Saturday, March 5, 2011

The F-Word: Who Wants to be a Feminist?

Last night I happened to see a CBC documentary called "The F-Word: Who Wants to be a Feminist?" (visit the link to watch the documentary or read about it). This came at the right time because I have been thinking a lot about whether I am a feminist or not, whether some of the things I'm doing are sexist or anti-feminist, and whether I really know what feminism is. The documentary explores the reason why so many women today don't call themselves feminists and the history of the movement. The film explains that women make up over half of the workforce and university students, but they still earn less than men and hold few high power positions (e.g., in business and politics). It was quite informative for me.

I prefer calling myself a humanist and saying that I believe in inalienable human rights including the rights of women (a good way to avoid being criticized by men). I am anti-sexist. One reason why I don't want to call myself a feminist is because I have never actually read a feminist book by one of the famous authors and I have never taken a course. So I don't not want to claim I believe something I really don't know much about. Young North American women today have grown up in world with a lot of anti-sexist rules already in place. Many young women can tell when something is sexist or when we are being treated differently from men, and we protest when these things happen and we don't have to call ourselves feminists to do so.

I think things online have painted a negative picture of feminism for me but I don't know if these things actually came from feminist writers of if they are misinterpretations by men who are opposed to women's rights. So here are some of the negative things I have heard:
  1. Feminism was created by White women and was never intended to include Black women (my belief in this is 9/10). When the women's rights movement began and they wanted the right to vote, they only wanted it for White women. They wanted the right to work outside of the home because they thought that work was beneath them. However they had no problem giving that work to Black women. (You can note that in the documentary there were no Black feminists interviewed). 
  2. Black women were excluded from feminist meetings and their rights were not discussed (my belief in this is 9/10). Until recently, many feminists denied that they could actually be racist because they are an oppressed group. They claimed Black women were oppressed only by White and Black men. In response to that Black women created "Womanist" groups to fight for their rights. Today there are some anti-racist feminists who acknowledge that White women can be racist and other ethnic groups need to be included. (Click the LINK to read an article about how feminists have been silent about Michelle Obama)
  3. The things that White feminists wanted were not desired by Black women (my belief in this is 4/10). Black women in North America have always had to work because Black people could only get low-paying jobs and needed two incomes. They did not have the option that many White women had to stay home and look after the house and kids. The reason why I don't believe this argument very much is because I think Black women like having the right to vote and work and this keeps us out of poverty and social assistance, they don't want to be discriminated against based on gender, and they don't want men to be able to hurt them with no repercussions. These are things that feminists fought for.
  4. Black feminism has destroyed the Black community (my belief in this is 1/10). Nowadays, many Black people are complaining that our kids are not being cared for enough because Black parents are not spending enough time at home with the kids. Some are saying that if Black women did not focus so much on their careers, our children, and by extension our communities, would be better.  I don't believe this because if Black women have always been working something else must be contributing to the problems, because things haven't always been this way. Some say it's because men are not in the home, but if that was the case, children who grow up without fathers in all races would have similar problems but they do not. Many men spend months away from the home or spend little time with the kids, but their kids turn out fine. Remember, in the past it was Black female slaves who spent the most time with wealthy American White children, and those kids maintained their high status. 
  5. Acting like stereotypical feminists has caused Black women to lose their femininity (my belief in this is 10/10). Note, that I wrote "acting like stereoptypical feminists" not about thinking or having the same beliefs. I think that women can believe in women's rights without acting like men. The stereotypical feminist rejects feminine clothing, hair, makeup, and traditionally feminine activities and behaviours (i.e., believes that looking  and acting like a female is weak or irrational). She acts like a man and wants to do everything that men do (e.g., arguing, being loud, physically fighting, swearing etc.). This is a stereotype of course, but some Black women are acting according to the stereotype!  For the last 500 years Black women have often been treated like men by society and their femininity was ignored or denied. White women are still held up as the standard for feminine beauty and behaviour even though some of them purposefully act like men. Black women have not been allowed to get away with the same behaviour. I think it is in our best interest to act as feminine as possible, BUT continue to believe in equal rights and fight for them. 
  6. Some stereotypical feminists reject everything feminine and believe acting or looking feminine is harmful and irrational (my belief in this is 8/10). Have you noticed online that whenever there is a beauty pageant, advice about hair or makeup, advice about how to get a man, a traditionally feminine fashion shoot, or anything that just looks feminine, you will see comments FROM WOMEN, chastising the writers for being sexist? Last week on a blog (I believe it was The Feminine Woman) I read a post about feminine hobbies and some people commented that the hobbies were sexist and the writer should include some masculine hobbies. They commented that,  it was wrong to suggest that women take up cooking, knitting, flower arranging, jewelry making etc. as hobbies which defies the purpose of a post on feminine hobbies!. I also watched a YouTube video of a woman with natural hair who keeps her hair short because, according to her, trying to grow your hair long and doing so much to maintain it is vain and conforming to eurocentric standards of beauty. A commenter on the video actually said it was dangerous to be so interested in looking good! We are actually being discouraged from looking good and doing traditionally feminine things even though many of these things are enjoyable or useful (e.g., cooking, pampering oneself). I think that Black women need to stop listening to this! If you enjoy being pretty, keep it up! If you want to learn cooking, do it! If you like wearing dresses, don't be ashamed! Acting like men in all ways is not helping Black women and you can be very feminine and still have a job, be intelligent, have many interests, and demand respect and equality.
So these are some of the reasons why I am reluctant to call myself a feminist. I think that women should bring their feminine qualities everywhere and shape the world according to their femininity instead of conforming to masculine settings and hiding their femininity. To me, that would really be standing up for women's rights! Acting like men is actually promoting men's behaviours as ideal and more rational than women's behaviours, and this makes women look inferior! I think men should actually become more refined gentlemen and tone down some of their masculine aggressive behaviours by being kinder, more polite, and more respectiful of everyone's rights.


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