Another day, another argument with a conservative friend on social media. The recurring themes of 2017 — outrage and polarization — continue into 2018, and hopefully most of us have learned to pick our battles so we don’t self-immolate on a pyre of righteous indignation. Because you certainly could; there’s more than enough out there to be indignant about.
But there’s one battle I will always fight, and that’s anytime a woman says “I’m not a feminist; I don’t want to be considered a feminist; I don’t respect the feminist movement.” Mind you, if women say that in a private conversation, in their own homes, that’s fine. But if they say it anywhere in a public space, if their words are uttered aloud in public or published in paper or online, then yeah, I’m gonna tangle with them. Because they are standing on a platform that generations of feminists fought for them to have, and using that very platform to deride the movement that made it possible for them to be there.
I’ll try to get a couple of caveats out of the way as quickly as possible: Yes, you can live your life however you want. If you want to reject feminism and live the life of a typical woman in an earlier century — focused on home life, submissive to your husband or father, choosing not to pursue higher education or work outside the home — you certainly have every right to make that choice. Your actions are consistent with your beliefs.
For that matter, if you are a feminist and you want to make home and family your main focus, that’s cool too. I chose to quit work for seven years to stay home with my kids when they were small; I believe feminism is about creating a world where every woman can make the choices that are best for her (and her family if she has one). My issue is specifically with women who enjoy the advantages of feminism while distancing themselves from the movement, or outright repudiating it.
Also, I don’t have to agree with every statement every feminist on the planet has ever made in order to call myself a feminist. Feminists can and do disagree with each other. As with any “ism,” there are real and important debates within feminism. But the fact that I might disagree with other feminists about how to achieve the goal of equality for every woman (which is what feminism is; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) does not mean I am not a feminist, anymore than my intense disagreement with Franklin Graham or Jerry Falwell Jr makes me not a Christian.
Feminism is about equality, plain and simple. If you say “I don’t believe in feminism; I believe men and women should be equal,” you’re talking gibberish. To continue the analogy from my last paragraph, it’s like saying, “I don’t believe in Christianity; I just believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the World.” Oooo…kayyyy, you can make up your own names for things if you want, but you’ve just described the exact thing you claim not to believe in.
So, why am I so proud to be a feminist, and why will I always go to battle with any woman who enjoys equal rights but claims not to be a feminist? Because I’m grateful for feminism. I’m grateful for the things it allows me to do. Here are just a few of them — things I’ve been able to do this week, Jan. 28 – Feb. 3, 2018, here in St. John’s, Newfoundland, because of feminism:
1. I went to work. At my job (teaching at an adult-education centre), I’m one of the better paid instructors. Why? Because I have two master’s degrees (one in Education and one in my teachable area, English), and over 20 years of experience. At various times in the past:
- women had to leave the teaching profession after they married
- a man could be paid more than a woman for doing the same job regardless of qualifications, just because “Well, he’s a man and has a family to support.”
- women were not allowed to pursue higher education.
Without feminists, I wouldn’t have gotten my university degrees, or been allowed to continue in my job, or been paid based on my experience and qualifications rather than my gender. I’m grateful for trailblazers like Grace Annie Lockhart, who in 1875 because the first woman in the British Empire to earn a bachelor’s degree (and to Mount Allison University in New Brunswick for giving it to her). I’m grateful to everyone who ever fought for pay equity legislation and anti-discrimination laws that make it illegal to pay a woman less than a man for doing the same job.