“People call me feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute”. Dame Rebecca West
This issue on Women as Agents of Change would not be complete without some discussion of the “F” word:feminism.
I was amazed, one day, when a discussion of feminism came up among the inner circle of women involved with WNC WOMAN, and one woman recoiled in horror at the thought of being considered a feminist. Too shocked to even question her, her response stayed in the back of my mind, only to pop up as we were putting this issue together.
Rattling about in there with her response was the response to our magazine of a retired gentleman at a local non-profit that provides free advice for businesses. His main concern appeared to be that we were not a “women’s libber” publication. He was not particularly interested in what we were about, just what we were not about.
This resistance might be expected, perhaps, in a man of his age, but not in a woman (I thought), particularly not in women who are my contemporaries. Enough women have begun sentences “I’m not feminist, but…” that there is even a book of that title!
I began to wonder which women of my acquaintance identified themselves as feminist, which did not, and why, so I emailed 100 women in my address book and asked. Was I surprised! The response was an invitation for me to listen deeply to what everyone had to say, whether or not I agreed. I invite you to do the same.
“i don’t call myself a feminist because it implies a defensive stance to me and i don’t feel defensive. i just go get what i want and don’t worry about it. maybe i’m just lucky that i’ve had it pretty easy in my life and business so i haven’t had to contend with recalcitrant opinions or obstinate people trying to block my path. i know there have been a lot of trail blazers ahead of me and i appreciate their contribution to the societal acceptance of powerful women that i get to take for granted.”
totsie marine, swannanoa
“Oh boy, oh boy… Did you catch me at a good (or bad) time?
I *am* a feminist. I am proud to believe and act as if women mattered independent of men. I have been involved in some aspect of feminist action since I joined the women’s movement in 1966. I have advocated for child-care, abortion rights, women in business and women in math and science, all of those issues before they were cool.
I do not believe I was bypassed for promotion or opportunities because of these views. And if I have, well, a person has to stand up for her beliefs.
And I do not believe in anonymity. You may print my name, my address, my email, my fingerprints.”
Danielle Bernstein, Asheville
“Interesting, this little survey of yours. I’ll add my little bit:The word “feminist” is probably somewhat outdated at this point. When it was coined (in the 60’s/70’s?) it provoked people to think about the role of women, and served a useful purpose. It planted seeds in our consciousness to reassess our value, and gave men an important new insight into their relationships and treatment of women.Now, however, it seems to me no longer of value to focus exclusively on women’s issues. Now we are on the brink of bringing a greater balance of female/male energies both within our own beings, and within society as a whole. The patriarchal/heirarchical system is dying (thanks, in large part, to the “feminist” movement) and what we’re witnessing in the world (terrorism, war, fascism disguised as democracy, etc.) is the last gasp of the old trying desperately to cling to its position of power. The new “goddess” energy is bringing in the beautiful divine female consciousness: cooperation, love, embracing the earth, embracing our diversity, etc. But it isn’t just about women, it’s really about all of us, men and women, integrating these qualities into our beingness, balancing head and heart, giving and receiving, logic and intuition…..We know this. I’m not saying anything new. However, in light of your “survey,” perhaps we should let the term “feminist” go by the wayside. We need to recognize the need for men, too, to bring forth the softness and compassion within themselves, even as we women acknowledge our own spiritual warrior qualities, our power and our strength. Integration and balance is what it’s all about for all of us.I value and appreciate who you are and what you are doing
“Much love and many blessings,
Elizabeth Mass, Spiritual Therapist Asheville, NC
“No – no feminist here … prefer the term “independent woman.”
I’ve never particularly liked the word … too divisive. Tends to create an even wider schism between the sexes – and sometimes with other women, as well. It served its purpose at the time … created a wave of energy that was needed to push women off the diving board … but we’ve all lived long enough to see the backlash of the extremists. Like anything else, the pendulum eventually finds its balance. We are who we are – and labels seem irrelevant. ”
I don’t like the word “feminist”. Although there’s still lots to be done for women in terms of equality, acceptance and women’s rights, the word itself brings up resistance and separation. Although by definition, feminism advocates equality, somehow the association of man-haters has come into the mix. I’m all for women’s rights and support the doctrine but I absolutely love men (mine especially…!) and wouldn’t use “feminist” to describe myself.
Can’t wait to see the results of your survey, wohoo!”
“Nope – I ain’t no feminist. BUT I support being a strong woman, living overtly, being good at what I do, standing up against things I don’t like. Never liked titles or confining names so I guess, “iconoclast” might suit me, if I had to go with something.
