On Being A Feminist

photo: Frances Dickens
photo: Frances Dickens

I am a big fan of facts. Indeed, one of my favorite hashtags is #FactsMatter. And I can’t stand when conversations about simple, uncomplicated ideas are hijacked by intellectual dishonesty and buried under innuendo and nonsense. So when I recently read that some young men and women didn’t know whether they were feminists, I knew I had to help clear up their confusion. Because it’s a simple yes or no:

Do you think women should have the same social, political, legal, and economic opportunities and rights as men?
Yes: you are a feminist.
No:  you are not a feminist.

It really is not complicated. If some people struggle to choose between yes and no, or want to add qualifiers to their answer? It means that they are still deciding whether or not they are a feminist, not that the term needs to be redefined. And if people want to predicate their “yes” on conditions that they get to choose and impose, it doesn’t mean they actually get to do so, no matter how benevolent or sincere they are. It means they have issues with gender equality that they can’t, or don’t want to, resolve. Feminism is not a booster club; you can’t choose to support gender equality only up to the level where you are comfortable. It is an either/or proposition: You either believe a woman should have the same social, political, legal, and economic opportunities and rights as a man, or you don’t. After all, equality offered with conditions attached isn’t equality at all.

And while American women do have more opportunities today than in the past, no one should mistake that increased opportunity for a guaranteed right to self-determination, for equal rights and equal protections under the law, or for a valid reason to dismiss a conversation about feminism as outdated, out-of-touch, or unnecessary.  Women working full time in the United States are routinely paid just 79 percent of what men are paid, a wage gap of 21 percent – or what I like to call the “owners of breasts and/or uterus income penalty.” Additional proof that gender inequality is alive and well in America is only a Google search away. First, Google “countries that have had a female leader.” Note that while England, Germany, Jamaica, India, Philippines, Indonesia, Croatia, Chile, Senegal, The Central African Republic, Guyana, Panama, and Serbia are among the many on the list, the United States is not. Now Google “the ratio of men to women in the United States and Congress” and note that barely 20% of our elected representatives are female, despite women accounting for over half the US population.

photo: Mic/Getty Images
photo: Mic/Getty Images

Then ponder why it is still deemed acceptable in the US, and even defended as reasonable, for educational institutions to enact and enforce dress codes disproportionately aimed at female students. Or why schools don’t put the same energy and effort into educating boys on the importance of not being distracted by fellow students and of not objectifying the female body, as they do policing the bra straps, clavicles, and thighs of girls.  Seriously. Repeat after me: Boys and men are capable of self-control and are responsible for the consequences of their actions. Girls are not just a distraction that, if not controlled, will cause boys and men to lose focus, fail at tasks, and commit rape.

So just to be clear: If you think women deserve the same opportunities and rights as men, you are a feminist. If you don’t think so, then you are not. Conditional support of gender equality is not an option, no matter how many, or how loud, the arguments to make it so. While you can always change your position on gender equality, you can not completely redefine the concept or carve out exceptions to it in order to avoid your discomfort with the conversation or the implications of your response. And if you are going to debate whether human beings deserve equal rights and protections under the law based solely on their gender – essentially, equality apportioned by the sexual organs a person now owns or did own at birth – then at least do so honestly.  Reject the misplaced shame, intellectual dishonesty, and over-the-top hyperbolical nonsense – really Rush, a Femi-Nazi? – and just decide. Or gather the facts that you need first and then do so. Because the women in your lives – whether friend, wife, partner, sister, mother, daughter, aunt, cousin, employee, student, viewer, listener, and/or yourself  – deserve to know.

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