Fifty Shades of Feminism

Feminism — it’s a word that both unites and divides; inspires and instigates. It’s an ideology that some embrace, some reject and others are still trying on for size. It’s something that’s meant different things to different people at different times, so we wanted to know: what does feminism mean to you? Here’s our members had to say:

Ariadne Schulz, 35, votes in California

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” – Maria Shear

Feminism is what happens when women and men look outside of their cultural prison to see what is truly possible. Feminism is inclusive of women and men and does not properly exist without intersectionality. Feminism is visceral and existential because it tears apart what we think we know and forces us to stare at naked humanity and understand it for what it is rather than what we dress it up to be. Feminism amplifies the silenced voices and shines light into history’s darkened voids. Feminism lets little girls imagine themselves as more and lets little boys be as they will. Feminism is a learning process where we come to accept ourselves and our mothers and daughters and sisters as human – neither more, nor less. Feminism is the monster which forces us to look at ourselves and each other past our prejudice. Feminism allows for women’s wrath. Feminism allows for men’s love. Feminism pulls down the pillars of ladylike decorum and washes off the mud slung at us for being women. Feminism lets us use our eyeliner to make us more beautiful or more fearsome. Feminism is putting women first without thinking anything of it. Feminism is men considering if they want to wear a dress or a skirt or trousers. Feminism does not ask me why I am the way I am but accepts that I like my sword and my brother likes his doll. Feminism does not congratulate the tomboy or castigate the little boy in his mother’s heels. Feminism is the freedom to live for myself.

Laura Donohue, 28, votes in New York

When I was younger, the word feminism made me cringe. I tried so hard to be like “one of the guys.” To be chill. To let sexist and racist jokes flow like water off a duck’s back. Now, when asked if I’m a feminist, I unwaveringly say absolutely. My mindset changed when I saw that women were making less than their male counterparts and that the disparity widened for women of color. I changed when I realized gender went beyond the binary. I changed when I began to challenge the dissonance I felt instead of trying to bury it. I am a feminist.

Carol Graham, 62, votes in Ohio

When I hear the word ‘feminism’ I picture the 2017 women’s marches around the world — with wonder and pride. In the past I did not consider myself a feminist, but I do now because I now believe feminism is for all women. My understanding of feminism has changed, but also feminism has changed. In my younger years I was for women’s rights but was wary about the self-styled feminists and the National Organization for Women. Part of this was definitely social conditioning where I was nervous about women appearing “aggressive” about their rights. But it was also that I did not sense concern for all women by feminists. Their platform did not address the working conditions or needs of working class women. In addition, it was alienating for middle-class black women to be told that the women’s agenda should be getting out of the kitchen and into college and jobs, when this was already the case for my mother and my grandmother’s generation. To be middle class in black America was to have a profession, so the feminists seemed behind. I also felt the lack of geographical and racial diversity made them ineffective against Phyllis Schlafly when the Equal Rights Amendment was being debated in the 70s. I kept wanting the feminists to put forward a white southerner or a black woman to advocate for the ERA so it did not appear to be just white women or a war on the South. Now all has changed. I give credit to the Women’s Caucus for bringing me up to date on a modern-day, inclusive feminism which I am now happy to embrace.

Tara Anbudaiyan, 41, votes in Illinois

My feminist priorities are ending the double standards, particularly in the workplace, and empowering women to stand up for themselves in a world that too often encourages them to sit down and be quiet.

Sadie Kempner, 22, votes in New York

I have been a feminist since I was thirteen. Discovering feminism was like finding a new vocabulary, a new language to express ideas about individual and structural injustices, some that affected me, many that didn’t. Becoming a feminist was empowering, an immediate connection to have with strangers, a way to direct my academic life, the subject on which I was allowed not to be polite. I identified as a feminist before I identified in any other political way (except perhaps as a Democrat in the lead up to Obama’s 2008 presidential win). I refused to reassure concerned acquaintances that I was “not that kind of feminist”, in part because the kind of feminist one is expected to reject being is angry and hairy as opposed to white supremacist or pro-life. There is space for anger and hair in my feminism. There is none for racism or state control of women’s bodies. Since becoming a gender and policy student, my feminism has not only required me to speak up, but also challenged me, as a white, middle-class, cis, straight woman, to stay quiet, to learn when my voice isn’t the one that needs to be heard, to learn when I shouldn’t be speaking but listening. More than this feminism means that sometimes, in the name of equality or rights or justice, people have to lose things: power, money, opportunity, land, and have the dignity and understanding to recognise that this is because it was never distributed fairly in the first place.  I have subscribed wholeheartedly to Flavia Dzodan’s sentiment: My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullsh*t. So should you.

Jihann Pedersen, 39, votes in Florida

I’ve never really labeled myself as a feminist (I don’t like labels!) but I believe that it is a fundamental human right to have equal rights. So, feminism for me equals fighting for gender equity (which ultimately leads to gender equality). I’m Latina, and for me, femininity was and is championed and it encompasses my strength as a woman. I learned from my mom and many aunts that you can be feminine and still be a strong woman, one who demands to be heard and to enjoy equal rights. It was clear to me at a young age that society does view women differently, but I never confronted gender inequality until I entered the workforce. My sense of feminism became stronger with the birth of my twin girls. Now, I’m passionate about working hard to change the world for them; to see that they and every other female have fair and equal opportunities at school, at work and in life. I also want them to see that they can be “feminine” as much or as little as they want to be. For example, right now my girls hate wearing dresses and the Latina in me wants to dress them in as many beautiful dresses as possible, but I am letting them rock their sporty Nike gear. Do I completely see myself as a stereotypical feminist in terms of looks and beliefs? Not necessarily, but I am a champion of gender equity and equality. This is what I am passionate about…while wearing red lips and high heels.

