by Ryan Potaracke
Editor’s note: This month’s Women on Wednesdays topic is Feminism 101: Where do we go from here? To go anywhere, you have to know where you’ve been. Ryan Potaracke reflects on feminism and speaks with panelists about the issue.
I have never considered myself to be a feminist because I don’t really know what it means to be one.
I can give you the history of feminism, what I was taught in school, and can identify several historical figures from the feminist movements I have learned about, but really have no idea what it means to live as a feminist today.
To start my research, I began where most people do, an internet search. As a social media user, I was immediately attracted to “Feminist Memes.” I realize a meme is not informational and is typically used to express sarcasm or humor, but the attacks on feminism and “man-haters” (a term I saw a lot in my research) was extreme, even for this type of media. I had to scroll down two pages to find one that even remotely shed positive light on feminism. I did eventually move on to more legitimate research sites, but was still surprised by the amount of negativity on the topic. This made me think perhaps my preconceived notions or fear of being viewed negatively have prohibited any self- identification with the term.
The general definition of a feminist is advocating social, political, legal and economic rights for women. I am, of course, in favor of feminism based on this definition. According toVangie Castro, Education Program Manager for the Rochester Diversity Council, other issues relating to modern feminism include “violence against women…and the normalization of rape culture, the media’s portrayal of women, division of labor in households and the workplace (gendered career paths), and glass ceilings.” I am also against all of these things. So why am I still so hesitant about associating myself with the term feminist?
I brought my concerns to Jennie Joa, self-proclaimed feminist and panelist for the upcoming Women on Wednesdays event. Joa described a modern feminist as someone who is “comfortable in their own skin, purposeful about decisions and actions, and as being unapologetic for offenses that aren’t their own.” She went on to say that modern feminism needs to “check all the boxes.”
This idea of modern feminism being intersectional and able to be more inclusive was a common theme with all of the people I spoke to this week about modern feminism. Castro added, “Modern feminism to me means intersectionality…working towards equity for women also means addressing disparities and working for equity across all historically marginalized demographics.”
The value of increased diversity is a belief shared by Lisa Nohner, English instructor at LSU and another panelist. “I believe that the correct way for me, personally, to be a modern feminist is to be an intersectional feminist,” she explains. “I believe in educating myself and others where appropriate about issues of social justice. I aim to be mindful of other women’s positions and circumstances, and I strive to elevate the voices of women who do not have the same white, straight privilege platform that I have. After all, people have been listening to white feminists for a long time. It’s important to let other women take the mic now. “
It’s not just women stepping up to the mic in regards to feminism. “Two top issues pertaining to feminism today stand out for me, the threat to women’s reproductive rights, and the mainstreaming of misogyny,” Tim O’Neill, a philosophy instructor at RCTC, states. “This is where feminist allies—especially, perhaps, cisgender men who wield unearned social power—need listen to feminist friends and loved ones, model gender egalitarianism, and stand in solidarity with them by openly defying acts of misogyny and systems of oppression based on gender identity.” O’Neill goes on to suggest, “Rather than deny that we should strive for the common good and treat each other as moral equals, feminism insists on it through philosophical, economic and political action.”
So am I a feminist? I will say yes, a cautious one. There is still so much to learn and consider. Many people, including myself, support a majority of the issues relating to feminism and equality, but perhaps are hesitant with the label if the entire agenda does not match with their personal beliefs. That’s okay! The world is made of shades of gray. The bottom line is we need to keep the dialogue on feminism ignited and active. The glass ceiling is still there and there is still work to be done. We need to distance ourselves from stereotypes, find inspiration in not only modern and historical feminist icons but also in our friends, family, and community.