Kathy Petersen’s Blog

Feminists and Feminism

Posted in abortion, Uncategorized by Kathy on February 13, 2010

I would say, no, I am not a feminist. But then, it would depend on your definition of “feminist.” Sometimes I think that there are as many definitions for “feminist” and “feminism” as there are people in this world — no two being exactly alike. Which complicates discussions like this quite a bit!

There have been several things about feminism that have come to my attention, most of them quite recent, but one being from a blog post written several months ago. In this particular post, the woman had some list of “definitions” of feminism, or “how you can tell if you’re a feminist.” Included in them were two that were particularly memorable — 1) if you think your husband shouldn’t beat you, and 2) if you think women should be able to hold property, or not be considered property themselves. By this definition, then, I would be a feminist, but that, to me, is not feminism; it’s just the typical Western, modern attitude, of both men and women. [When I mentioned those two points in the list of “defining characteristics of feminism,” my husband gave me this weird, confused look, and said, “That’s not ‘feminism,’ that’s just being… sane!] Perhaps in countries and cultures where women are still considered property, then these two things could be considered evidence of “feminism”; but not in modern-day America. I don’t think this list does the modern permutation of “feminism” any favors, because it waters it down so much as to make it meaningless. Perhaps some women may say, “Okay, I’m a feminist,” after reading that, but I think there are too many differences between “my” definition of feminism and this overly broad list for me and many other women to follow suit.

So, what is a feminist? In thinking about this topic, I thought about the similarities and differences between the early feminists (Susan B. Anthony, etc.) and those of the middle 20th century, and those of the modern era. One reason why I don’t identify with the feminist label is that to me it is far too politically and socially liberal. Most modern-day feminists are abortion advocates and call themselves “pro-choice.” Not all do — the organization “Feminists for Life” is a group of self-proclaimed feminists who among other things oppose abortion. In this, they are aligned with the early feminists, who called abortion “child murder,” and “infanticide,” with Elizabeth Cady Stanton writing, “When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.” So, while I shrink back from taking the label “feminist” to myself in part because of the connotations of abortion, I know that these two things do not necessarily go together.

Another “definition” of feminist in my mind is one who looks down on women who stay home with their children. In that, I was refreshed to find that several of the bloggers whom I read are proud feminists as well as proud stay-at-home moms. And while they do not denigrate women who must or choose to work instead of staying home to care for their own children, they say that for themselves, working outside the home would be difficult if not unthinkable — that their children, and taking care of their children, and being there for their children, are of the utmost importance. As I said, it is refreshing, because that is exactly the way I feel.

In thinking of this topic, the memory of the so-called Hegelian dialectic popped into my mind. Basically, you have the status quo or “thesis,” and then comes along the anti-thesis to challenge it, and eventually they come together to form the new synthesis. [Forgive me if that’s a horrible garbling of it, but I’m going on my memory of Sociology 101 from 15 years ago, so it may be a tad rusty.] The earliest wave of feminism was the antithesis of the then-current status quo, which eventually gave rise to a new synthesis (one in which women had the right to hold property and to vote). Then the synthesis (or thesis) was challenged by another wave of feminists, different from the first set, which ultimately resulted in another synthesis. Now, that synthesis is being challenged by a new group of feminists, who find themselves dissatisfied with at least certain aspects of their mothers’ generation of feminists and feminism.

What I would call a feminist is quite different from the dictionary definition. I can agree with many aspects of what is called “feminism,” but must vehemently disagree with other aspects, since I am socially and politically conservative. Where is the feminist zeal for promoting birth choice, as opposed to promoting birth avoidance? Or is abortion the only “choice” allowed? — and if the woman makes the choice to remain pregnant, she loses all other choices in pregnancy and birth? Some liberals/feminists have been vocal about this; but in large part the “pro-choice” people ignore women who have to fight to avoid a C-section. Perhaps because politics makes strange bedfellows, and ACOG is a strong supporter of abortion, so NARAL and NOW and other so-called feminist groups would rather make nice with abortion doctors (who are mostly OB/GYNs) even while women are being trampled. But I guess, just as long as abortion is sacrosanct, that’s all that matters.

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