Feminism can be defined many different things to many different people. Its been called a man hating doctrine, the ideas of lesbians, and many other things. While taking the Introduction to Women’s Studies course, students were introduced to the many different definitions of feminism. This makes it difficult to come up with one single definition. However, through examining readings and class discussions, it is possible to develop a broad, overarching theme for feminism.
The first wave of feminists fought to ensure the voting rights of women. In the beginning, they did not consider race as an issue; the women that were the faces of the movement were middle-class, white women. In the movie Iron Jawed Angels, there is a scene where the women are discussing their march on the day that the president of the United States arrives. During their conversation a black woman enters and asks when they want her women to meet them for the march. She is told that they are to march in the very back, away from the white women. Today, this seems to defy the very things that feminists stand for, however, back then the white women only wanted to be equal to their white male counterparts.
The book, The F Word, gives a good overview of the second wave of feminism. This took place in the 60s, 70s, and 80s when women wanted more equality in the workforce, more access to sex education and birth control, and in general, to be more independent from their husbands. While there was still a lingering sentiment that felt that black women should work with black men on civil rights instead of feminist rights, this movement was more accepting of having black women involved and even embraced them. This way of embracing and broadening the mission of the feminist movement have made it easier for the third wave generation to bring about more change. The third wave is sometimes considered part of the second wave in that it is still pushing for equality in the workplace and reproductive rights. It also has a focus on sexual harassment and the rights of single mothers.
At the beginning of the semester, the first chapter in the book Feminism is for Everybody was assigned as well as discussing the class’s thoughts on what is said. The author gives her definition of feminism in the very first line: “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexual exploitation, and oppression (Bellhooks, 1).” She goes on to discuss the many different reasons that women are exploited: age, race, religion, etc. For this generation to see the end of sexual discrimination would be an amazing feat. Feminism is trying to promote sexual equality, but many wonder what that means exactly. The class decided that while this is a good beginning, it is not what they wanted to use as the complete definition.
One of the biggest issues discussed was that of reproductive rights. Many people brought their religious beliefs into the discussion, which while it is their right to believe the way they do, most felt that those beliefs should not forced upon others. It was a very good debate about whether women should be able to what they wish with their bodies (as long as it is within the range of what is legal). Bellhooks included a chapter about the argument of abortion and birth control that discusses the platforms for and against the idea. The said debate has made safe abortions expensive and hard for women of meager status to obtain. This has put the safety of women in jeopardy. Is feminism for abortions or just for the right for a woman to choose for herself and her body? It seems that a feminist can be for or against abortion as long as they appreciate that others have a different opinion on the matter.
For those who choose to have children, Opting Out by Lisa Belkin discusses the decisions of women who went to college but decided to have children instead of or before starting a career. It goes along with the third wave of feminism in that the women want the choice, however, they want to be treated like men who have children who are not penalized for becoming parents. They want to be able to have the job and the family. Unfortunately it is difficult for employers to hire women who they know will be missing work to take care of sick children and the like. This is something today’s feminists are up in arms about. They feel it is a type of oppression of women in the workplace and are working to have mothers treated better than they are. Another topic that is similar is that of gender roles. Feminists do not accept being placed into traditional gender roles. They want to be able to be themselves.
Today feminism covers many different areas. After looking at these different ideas, a good definition of what feminism would be this: feminism is the movement to ensure the racial and sexual equality of men and women every aspect of life. A person should be given the right to education his/her self in sex and birth control, as well as in a chosen trade. For each person to have equal rights in the workplace and in their public and private lives.
These ideals are ones that this author tries to ensure for herself and others. She has grown up in a household where each member of the family takes on every chore and helps each other as much as possible. She has never dated boys/men that try to keep her restrained to the ancient female roles. She will continue to push for and possibly become a lobbyist for the equal rights of all.
F Word (chapter 2) by Kristin Rowe
Feminism is for Everybody (chapters 1 and 5) by Bell hooks
Opt Out by Lisa Belkin
Movie: Iron Jawed Angels