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This place matters

Friday, April 9, 2010


So I'm reading a book called Who Stole Feminism, by Christina Hoff-Sommers. Sommers, herself a feminist, coins the term "gender feminists" to refer to the man-hating, Birkenstock wearing, militant feminazi school of feminism. I should start by saying that I honestly had no idea such people existed.

My mom was the sort of 70s feminist who imbued my sister and I with the radical notion that girls could be anything they wanted to be. And at the Catholic school I grew up in; one in which parents threatened to take their kids out of school if girls were made altar servers, one in which boys were allowed to play sports at recess but girls were not allowed to run, skip, or touch each other; my mom's ideology was a bit radical.

But apparently, some feminists really do think that all men are rapists and so on. Sommers quotes a feminist musicologist who contends that Beethoven's 9th symbolically glorifies rape; she also quotes feminist author Marylin French, who states that "the vast majority of men" rape, kill, hurt, or demean women.

The book has me thinking a lot about the word "feminism." I don't know a single feminist - and I know a lot of feminists - who thinks that all men are horrible, violent monsters. I don't know a single feminist who thinks that women are superior to men, and I have never known a feminist to accuse a man of rape or abuse unjustly. Just the same, the word is one that evokes visceral emotions, and a lot of bitterness and resentment from some. Should we just relinquish the term because it's been hijacked - because some feminists and some anti-feminists have twisted and distorted what people think of when they think of feminism? Is the word, at this point, doing more harm than good to the cause of equal rights for men and women?

Actually, I think we need to take the word back. The more we sane, man-loving, equality hungry women use the word - and the more comfortable we are using the word, the more the word belongs to us. Feminists and everybody else who wants equal rights for men and women still have work to do, work that's more important than quibbling about vocabulary.

I saw this poem on a poster I really liked; it's adapted from the poem "For Every Woman" by Nancy R Smith

For every girl who is tired of acting weak when she is strong, there is a boy tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable.
For every boy who is burdened with the constant expectation of knowing everything, there is a girl tired of people not trusting her intelligence.
For every girl who is tired of being called over-sensitive, there is a boy who fears to be gentle, to weep.
For every boy for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity, there is a girl who is called unfeminine when she competes.
For every girl who throws out her E-Z-Bake oven, there is a boy who wishes to find one.
For every boy struggling not to let advertising dictate his desires, there is a girl facing the ad industry’s attacks on her self esteem.
For every girl who takes a step toward her liberation, there is a boy who finds the way to freedom a little easier.
Please enjoy this arty photo of a statue from my folks' old church.


denny16 said...

I agree that feminists should work to retake the name. Unfortunately the people in every movement that get the most exposure are the people that are the most extreme, i.e. the people that say all men are rapists and want to keep women in long skirts and pushing out kids. At least make sure that the more sane people have their name out there.

saltyrose said...

When I was most floridly manic I felt that all men were rapists; of course I also believed any number of other preposterous things like that I could absorb the contents of a book just by touching it or that a banana peel told me to call my mother. I met a woman during that period who said she wanted all men off the planet and referred to all of them as "dicks."

I don't think it's too late to recapture the term "feminism" because it wasn't intended to be an insult in the first place. I'm on the fence about how things go the other way around. Is it ever possible for things like "bitch" "slut" or "cunt" to be seen as good?

I have a big problem with one particular word that starts with "p" and refers to a woman's genitalia. I hate that it is used to mean "you weak man." I hate that it's the worst thing you can call a man when you want to call into question his masculinity, strength and efficacy. The misogyny inherent in that use truly frightens me which is why I can't type it. So I often think women are doing themselves a disservice when they refer to their parts that way.
I think "feminist" is just another term, much like "liberal" that has beenvillified by people out of fear and ignorance.