J: What does it mean to be a feminist today?
L: I think the answer to that question changes depending on who you ask, but one of the more prominent aspects of feminism in the 21st century is intersectionality. When the feminist movement began, it was primarily a white women’s movement. Today, most feminists would say that paying attention to the combination of sexism and racism that women of color experience is just as important as the struggles of white women.
J: See, I’ve never saw it as a white woman thing. Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman were both abolitionists and suffragists — working for equality. Although racism was rampant in the early stages of the feminist movement, feminism is always been about women, regardless of color. But that’s when intersectional theory comes in. You can be a white woman with socioeconomic struggles or you can be a black woman with a secure socioeconomic status, and still face misogyny. It just comes in different forms.
In reality, no one is only a woman.
L: I’m not saying that minorities weren’t welcome in the early days of the movement, but I would say that the focus was much more on just the fact that as women, they are people who are denied fundamental rights and equality in society. In reality, no one is only a woman. You can’t set aside race or economic status, as you mentioned. And that’s what I think intersectionality is trying to tackle. There are many different aspects of your life that make you who you are. And unfortunately, some of those aspects sometimes lead to discrimination in society.
J: One of the problems is how much time is spent comparing whose struggles is worse rather than addressing actual issues. Or deciding what it means to be a strong woman.There’s a whole lot of counterproductive shame throwing.
L: I agree. Some people would shame women for focusing more on their own personal experience and how to address the issues most closely affecting them, rather than paying attention to everyone else’s struggles too. But to me, it’s only logical to care most about what’s impacting your own life. That doesn’t mean there’s not room for you to care about others, but you’re more likely to focus more on the issues affecting you and those who are similar to you. Instead of hating on people for that emphasis, I think the movement would benefit greatly from listening to what they have to say.
There’s a whole lot of counterproductive shame throwing.
J: It’s kind of like campaigning for diseases. Helping people with breast cancer isn’t any less important than helping people with lung cancer. However, saving an individual in stage four requires immediate urgency compared to someone in stage one. There are different struggles and the extent of misogyny’s impact varies person to person or community to community.
L: That’s a pretty accurate analogy. Some women experience sexism more than others. For some, they have a high paying job and a great career, but they still get catcalled on the street. Others live in much harsher circumstances. But one of the problems I see is people, even some women, who say “I think men and women should be equal but I’m not a feminist.” This is, in part, to get some distance from more radical rhetoric, but this shows a misunderstanding of the term. Feminism is about bringing women up to equality with men, not about women becoming more powerful than men.
The standards and rules that women place on each other is as emotionally and mentally burdensome as some of the misogyny women experience.
J: Remember when Gloria Steinem said all the girls for Bernie are there because that’s where the boys are. Things like that is why it’s hard to identify as a feminist. No one should have to believe in something or someone because other women feel that way. A woman who wears makeup and heels isn’t necessarily bowing to the patriarchy’s standards. The mom who decides to stay at home with her children because it’s best for her family isn’t less of a feminist. The standards and rules that women place on each other is as emotionally and mentally burdensome as some of the misogyny women experience.
L: This is why I think the feminist movement should focus more on being open and accepting. Yes, you need a cohesive message, but there’s a way to do it without alienating people. Women are literally half the population so of course not everyone will think the same way. You can be a feminist and a stay at home mom. At its core, feminism is about making women equal to men, but also about creating a society where women are just as free as men to make their own choices. Whatever those choices are, the fact that she is free to make them is the important part.