Cheers, Laurey Masterton
“I definitely consider feminist an “f” word…that is Fine Word! And I proudly claim to be one!”
Carolyn Paden, Weaverville, NC
“If being a feminist is standing on your own two feet, believing you have the right to breathe the air allotted to you by God, taking no crap from whomever thinks you deserve otherwise. Yes, I am a feminist.”
“Julie,Thanks for asking! (At the Strong Women Summit, Miriam Nelson said exactly that—I’m not a feminist—in her opening comments, then retracted her statement the next day!) Here’s my rant, use what you will…’What is “feminism?’ I like this definition—that feminism is the outrageous idea that a woman is a human being. I also like Alice Walker’s term, womanist. Using the noun “woman” rather than the adjective “feminine” as the foundation grounds the word in who we are rather than what we seem to be.But I see other problems with the words feminism and feminist. I consider myself and other women to be deep, rich, complex, self-defining, unique beings who can scarcely be represented by reference to a single word. Perhaps it’s an artifact of the “dominator” pattern of culture to use -ism and -ist words to assign people to groups, label such groups, and then rate and rank them accordingly. Such words are instruments for separation and exclusion rather than reconciliation and union. As Mary Daly and others suggest, the Power of Being—God, Goddess, Great Spirit, the All-That-Is—is a verb. I suggest that we are too. Why bother attempting to express our identity with a static noun or adjective? We come closer to the truth when we tell our active intent: I am a woman who is…. We are women who are….Really, if our intent is to generate a world that’s a just, peaceful, humane place in which to live, we might as well start changing the terms of discourse now. Let’s speak of ourselves—and the world we intend to create—on our own terms.”
Lisa Sarasohn, Asheville
“I’m no feminist – oh, wait – I guess I am. I harbor a deep-seated little feeling that women could run the world just a little better than it’s being done now if we were given a chance. I find women to be naturally more communicative, open, co-operative, intuitive and supportive. I assume that this is shifting now in Generation whatever-we-are-up-to now. My dream that we will soon be having men, real warrior type men, with full testosterone in play – dedicated to living in harmony with one another. Dreams don’t cost a thing.”
“Feminist, (an empowered woman who knows just how powerful she is) has been demonized by the religious right and other regressives, just like the word liberal, gay, civil liberties, ACLU, and quiche. So I say, screw ‘em. I’m a feminist, have always been a feminist and always will be a feminist, and if the religious neanderthals are so threatened by it, I say we just laugh at them and go about our task of enlightening the unenlightened.”
Diane English, Asheville and parts unknown
“I’m fine with being considered a feminist, but I don’t go along with some people’s definitions which imply man-hating, arrogant, seeking power-over men. Probably it’s mostly men who choose to define the word that way!”
Cathy Holt, Earthaven Ecovillage Black Mountain
“I cringe each time a woman says ‘I’m no feminist, but…’. It is like a slap in the face to all the women who struggled for us to have the opportunities we have today. I’d like to send every woman who says “I’m no feminist” back in a time machine so she can get a good taste of being her husband’s property and having all the rights of a turnip! And she can come back just as soon as she says “YES! I am a feminist!”
Signed, No longer Betty Boop
“Julie, My response is (and thanks for doing this!): I have never considered myself feminist, from the early days of deep political correctness when the word was invented, because it always felt too small a word. Inside myself, I’d call myself a “humanist” or “life-ist” because I am for the flowering of all life: male, female, two-legged, four-legged, winged, rooted… In retrospect, I realize that some of the shoulders I now stand on are women’s shoulders who were able to be angry and articulate in a way that I was not and so I think of them now as part of the ‘grandmother’ energy that is out there. The word still feels too small but it has a blessed place in my history as a cherisher of all life.”
“I began life as a feminist when in the late sixties and seventies I fought for equal pay, employment opportunities, and equal credit for women doing comparable work as men. It is with considerable regret that I must continue to be a feminist due to the fact that two of the three problems are yet to be solved. What’s in a name? Because I have feminist economic interests does not preclude the fact that I am also a humanist-I would like to see the world take peaceful care of its citizens (and of course that includes all living creatures, not just the two-legged kind).
I would never be sorry for being a feminist, humanist, or caring person. Anyone who thinks that names or labels have anything to do with doing what is right should think again.”
Best, Diane Van Helden
“I don’t remember EVER using that phrase! It’s not that I consider myself a feminist or not one. I am a soul in a female body. Working for the liberation of all. Boxes. Boxes. Boxes. Don’t like ‘em. Burn ‘em with love. Burn ‘em with light. Wash ‘em away. Tiny, tiny boxes. Such a small thing – this box.”
