“I don’t think you’re a feminist,” I said. She replied, “No, I think you are a feminist.” Although it sounds like a tense situation, this woman is actually one of my oldest friends. There were no claws, no eye daggers, and not even a hint of bad feelings. Over the years we’ve learned to agree and to disagree with each other gracefully. The funny part was that we actually were arguing the same point with different terminology. After a bit of exploration, I discovered that our differences lay in how we define “feminist”.
So what the heck is a feminist? I remember in college, one of my friends admitted to me, “I think I’m a closet feminist.” We had a good laugh after she said that, but I think it actually hits on something deep. She was embarrassed, on some level, to call herself a feminist. Why? Because when I hear feminist, I think man-hating tough girl with buzzed hair who is so aggressive that no one wants to get in her way. I also think of Betty Friedan (did you know she believed in eugenics? But I’ll save that for another time). Most women don’t want the connotation that comes with the feminist label, and who could blame them? However, most women also don’t consider themselves second-rate citizens who should stay in the kitchen. My “closet feminist” wanted some way to express that she knows she has value and is strong and independent, and yet doesn’t want to trample all over men, and certainly doesn’t want to become a man. Is this true feminism?
At the heart of feminism, I hope we can agree, is the truth that women and men have equal dignity. Equal dignity does not mean that women are the same as men, or even that women want to be the same as men. I like being a woman! Women and men are actually complementary. This means our differences are important, because we’re designed to complete one another (but not in a co-dependent, unhealthy way). The dignity of men is dependent on the dignity of women, and vice versa. When one is disrespected, the other shares in the shame. If the goal of feminism is truly to uphold the innate dignity of women, then we should all be feminists.
This is the definition of feminist that my friend was getting at. And when we use this broader sense of the term, I find that we’re a lot freer. I can assert that I have dignity equal to that of a man, and still like it when he opens a door for me. I can still wear a skirt any day of the week because I want to look pretty. I can even make cookies for men and still retain my dignity! I can also like wearing jeans, sharp shooting, and getting muddy, and will not lose a shred of my dignity as a woman.
I’m still a little uncertain about the term “feminist”, and not really sure I want to call myself one. It’s got such a bad rep, and I don’t know if we’ll ever get past it. Maybe we should invent a new term. What do you think? Any good ideas?