" is never going to work out because you need balance. With myself, I’m very in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50 percent feminine and 50 percent masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance.
Photo Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images
I've seen a dozen different pieces on Woodley's blog, and I honestly don't know that I truly have anything to add to the discussion, aside from personal perceptions.

You see, not long ago, I would have said the same thing too.
Shailene has joined a long list of young female celebrities that have disavowed feminism. The list includes the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Bjork, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and so many others. Even Beyonce, who has been hailed as a feminist icon, has had her feminism questioned--is it stated or circumstantial? Substantial or material? Commodified?

I can completely understand where these young women come from. As someone who was recently among their ranks, feminism is...confusing.

I was raised (you may have heard this a time or two) as a fundamentalist Christian in an independent Baptist church. As such, there was a certain expectation of women. I was raised to believe that I would one day marry and have a family. I would submit to my husband. I would never be a true leader in the church, because women were not supposed to be teachers--despite the fact that many acknowledged, on the times that I was allowed to give public testimony, that I had a knack for public speaking that moved people. This was usually said with a "tsk, too bad you're a girl" air to it.

At the same time that I was learning how to be a good woman, I was being taught that feminists were against this. Our church was fiercely pro-life; feminists were painted as baby-murdering monsters. Our church was fiercely anti-marriage equality; feminists were painted as upending traditional gender roles and adding to the demise of the family. Feminists were pushy. They were anti-men, man-hating. They were hysterical, overreacting to every perceived slight. They were only interested in disempowering men. They didn't want equality; they wanted control. They didn't believe women should stay at home. They thought women should be men. In fact, I went so far as to disavow feminism by saying that I believe women should be able to succeed by being women, not by pushing to have a penis of her own. That is something, my friends, that I actually said.

I do not believe that my experience was unique. Society reinforces these cultural stereotypes in a variety of ways. Remember Phil and Lil's mom on Rugrats? She was uncouth, not feminine, and completely feministic, all at the same time. The public perception of feminism is negative.

So a feminist, to say the least, was not something that I wanted to be.

I can only imagine, to sidetrack back to the topic above for a moment, what the pressure to distance yourself from that negative perception is to a young up and coming woman in Hollywood. You're trading on your appeal to the masses. Do you really take the chance that you may alienate half of them (or more)? It's a tough spot to be in.

I've seen a lot of a judgement, a lot of head shaking, and a lot of "tut, tut, poor little girl" posts about Woodley's comments. For me, I'd love to share with her some quotes on feminism that I have found to be a great starting point as I started through my own journey to acknowledging my feminist position.

Here's some of my favorites:
“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” ― Jane AustenPersuasion
I'd much rather be a rational creature, myself, and I'd love to venture out of calm waters and into the wider world.
“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” ― Rebecca West
It was nice to know that I am not the only one who found it difficult to identify precisely what feminism is.
“Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” ― Cheris Kramarae
I find this definition particularly meaningful. It was this nugget that helped me clarify that I was, indeed, a feminist.
“I hate men who are afraid of women's strength.” ― Anaïs NinHenry and June: From "A Journal of Love"--The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin
I think this is an appropriate standard of selecting a mate, actually.
“The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it. ”
Roseanne Barr
Self-agency. I like it.
“Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.” ― George Carlin
George always had a way.
“I am too intelligent, too demanding, and too resourceful for anyone to be able to take charge of me entirely. No one knows me or loves me completely. I have only myself” ― Simone de Beauvoir
I couldn't agree more. Love yourself.
“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” ― Gloria Steinem
I finish my selection of quotes with this one from Gloria, because it defines feminism in its most basic form. Teh truth that Woodley doesn't grasp now--but hopefully will someday--is that feminism isn't just about freeing women. It's about freeing all people, to make their own decisions and live on equal footing.

That's why I agree most of all with Bell Hook's definition of feminism:
“Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago. It was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.” ― Bell HooksFeminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics
Feminism is, in fact, for everyobody.

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