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Friday, October 21, 2005

Theory # 8: The War Between the Sexes: Feminist isn't a dirty word

I hear it all the time, from intelligent, independent, career-minded women: "I'm not a feminist, but..."

This I find hard to believe. If you're not a feminist, shouldn't you be sticking to "a woman's place," keeping house, raising babies, leaving the decisions and the bread-winning up to the man of the house?

I am, let's face it, a housewife, much as I loathe the term. I don't have a paying job. I'm married, I stay at home with my kids, and have, except for a couple of years, ever since the first one was born. I didn't plan it that way, but I don't regret it. But I definitely consider myself a feminist.

All that means to me is that I believe women and men should be treated equally under the law. That they should have equal opportunities. That they should receive equal pay for equal work. And that women's work and women's literature should be accorded equal respect to men's. (More on this in another theory)

Unfortunately, "feminist" has taken on additional meanings of man-hating and agendas I and many other women don't agree with--hence the frequent comment of "I'm not a feminist, but..." Equal opportunities doesn't mean identical results. Take a job in construction, for example, for which the person has to routinely lift heavy loads. Popular wisdom says that feminists think there should be equal numbers of men and women in such jobs. Now, Buffy could do it, and if there are women who can and want do the job, I believe nothing should stand in their way. But to require equal numbers isn't feminist, it's foolish.

The man-hating part is even more irritating. Men are not the enemy. Those who stand in the way of equality are from both genders.

The genders do have differences as groups. In general, boys tend to be more physically-oriented, and girls to be more emotionally-oriented. In general, males tend to focus on one task at a time, females tend to have a wider focus. It's not true of all members of either sex. There are women who are physical and focused, and men who are emotional and have a wider outlook. There are women who love sports and hate shopping, and men who love shopping and hate sports. And as many variations of typical male and female behaviors as there are people. Still, the differences do hold true in general. But get this: neither typically male behavior nor typically female behavior is wrong. Neither is bad. A typical man's inability to multi-task is not due to mental laziness, but rather to the way his mind works. A typical woman's emotional reaction to an offense isn't due to weakness or manipulation, but rather to the way her mind works. You might as well say that an oak tree is wrong because it doesn't have needles like a pine tree. It's just the way they are.

Insisting on numerical equality, that typical male behavior is wrong, and that men are the enemy distracts from the goal of ensuring women have equal rights. When something as basic as paying women and men doing the same job the same salary is obscured by demanding that there be equal numbers of men and women in the infantry, those who are making those demands aren't feminist, because they're not working for women as a whole. They're making us look foolish and driving reasonable people away from basic feminist goals.

The more of us who admit we're feminist while eschewing the more radical agenda, the more we can claim ownership of the word.

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I suspect the problem with 'feminist' is the same as the problem with 'liberal'. The word has been coopted by the opposition and made to signify something which it is not. 'Liberal' has become something loathesome to most Americans (even though most Americans favor a number of 'liberal' notions). 'Feminist' has been equated with man-hating, lesbianism, etc. Liberals and feminists either need to loudly take charge of their labels or come up with new ones.
Exactly. The same is true of 'environmentalist'.

I suspect moderate conservatives and Christians are also concerned with the way those terms have come to mean something much more negative their original meanings, though perhaps political ascendancy takes some of the sting out of it.
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