The Joy of Feminism
Ways to think about feminism during Women's History Month.
Posted Mar 14, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
In honor and celebration of Women's History Month, and as a feminist sociologist and a scholar of gender, I want to use this space to unpack feminism in a way that makes it more accessible.
Feminism is the result of people throughout history getting together to create and demand change so that girls and women would have rights equal to boys and men. Over the years, feminism has evolved, and now we might think about it as a movement to end not just sexist oppression but also racism, classism, homophobia, etc.
Feminism is about love and freedom, about raising individual consciousness and collective empowerment. It is about how the personal is political and the political is personal. Cultural critic bell hooks writes: “A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving...There can be no love without justice.”
Feminism has shaped our lives, health, well-being, and our potential for happiness. I personally identify as a feminist because I want us to live in a world that is more just, fair, and equal and where we can feel whole. “Feminist thinking teaches us all, especially, how to love justice and freedom in ways that foster and affirm life,” bell hooks reminds us.
There are many people who look down on feminism or resent it, and ridicule and mock it. Often, that's because they perceive it as threatening. It may be seen as threatening because it is gynocentric: It has at its center a focus on women, and there are people who have come to believe that focusing on women and ensuring women have strength and rights will somehow come at the expense of men.
But it can be argued that feminism makes all of our lives better—girls and boys, women and men. Just because women want equal rights in no way takes anything away from men. It is not a zero-sum game. Yet people who have been in positions of power tend to be hesitant about giving any of it up and assume that another group gaining some rights would translate to the erosion of their own.
Also, the word "feminism" still carries with it intense connotations. Some people may still assume feminists hate men or want to date women. This is a stereotype that is not based in reality (and it presumes that dating women would be wrong, which it is not).
Boys tend to be socialized to either suck it up or to be angry; as a result, they are often denied access to expressing a fuller range of emotions that are part of what it means to be human. At the same time that feminism seeks to advance girls' and women's causes, it also wants to address men to help expand their range of emotional options as well. Feminism is truly good for everybody. (hooks, 2020, Marsden, 2020)
Really, when it comes down to it, feminism is about love. It's about opening up spaces for creativity, joy, and possibility so all people can grow and flourish.
People who identify as feminists cherish a sense of social justice and have an eye on the collective good and on their community. Sometimes, to make change happen, people have had to show their anger and rage at injustice. And there are many people who look down on this righteous anger and legitimate rage. (Cohan, 2005) Yet, it is often what is most transformative.
There have been many shifts in society from which we all benefit that we could credit feminism for advancing:
- Women can go to college.
- Women have the right to vote.
- Women have a right to choose if and when they will have children.
- It used to be common for women to write under pseudonyms or to call themselves anonymous. If you like reading and knowing who wrote your books, thank feminism.
- Women can obtain a credit card with their names on it and buy property with their names on the deed.
- If you’re a girl and want to grow up be a minister or know a woman who is, thank feminism. The same goes for astronauts, architects, pilots, and elected officials.
- If you're glad to finally see a woman as vice president and her husband as the second spouse, thank feminism.
- If you enjoy having pants in your wardrobe, thank feminism.
- If you pursue any line of work previously held only by men, thank feminism.
- If you prefer sitting in circles in the classroom and being face-to-face with people during discussions, thank feminism for principles set forth by feminist pedagogy. (Cohan, 2016).
- If you’re a woman majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, thank feminism.
- If you can love freely whomever you want, thank feminism.
Learning about feminism benefits kids because they can see early on that it is more than okay to be a feminist and that trustworthy adults they look up to also identify this way. Feminism is truly for everyone.
Cohan, Deborah J. (2005) Rage and the Sociological Imagination. Dissertation, Brandeis University.
Cohan, Deborah J. (2016) "Learning for a Change: Rage and the Power of the Feminist Classroom," in Teaching Sex and Gender in Contemporary America, edited by Kristin Haltinner and Ryanne Pilgeram. New York: Springer.
hooks, bell. (2020). Feminism is for Everybody. Boston, MA. South End Press.
Marsden, Alannah. (2020), "The Feminist Movement: Why it is Important to Young People," in We Are Restless, an online blog featuring young voices.