Social Justice

I May Be a Feminist Now, But I Wasn’t Always

On May 21 the New York Times published an article titled “Who Is a Feminist Now?” The article starts off discussing actress Shailene Woodley‘s recent interview with Time magazine and whether or not she considers herself a feminist. Her answer (to quote the New York Times article):

“No . . . Because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance.”

If you read the article, you learn there was a lot of backlash as a result of her response — and that she isn’t the first person this has happened to (Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson).

Girls Globe fired back with this response, in a blog post, with their definition of what feminism is and isn’t, according to them:

Feminism does not mean you’re trying to elevate women to a higher level than that of their male peers. Feminists are not man-hating, bra burning, angry women. Being a feminist means you believe in equal pay, equal opportunity, equal respect – in gender equality.

And Zerlina Maxwell tweeted this out:

My former colleague and mentor Erin wrote a really great piece on this subject as well — read it here.

But, Roxanne Gay makes a good point in the NY Times article:

“Forty years ago [Do you consider yourself a feminist] was a good question, but in 2014 it’s a ridiculous question and a lazy question . . . As culture critics, we have to start advancing the conversation and asking questions that are more grounded in feminism, like ‘How does feminism shape your life?’ “

However — it was this paragraph (below) that made me write this response:

Ms. Woodley’s age is a likely factor in her distance, said Leonora Epstein, 28, who co-wrote the generational guide “X vs. Y: A Culture War, a Love Story” [. . .] She’s technically a millennial, but a young one, and it makes me wonder if they grew up with less oppression, and therefore never felt they needed a tool like feminism to fight or empower.”

My first “real-life-grown-up-job” was at a national women’s advocacy organization. I found the job online — on Idealist or something. I just happened upon it and applied. I didn’t major in women’s studies, or political science. I wasn’t so much into political activism. I actually had no idea what feminism was per say (maybe vague, but not so concrete)! I wanted the job because I was finishing up my web development graduate certificate and it looked like a place where I could pursue my communications and web development passions, while doing some good for the world. 🙂

Fast forward to the present: I have changed jobs, but that doesn’t change the fact that over the years I have decided that I do indeed want to identify as feminist and have embraced the feminist movement, in particular the young online feminist movement.

I remember one of my first days at my last job (with the national women’s advocacy organization) I was asked what feminism means to me. I had a vague idea of what to say, (I mean I was brought up in a progressive family, and we believed in all of these ideals. We just didn’t use this vocabulary. Sooo, because I didn’t really know what it was, I made something up on the fly – ha! I can now confidently say:

Feminism is equality and equal opportunity for all, such that I may have the freedom to make my own choices and decisions, have my own values, and conduct my life without judgments from others.

In any case, the bottom line I am trying to make here is that I too am a millennial (yes — an older millennial — I was born in 1986, so I am 27, almost 28 years old). Feminism is a loaded word with all sorts of connotations that some people my age and younger millennials aren’t 100% ready to associate with all the time. While they may believe in the concepts behind feminism, they tread carefully when using that word. Other times, I think people just don’t know — because they aren’t taught (lack of information). I mean, that’s what happened with me — how was I supposed to know what feminism was if I didn’t use that word growing up or was never taught it in school?

So why don’t we all just cut Shailene some slack and stop attacking her for “giving the wrong answer” (if there even is such a thing!!) — we would all do better with a little less bashing, and if she still doesn’t want to identify as feminist — that’s her choice. Let’s respect it!

Your turn – what do you think about all of this? Do you identify as a ‘feminist?’ The NY Times article? Should the media be asking different questions like Ms. Gay suggests? Leave your comments below.

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Featured image photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user Ahmadi

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