I Am Woman! Now What?
Putting aside, for the moment, and for the sake of this introduction, the disturbing social signals emitted by Virginia Slims ads (the eternal tall, white woman glamorizing the use of a cancer-causing agent, "baby"), their slogan actually sparks worthwhile feminist discourse. How long of a way have we come and is it enough? This is a query that I struggle with as an individual and that the feminist movement contends with at each step, after each threshold of progress is crossed. For one thing, the word "feminist" has become a dirty word, the "F-word" of the '90s. The true difficulty resides not within the word itself, but within others' reaction to the word. Proudly, I call myself a feminist. But too many people are too quick to pass judgment; the word elicits a preconceived political map and people chart my beliefs in relation to that word, thinking that because they know I am a feminist, they know exactly what I am about. Wrong.
The tragedy is that these misconceptions have steered people away from issues of feminism. I have encountered many strong-willed, independent-minded young women who sympathize with the movement's goals but who refuse to call themselves feminists because they fear the assumptions that others will make about them. Society needs to stop assuming and start understanding.
To me, being a feminist constitutes one facet of an entire process of self-definition, specifically in relation to the wonders and dilemmas of sex and gender and the recognition that women have been treated unjustly and in many cases continue to be treated unjustly. Feminism is about more than laws and systemic changes. It is about attitudes and respect. The key term in what I have just explained is "self-definition. That term allows for as many strains of feminism as there are progressive women.
Feminism in the broader societal context is struggling to self-define as well. The struggle has produced a caustic binarism, a dichotomy between "victim" or "sex-gender" feminists and "equity" feminists, pitting the experience of Gloria Steinem against the brashness of Katie Roiphe.
The traditional causes of sex-gender feminists are rape, marital rape, date rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, equal pay, etc. As awareness about these issues has been advanced, simultaneously, backlash against addressing these very issues on a comprehensive basis has grown. Equity feminists have launched a harsh critique of the causes. For example, Katie Roiphe's focus has been rape as an overblown, overly dramatized issue on college campuses. The patriarchy is not oppressing us, they cry. Equity feminist Christina Hoff Sommers divisively labels the Steinem-ites "sensitive" (in a pejorative sense) and "chronically offended.
In the battle over feminist labels, many American women, the obviously essential portion of the troops against injustice, are feeling alienated, partly because of their own hesitancy regarding feminism...