What Feminism Is Not...

So yesterday I wrote a post intended to be a funny and self-critical commentary on the ambiguous nature of feminism, but which turned out to be a bit controversial.  Entitled “13 Things That Make Me a Lousy Feminist,” the post was a companion piece to my “13 Things That Make Me a Lousy Evangelical” and “13 Things That Make Me a Lousy Progressive,” and was based on a somewhat frustrating experience I recently had at a progressive Christian conference where I wondered if I would ever fit in with my feminist allies. 

As you may have noticed, the post received some criticism, most of which was fair, well-reasoned and from readers whose perspectives I greatly respect.  In situations like these, I figure it’s better to listen than get defensive, so today I’m thrilled to introduce you to Dianna Anderson, who somehow managed to pull together a brilliant guest post overnight after I asked her to share her thoughts on the blog.

 In her day job, Dianna is a mild-mannered producer at a radio show in Chicago, IL, but when the stakes get raised, she becomes the fly in the bonnet of the patriarchy, using her arsenal of words in blogging over at diannaeanderson.net. She has also been doing a lot of reading about super heroes and graphic novels of late – can you tell?

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Transient

It was bound to happen at some point or another. Somewhere deep in the internet’s recesses, practically back into Gollum’s cave, I found her: the one person I could ever say actually fits the definition of what most people think feminists are. This was a woman who truly believed, deep down, that men are evil, disgusting pigs, and you’re not a true feminist if you’re not a lesbian.

I encountered this blogger over a year ago when a friend sent me a piece she wrote condemning Joss Whedon’s Firefly for being anti-feminist and anti-woman (say it with me: “WHAT?”). The comments section was ablaze, and the piece was some of the worst literary criticism I had ever read (and I have an MA in English). I had to close the window when she suggested that, because of the heterosexual power structure and the patriarchy, it is literally impossible for a man and a woman to have sex without it constituting rape (don’t ask…I’m not even sure I understand).

I tell you all this to say: feminists who hate men with a fiery passion do, in fact, exist. But, they exist in such a way that you wonder how they function in real life – they might just be a horse with a cone taped to their head instead of an actual unicorn. If you have encountered one of these women in your life, then I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the trial your sanity had to undertake in order to have a conversation with that person and I’m doubly sorry if you happen to be a man having that conversation.

But here’s the thing: 99.9% of the feminists you encounter? Not man-haters. Indeed, for those of us who are heterosexual, we could even be called man-lovers. Many of us have married men or are in  relationships with men or have crushes on men. Many of us look upon Ryan Gosling and George Clooney with great affection.

It is sad to me that I even need to make this disclaimer, but the stereotype of feminist as “man-hater” is so engrained in the populace and the church that reality is frequently ignored in favor of dismissing an argument. I’ve been accused of being a “man hater” while sitting next to my then boyfriend. Many women in my life have warned me that identifying as a feminist will “turn men off” from me and “don’t you want to get married someday?” I’ve had men dismiss the possibility of friendship (not relationship, mind you, friendship) outright when I explain that my blog is about feminism and the church (often in no fewer words than that).The silencing and dismissal that comes along with the stereotype of man-hater is annoying at best and hurtful at worst.

All of this was brought to mind when Rachel blogged her “13 reasons I’m a lousy feminist” the other day. Having being on the receiving end of the “man-hater” comment more times than I can count, seeing it listed as number one – in the form of “I like white males so much I married one”– rubbed me the wrong way.Being called a man-hater is often unfairly used as a way to silence women and dismiss their arguments outright, which is troubling, especially when it happens in the midst of a theological discussion. I’m grateful Rachel has given me the opportunity here, in her space, to address the “man-hater” issue.

Not only does the stereotype mischaracterize feminism as a matriarchal movement instead of an equality based one – you’d be amazed at all the ways in which women are still not equal (we still make 77 cents to every man’s dollar for the same work. Oh, yeah, and it is 2011) – but the stereotype erases the ways in which men and women have worked together for the cause of feminism.

Not a lot of people know this, so forgive me if I delve into a bit of a history lesson here: the US women’s suffrage movement wasn’t entirely women. Indeed, the suffrage movement actually extended out of a network of church-based Moral Reform Societies that were led by men, but composed mainly of white, middle class women. The concept of feminism as an official movement (first wave feminism in the late 1800s) was borne out of the concept of solidarity and sisterhood. The women of the Moral Reform Societies rejected the idea of woman as property and wanted to find ways to help women of ill repute – yes, the prostitutes. In one remarkably progressive instance, the New York Moral Reform Society (NYMRS) published an article in their newsletter – the Advocate of Moral Reform – calling out the double standard between men and women in terms of sex, mainly that men were allowed to have it whenever where-ever, but if a woman worked as a prostitute (pretty much her only option for many lower class impoverished women), then she was the lowest of the low.

But these moral reformers were not just uppercrust white women realizing the link between themselves and those women on the street. They were also a remarkable example of women working together with men for a feminist cause. The heads of the societies and the publishers of the newsletters were men. Women, in alliance with the men in their lives, worked together to argue for the cause of women everywhere because they recognized that their battle could not succeed without the support of men. Men were integral to the moral reform movement, and they were extremely helpful in terms of suffrage.

Feminism was born out of an alliance between men and women, out of a gracious and mutually beneficial relationship where both sexes worked for the cause of women. And, I would argue, it has maintained that alliance. Other voices have entered into the movement and there has been disambiguation of the varying causes – the recognition that feminism has been pretty racist in the past, and pretty homophobic and transphobic in the present and still has a lot of issues. But one issue we don’t have is man-hating.

Feminism is a vast umbrella that can be best summed up by the idea that “women are people, too.” This means the stay at home mom. This means the Christian woman blogger. This means the girl who politely says “no” to you on the bus. This means the prostitute on the street corner.This means your worst enemy and your best friend are deserving of equal treatment under the law and by their neighbors because they are human beings. For most feminists, this means no strict gender roles or a hierarchy that demands a man be the authority over a woman just because he’s a man and that a woman be submissive and quiet just because she’s a woman.Feminism means allowing both women and men to be themselves as God created them to be – as individuals, not defined by their reproductive system but rather by their personalities, their relationships, their definitions of themselves. It is a movement that prizes people being who they are without being reduced to what equipment they do or don’t have.

It is because we love our brothers that we are feminists, not because we hate them.

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Be sure to check out Dianna's blog here, or follow her on Twitter.

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