“I am a vegetarian, a Catholic, a Southerner, a tree-hugger, a writer, an athlete, AND A FEMINIST. And many other things. I don’t think any of these terms are restrictive or divisive! They are merely descriptive of whatever particular aspect of myself I am focusing on at the time. Men can be feminists too, you know! The term means, when we are discussing whether or not women deserve equal pay, equal opportunity, etc., I declare that I support such equality. When we are talking about diet, I declare that I abstain from eating meat. Neither term claims to describe all of me!! Because I mention I am Catholic does not divide me from non-Catholics; because I am a writer does not divide me from plumbers.”
“Until men quit calling a 22 year old female a “girl” and a 22 year old male a “man”, I am a feminist. Until women receive equal pay for equal work, I am a feminist. Until the glass ceiling shatters, I am a feminist. Until the good ole boys quit beating their wives and getting by with it, I am a feminist. Until the mothers of the wives of the good old boys quit saying “But he’s your husband…he doesn’t mean it…he is just letting off steam.”, I am a feminist. Until Indian brides whose dowries are perceived as insufficient by their fiancés are no longer burned alive, I am a feminist. Until all women are free to move about and leave the house unveiled and hold jobs and own property and speak their minds, I am a feminist.
Julie Parker, Mars Hill
“I do identify myself as a feminist. As a woman in my mid 50’s…hardly a day goes by that I don’t see the evidence of the work that was done in the 70’s and 80’s. At the time we acquired much inspiration and momentum from primarily U.S. and British women’s pronounced struggle towards freedom prior to my generation. Heck Yeah…the headway we’ve made is moving creatively around us all of the time. I have no doubt that embracing feminism was a challenging and enlivening choice.”
I am proudly feminist and get irritated when negative connotations are attached to this term- it is my favorite F word. I wear this label as proudly as I do WOMAN…..and would like to see women embrace the power of feminism for social change! Feminism is as important to me as all the other ways that I have or continue to describe myself in the constant metamorphosis of life- single feminist, married feminist, stay at home mother feminist, feminist working mother of 3, happily married feminist, angry feminist, feminist supportive of gay rights, feminist supporter of children and women’s rights….it goes on and on!
You may use my name- love and blessings to Julie and WNC Woman staff!
Becky Kessel, Asheville
I’m always so surprised when I hear that phrase “I’m not a feminist, but…” One of my clients said it just the other day. I would call her a feminist, but obviously her coaching call was not the time to get into a discussion about that. To me, being a feminist means treating women as though they were people too. You’ve probably heard that before; I like to smile about this topic because people can get so worked up abotu it. The problem as I see it is that “feminist” means different things to different people. Unfortunately, those threatened by the idea or actuality of women particiapting fully in the world often use it to mean “man-hating, radical lesbian scum feminist.” or something equivalent. 99% of the feminists I know do not fit that category, especially the male feminists, since they can’t be lesbians. 🙂 Feminism doesn’t mean denying biological differences between men and women. It’s about treating all people with justice, regardless of age, gender, race, size or any of a host of characteristics that mean nothing about that person’s inherent worth and dignity.”
Anne Alexander Authentic Alternatives
When I was younger–in my twenties (I’m now 38)–I would call myself a feminist and admittedly it was partly to push buttons. However I have definitely mellowed and now if asked I would respond that I am more than a feminist, I am a humanist. Kind of like I say I’m more that a nationalist I’m a globalist. I truly believe the time has come to embrace the larger picture and see commonalities y’know. It will be interesting to see the results of this “unpoll”. Love WNC Woman by the way—keep up the wonderful work!!
Jo McKernan, Horse Shoe NC
Hi Julie, yes, I am a feminist and am proud to be a part of that tenacious, honorable tradition. I was raised a Southern girl in a small deep Southern town, so I had a long way to travel to get beyond belledom, and I’m still working on it, but I will have to give my husband credit years ago, before our marriage, for scolding me when I dismissed statements by the then fledgling women’s liberation movement. He was more aware of discrimination against women than I was, all of 23 years old and still trying to be a belle but with an attitude. Yes, I’m a feminist and plan to remain one, getting feistier by the day. K.
Kathryn Byer Stripling
Yes, I consider myself a feminist – the “radical” idea that women are equal to men. And since that hasn’t been achieved yet – socially, politically, culturally, economically, that word is still needed to help define the struggle.