Sylvia Squire, “70-something,” votes in North Carolina

I lived in the years when in my late teens I was told by my father “if you learn shorthand and typing, you’ll never be without a job.” So, as a dutiful daughter I did what I was told to do and never questioned if that was what I wanted to do. However, I also lived during the years when the Pill became available in the UK — in late December 1961 — liberating married women from unplanned pregnancies.  It wasn’t until the late 60s that it became available for all women, just about the time when I was getting married. I lived through the years when burning bras was a sign of women’s strength — not that I burned my bras but I most definitely put them away. Did these latter two memories that remain so vividly in my being aid in giving me the confidence to roar, to be able to say ‘no’ at times, and ‘yes’ at other times, enabling me much more freedom to develop into the person I now am, instead of the person who did what she was told to do by her father? At that point in my life, some 50 years ago, that’s what feminism (if I even was aware of the word) meant to me. The mid-20th century Women’s Movement had begun!

Lan Wu, 30, votes in New York

Feminism, you meant nothing when I was 5, and He told me good girls smile more and talk less.

You meant nothing when I was 9, I rocked myself to sleep, praying for blonde hair and blue eyes. I changed my name to Linda.

You meant nothing when I was 13 and triumphantly reclaimed Lan. I won a student government seat!  Then, He said they voted for my funny name.

You nudged when I was 16, ambitious, proud, and furious at my mother. So intelligent, yet just a housewife. You asked me why I devalued women’s work. I ignored you.

You nudged when I was 20, and He asked my boyfriend again, “Oh you’re into the Asian thing?” I ignored you, but I wondered.

He found me when I was 22, crying over the toilet bowl, flushing down my self-induced purge. He found me, and he crashed in like a wave. He crashed in, filled my lungs with shame, enough to drown me, when–

You grasped my arm and pulled me to shore.

I was a feminist at 25, and I was done with Him. He had taken my voice. He had stripped my identity to a fetish. He had reduced me to a number on his scale. I was done. Not, “What is wrong with me?” but, “What is wrong with Him?”

I was a feminist at 29, when I proposed to my boyfriend. I became a boss. I promoted other women.

I am a feminist-in-progress at 30. I am learning about your other faces — Black feminism, queer feminism — and how they intersect with mine. I speak louder, listen harder. I make no assumptions.

Thank you for saving my life.

Steph Ryde, 28, votes in Pennsylvania

It is hard to know where to start to describe my relationship to feminism. It is visible yet hidden. It is silent rage and loud protest. It is the little girl writing to the newspaper about the coverage of women’s sports. It is the woman who hopes to build a better world for her future daughters. It is new and it was always in me. It is an individual action and a worldwide movement. It is the women who came before us and those who will follow. It is a future goal and a current reality. It is messy yet clear. It is big and it is small. It is rooted deep in us all. It is the power to change the world.

Evangelina Rangel, 36, votes in Texas

After reading many definitions of feminism and talking to friends about its meaning, my brain still struggles to accept it. I’m Hispanic and hardly heard this word growing up. My parents inculcated being a lady and accepting chivalry in all its forms. I loved those ideals.

I became aware of the feminist movement at 22 when I moved to NYC and it made me upset. It seemed to take away all those chivalrous acts I valued. Women now stood on trains, men didn’t always open doors or pay on a date; I was not a fan.

But I am a woman and  know mostly men are deciding some of our rights and this is where I know the movement has meaning. I want to have the right of choice and equal pay and opportunities for equal experience and qualifications; equal opportunity in politics, economy, education, health, protection and voice.

I admit, I still struggle with the word. I prefer the terms ‘equality’ or ‘Equal Rights Movement’. This resonates better with me. It makes me feel more comfortable, especially when I see the tube seats full of men sitting and many women standing.

It hasn’t been long since I became a supporter. My involvement in politics has made me more knowledgeable and open. My world travels have made me more aware of worldviews and their bases. Hopefully soon we can all share equal rights and keep them forever.

Meghan Feeks, 36, votes in Massachusetts

Feminism for me is as much about carving out new spaces for women as it is about dignifying the ones we have traditionally occupied. Growing up, my mom stayed home with my sisters and me — a choice my parents made together based on their shared goals. It’s true this choice cost my mom some of her career dreams (she had worked in pediatrics), and it’s also true her choice was constrained by the difficulties facing working moms in the medical field at the time. Still, she never saw her choice as a demotion — and importantly, neither did my dad. Asked when his wife would find a “real job,” he would reply that she already had one, that they worked as a team, and that though she was capable of doing whatever she set her mind to, the job she had chosen to do at home was at least as important as the one he was doing at the office. I ended up following in my dad’s career path: I run my own business, work in male-dominated fields and enjoy having a career outside the home. But I’m grateful to have been raised believing not only that girls can do anything boys can do, but also that traditionally “female” roles and traits are just as valuable, whatever your gender. This belief continues to inform my feminism, and I hope that one day society values its parents, teachers and nurses as much as it values its doctors, lawyers and CEOs.

2 Comments on “Fifty Shades of Feminism

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