Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Feminism Is

The daughter of one of our friends recently wrote to me that for her high school English project she had to interview someone who was an activist on a chosen topic and the topic she chose was women’s rights.  She said she wanted to interview me about women’s rights and my opinion about women’s rights today because she knew I was a strong and passionate feminist. 

I was very excited to receive Maren's invitation, for I knew it would be an impetus to compose my thoughts and learn more about the subject.  I asked her to send me the interview questions in advance so I could prepare.  I had never thought of myself as a feminist, but I already had a lot of things I wanted to say!  I had studied political philosophy and had read quite a lot of Jungian psychology dealing with women’s issues – and I had just finished listening to a 48 lecture series on the history of ordinary people from Paleolithic to Medieval times and I was looking forward to sharing what I had just learned about the lives of women through the ages.  

However, when I shared the news with Jack that Maren had asked to interview me, I remember I paused and, looking at him, realized that I didn't have a good grasp of the topic!  I had never taken a class on women’s studies or read much of the feminist literature, though I was always drawn to strong feminist characters like Joan of Arc.  There was a lot of controversy these days about feminism and activism for women’s rights such as the Women's March – and I was a woman after all – so I really couldn’t account for why I’d not been more curious about the actual history of our rights.

As I was explaining all of this to Jack, I remember he was in the entryway. He’d just returned from a lecture at the downtown public library and was taking off his coat and shoes as he listened to me. 

“I guess, bottom line," I concluded, "I don’t think of myself as a feminist. I think of myself more as a citizen.” 

Jack finished untying his shoe and stood up. "But they are one and the same!” he exclaimed.  And he pulled the dictionary from the bookshelf and read Webster’s definition out loud to me:

“fem-i-nism – n. 1. a doctrine advocating social, political, and economic rights for women equal to those of men. 2. a movement for the attainment of such rights.”

How could I have missed it!  Such a clear and fair expression of equality!  To be a feminist is to be a citizen and to be citizen is to be a feminist, advocating rights for one equal to those of the other.
Why is it that women did not receive the right to vote anywhere in the West until the 20th century whereas men have had the right to vote as early as before the birth of Christ?  Why did it take so long for feminism to take hold? Why is it now still controversial?  Still misunderstood?

What has been our part in this?
poster available here

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You might be surprised to learn that women had the right to vote in this country in the beginning. The Constitution is silent on the subject. It was the individual states who barred women from voting, and New Jersey didn't get around to doing that until 1807.

Gender isn't mentioned in the Constitution until the Fourteenth Amendment (adopted in 1868) and even then, it doesn't bar women from voting. It's a bit arcane. It has to do with how Representatives are apportioned. You start by counting everyone (women and men), but then you subtract off the number of adult males who were barred from voting.

Except for that, the Fourteenth uses gender-neutral terms. To be elected, you had to be a "person."