Anne Craig, Asheville
Julie – your feminist e-mail really hit a hot button for me. The poster below [wording on the poster: I’m not a feminist, but… I appreciate the right to help choose my government representatives. I enjoy the option of wearing pants or shorts if I want. I’m pleased that I was allowed to learn to read and write. It can be very convenient to control how many babies I want to have. It’s awfully useful to be able to open a bank account and own property in my name. I like knowing that my husband or boyfriend cannot legally beat me. It’s really swell to keep the money that I earn. ] has been on my office wall for years.
The definition of Feminist- somebody who believes in the need to secure rights and opportunities for women equal to those of men, or somebody who works to secure these rights and opportunities.
As my March article says – the women who came before us worked hard so that we could do all of the things on the poster and in the article. According to the definition of feminist that is what they were and if we are trying to live up to the mission of WNC Woman then that is what we are.
Society (a patriarchal society) has deemed feminist a dirty word. It is not. As women we need to take pride in who we are and what we do. For heavens sake, what are “women’s rights”? Why aren’t they the same rights as men if all men are created equal on this earth? Women have to work too hard not to be willing to stand together and say yes, we are feminists – if we don’t learn from our past we are destined to repeat it and over the past few years we have certainly lost more than we have gained as far as reproductive rights –
Let’s pay attention women! Reeta
An interesting observation. I consider myself a feminist and am both comfortable and proud to join the ranks of the pioneering women who led our gender into their own empowerment. How sad so many women feel the need to disavow their affiliation with this group of brave women. I consider Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Coffin Mott and others to be the first of the ‘feminists’ to whom we owe gratitude and honor and the list continues to include many of the contemporary feminists who stood for women’s rights. Do women today know where they would be were it not for these women?! Feminism reveals itself in as many ways as there are women. Does ‘feminist’ imply angry, bra burning, male bashers? Not in my book! Merriam-Webster dictionary define feminist as 1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes 2 : organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. That’s the feminism I know – so count me in!
blessings……. rev. nancy clark
I have considered myself a feminist since i joined the women’s movement in 1968. And, i have had an abortion, been bi-sexual, married for 21 years and the mother of 2 wonderful children. And i will never stop fighting for women’s equality until the battle has been won, and it is no where near that. Women are still fighting for the right to chose, which is the bottom line. If we do not have control over our bodies we do not have control of ourselves.
On April 25th, hundreds of thousands of women from across the country will be marching once again on Washington to stop the Bush Administration from rolling back Roe v Wade, the historic landmark that gave women in the US the legal right to abortion. This is a very broad based coalition of Planned Parenthood, NARAL, The Feminist Majority, NOW, and other minority women’s organizations. It deserves to have lots of media coverage!!! Please contact Melissa Smith for an article in the March Issues. After all, March is Women’s History Month!!! And the demo is in April.
Thanks. I am a feminist and it is not a dirty word!!!! May the Goddess be heard!
Although I know it doesn’t have to mean this, my gut reaction to the word “feminist” is that it has an aggressive, exclusive tone I don’t like. We women certainly have needed to reclaim our place of power and wisdom in the circle, yet the word “feminist” to me implies a sharpness, a dominance, a “getting even” that feels like the kind of old power game men have played. How is that an improvement?
I prefer the idea that women who are empowering themselves are able and willing to bring along and empower everyone – anyone – else, including men. Women have deep, much-needed wisdom that can bring the whole world back into balance – into a new, mutually enhancing way of being. Let’s keep doing it!
The word feminist is one that conjures up feeling for me. Being raised in a family where the word was always spoken from pursed lips or used as an adjective to mean something other than pleasant, I have been very careful. Even as an adult, I’ve had women asks, “Are you a feminist or something?” as if if to ask, were you born with three breasts or do you eat your young? And these questions were from liberal women!!!, I thought.
While I identify with the roots of feminism I am more cautious in using it today. Largely because I also see myself as a “maleist, “ believing in the inherent worth of both genders. I’ve never been comfortable at the advancement of one group at the expense of another….something I feel is happening in many ways to men these days.
Is the feminist an “f” word…sure can be. So therefore I work hard to use the word less and let my actions speak loud and clear.
I’m a feminist. Seems to me a thinking woman has to be a feminist, just as a person of color must be an advocate for racial equality. SOMEDAY I hope we can all just be advocates for one another in the circle of life—but that day will not be soon. Being a feminist means acknowledging that female human beings are fully human, made in the Divine image, and of equal value to male human beings. It means cooperation and circles, instead of hierarchy and lines. As one whose vocation is in a church, I live this out by inviting folk into inclusive images of who Godde is, who we are—and by proclaiming the radically inclusive and unconditional Love which is the life-force undergirding the universe.
First published in WNC WOMAN March 2004