Who Are The Real Feminists?

You don’t see women as just a man’s way of making more men? You’re a feminist!

Posted Aug 01, 2012

If you’d told me thirty years ago that women would be arguing over who counted as a “real feminist,” my response would have been to point and giggle. Until very recently (roughly three hours ago) the “f” word--“feminist”— was considered something a lady shouldn’t say in public.

I’ve had otherwise sane female students, for example, trip all over themselves to avoid using the term: “I’m getting a doctoral fellowship from NASA after I complete my NEA grant but it’s the work I did for girls in Tanzania during my Peace Corps stint that’ll be my legacy, I hope, but gosh, no, I’m no feminist. I like wearing earrings and I hope to get married one day.” They think feminism is all about wearing your hair in braids and yelling slogans blaming men for stuff.

(There are six women in Berkeley still doing this. They’re great, by the way, and I’m grateful to them for getting the whole brouhaha started.)

But for most people—and I'm one of them—feminism is the belief that women are actually human beings.

I assume everybody I meet, men and women alike, are feminists; I give people the benefit of the doubt.

You’re using cutlery to eat your food, you don’t wear T-shirts saying “Men: no shirt, no service; Women: no shirt, free drinks!” and you don’t think women are just a man’s way of making more men? Then, honey, you’re a feminist.

My vision of feminism is sort of like a hip nun’s vision of Catholicism—affirming to all and not guided by rule-books or doctrinal declarations.

Women waste a lot of time trying to judge ourselves fairly and evaluate the worth of our own lives.

It’s the moral and ethical version of trying to catch a glimpse of yourself unawares in a storefront window; it hardly ever works. Current cultural cliches would have us believe today’s woman is either trying on filmy negligees while having the nanny deal with our many offspring or else having our bunions shaved from wearing our hard-working shoes, but that’s not how it works for most of us. Our lives are complicated and no, we’re not Meryl Streep, so the complication isn’t wonderfully charming.

The lives of all adult human beings are messy, awkward, and often so fundamentally odd as to be unspeakable except in the privacy of barrooms or the produce aisle of Whole Foods and women are no exception. Yet we keep thinking we should be; we keeping we are not included in “all adult human beings” but must be separated out into increasingly smaller categories.

Let's stop that, shall we? There's important stuff to be done, like living life with joy, living it fully, and making sure the lives of those around us are better, healthier, stronger, and that everybody—everybody—has an equal chance for a life well-lived.

That, sweetheart, is the feminist agenda.