by Jelena Vićić and Kaleb Warnock
When it comes to topics as multifaceted as feminism, finding a proper definition is challenging, while discussing it without a clear definition is frivolous. It is exactly due to the lack of a widely accepted definition of this term that every individual interprets the f-word in their own way, and gives it a personal touch drawing upon their own experience.
There is little cohesion amongst the popular conception and discourse on feminism and what it truly stands for. The term has acquired a largely negative connotation, which denigrates its values. However, over the course of the last few years, feminism, in one form or another has become somewhat of a leitmotif in popular culture and social media. In pop-music, performers such as Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and M.I.A. have touched upon the topics of female power. Meanwhile, Hollywood has produced films such as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Hunger Games, featuring female protagonists who are independent from their on-screen male partners.
The fact that corporate entertainment moved in a feminist direction suggests that feminist ideas are en vogue and relevant to wide audiences. However, at the same time, entertainers such as Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Demi Moore and Björk refuse to label themselves as feminists, some of them noting that such a loaded word would alienate their publics. This suggests a clear problem – not with feminist ideas per se, but with the word that is chosen to label them.
In order to clarify what feminism is and how it is still relevant to the advancement of modern society, it is important to define what the F-word is not. Contemporary feminism is not a man-hating, anti-establishment revolution aiming to blame men for the disadvantageous position of women in today’s society, nor is it solely composed of hairy, loud, sexually frustrated women of a generally homosexual orientation. Feminism is not about female superiority. Feminists can be both men and women.
Feminist scholars divide feminism in three waves based on the main societal issues feminism aimed to tackle at their given time period. The first-wave began with the women’s suffrage movement in the US during the early 20th century, while the second-wave, between the 1960s and 80s aimed to broaden the debate to sexuality, the family and the workplace. However, some of more combative sects of the second-wave are responsible for what, according to Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, made it “sexually judgmental, even anti-sexual,” and was judgmental of other women’s sexuality and appearance while being “self-righteous.”
At present, feminism is in its third-wave, which builds on the efforts of the previous movements, and according to blogger Kelsey Lupetow of Everyday Feminism, it is founded on the tenants of intersectional and solidarity. It entails listening to all feminists of all backgrounds and identities instead of the predominantly middle-class white women who made up previous movements.
According to R. Claire Snyder, professor of government and political policy at George Mason University, “the third wave approach seems to abandon the idea of creating a social movement as the goal of feminism, which alleviates the need for a shared identity upon which women can act together.”
Feminism seeks to unveil aspects of our culture that many people generally don’t consider. Namely, how language reflects social hierarchies, including shaming, and the gender stereotypes and assumptions in daily conversation (i.e. sexist slurs) that are directly female in orientation. Moreover, third-wave feminism is about giving men the opportunity to express emotion, empathy, and kindness, without emasculation.
“Because Western civilizations tend to be patriarchal, feminism hinges on the belief that the starting ground places men in an entitled position,” writes Lueptow. “That is not the same thing as saying that men have it easier or that men are to blame for social issues.”
To her, feminism is about creating equal opportunity for everyone, men or women. “We are striving to identify different types of inequalities and privilege that hinder the equal ability to pursue self-actualization and its (hopefully) ensuing happiness.”
However, as much as it is about rights, it is about power. When conceptualizing power, some feminists understand it as a resource that is not equally distributed between men and women, while others understand it in Foucaultian way – power exists only as an active relationship of power-over (power of one over another). According to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the terms used to describe the latter are patriarchy, subjugation, and oppression; the common thread being an understanding of power not only as power-over, but as a distinct kind of power-over relation, specifically the one that is unfair or illegitimate.
According to Cheris Kramarae, professor at the University of Oregon, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”
Historically, women have not been equated to men and although the very idea that women were not considered to be human beings sounds outrageous today, this idea was accepted in the past. In fact, major documents establishing human rights laws in the past exclude women. The French Declaration on the Rights of a Man and a Citizen of 1789 did not include women, and neither did the US Bill of Rights or Declaration of Independence stating merely that “all men are by nature equally free.” There were no women at the Congress of Vienna either.
Women had no property rights, no right to education, and no right to work or vote. In some European countries, women only got the right to vote in the 1970s (Switzerland in 1971 and Portugal in 1976).
Today, women are responsible for two-thirds of labor worldwide, and earn 10 percent of the total income, while only owning 1 percent of property. According to feminist supporters of Wages for Housework movement, women are invisible in the capitalist society due to the fact that most women today who are housewives are is not compensated with wages. Despite the fact that this work is real, there is no material benefit for the women who, in turn, remain financially dependent on their husbands.
Every year, 17 million girls are deprived of education, 16 million are assaulted on their way to school, and afraid to walk the streets at night, 1 in 4 are victims of domestic violence. Although the UN’s third Millennium Development Goal is to “Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women,” it is unclear whether this will be achieved, and for how long will women have to struggle to win the same rights men have around the world.