Practicing Feminism.

It’s taken me awhile to come out and say, in life and on this page: I am a feminist.

Largely because I, like many of my peers, grew up believing that feminism meant one and only one thing: bra-burning. Aside from being an expensive and potentially dangerous habit, as one of my dearest friends pointed out years ago, this seemed like an action of rather limited efficacy. It wasn’t until I caught myself persistently beginning sentences with, “I’m not a feminist, but…” that I began to grasp how many issues of injustice feminism might address and therefore how utterly essential feminism remains in the U.S. and the world as a whole.

And yet, the movement, and the men and women who espouse feminist values, are greeted with increasing hostility in the twenty-first century. I made the mistake of reading the comments posted to various Slate articles related to women’s concerns this morning. The authors who contributed to today’s “Double X” category received complaints that they were only playing the victim; they were told they needed to stop whining, as commenters scolded them for for believing there is still gender inequality. The authors were upbraided for thinking feminism was anything but an academic solution for antiquated problems.

True, some of the original issues are, or are becoming, antiquated, at least in the United States. Women have been able to vote for nearly a century, for example, and that in itself is a massive victory. There are a number of women in positions of influence and affluence at major corporations, including the internet giants Google, Yahoo, and Facebook. Women’s sports are not only accepted, but encouraged and even well-funded at many institutions of higher education.

But there is work to be done, at home and abroad. The number of women in poverty – yes, even in the U.S. – far exceeds the number of men. Women’s health issues – maternal mortality rates, the availability of preventive exams, access to contraception – remain a central concern. Women’s freedom to choose what to wear, or not to wear, might be added to the list with sincerity.

I should be clear: I do not think American feminists need to fix everything. Nor are we capable of doing so. We can offer celebration and support, though, and insightful education for people in our own spheres.

But this has all been a bit of a rant, largely inspired by some thoughtless and unrepresentative commenters on the ever-fickle web. What I would like to communicate, in closing, is at least a framework for how I hope to practice what I preach. I hope to:

  • integrate women’s voices and stories into the histories I teach and write in authentic and nuanced ways
  • actively engage in and financially support those already doing work that broadens possibilities for women of all ages, socioeconomic statuses, and ethnic heritages
  • listen, understand, and attempt to empathize with women’s choices that are different from my own…long before I ask them whether or not they have a political agenda
  • welcome, encourage, and celebrate men who treat women as equals and work to annihilate gender injustice
  • hold on to the anger I feel against injustice, refuse to equivocate or analyze away wrongdoings perpetuated against women (however small these may seem), and direct my passion towards betterment
  • be open to celebrating women’s accomplishments, as individuals and a group, however small or substantial

Okay, so I’m an optimist and a big-picture thinker who likes to give myself lofty, improbable goals. The specifics are still a little fuzzy, so I’m open to suggestions on how to live out my principles as an academic, a friend, an educator, and (soon enough) as a wife and (someday) as a mother.

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