I have considered myself to be a feminist ever since I was about 6 years old. It probably has something to do with having three brothers and no sisters. The shape and form of it has changed over the years as I have grown (as well as the intensity of my ‘belief’ in it, for lack of a better term), but if asked if I consider myself to be a feminist, I will always have said “yes”.
More recently, mostly thanks to people I know from twitter, I have been giving a lot more thought to what type of feminist I am. Apparently there are a lot of different types, with distinct characteristics and aims. I did not know this until the denizens of the twittersphere educated me. I’m a physicist, so my education was focused on waves of sound and light, not waves of feminism.
Yesterday, keen to educate myself further on the topic of feminism (so I no longer have to either smile blandly or reveal my ignorance when a colleague mentions that roller derby has a third-wave feminist component), I headed to wikipedia. I probably shouldn’t have done that, because my reaction to some of the articles was much like what I imagine the reaction of the non-mathematically inclined is to something like Stokes’ Law.
Despite my enthusiasm for learning about feminism, I have no idea where I sit on the spectrum of all things feminist. I’m a little embarrassed by this, because I consider feminism to be quite important to me. I don’t quite have the vocabulary to express my feelings as well as many others do, but I am going to have a go anyway.
My personal feminism has strong components of choice and freedom. Women should not attain different levels of respect depending on whether or not they have kids, or whether or not they have a career. There shouldn’t be rules such as you must/mustn’t wear makeup. Women should be able to embrace their inner sex kitten, but shouldn’t feel compelled to do so. There’s a whole bunch of other rules out there, but I always have trouble keeping track of them, so I’m just going to say this: women should feel free to be themselves.
My feminism also includes men. Men should have the same choices available that I think women should (one that springs to mind here is the choice to stay at home with children, and the choice to not have a high-powered career if that doesn’t appeal). Men should be allowed to be feminists if that’s how they feel.
My feminism also involves acknowledging that things are not yet equal. A while ago I read a book called “The Hidden Brain” by Shankar Vedantam. It includes a chapter called “The Invisible Current” which uses the analogy of swimming with or against the current to describe how many people experience sexism. From the book:
Most of us – men and women – will never consciously experience the undercurrent of sexism that runs through our world. Those who travel with the current will always feel they are good swimmers; those who swim against the current may never realize they are better swimmers than they imagine. We may have out suspicions, but we cannot know for sure, because most men will never experience life as a women and most women will never know what it is like to be a man.
I’ve previously written about some of my experiences with overt sexism, but sexism isn’t always so easy to identify. People may not realise they are being sexist, and it can be very hard to define. Yet for all the hidden sexism, there are some concrete measures – such as the inequality in pay, and differences in numbers of men and women in leadership positions (video).
For sure, I’m the beneficiary of the battles of generations before me, but I don’t think the battle is over yet. As I get even older, I am sure my experiences will shape my feelings on feminism even further. I’m also sure there’s plenty of stuff I missed (I consider myself to be on feminist ‘L’ plates), but since I am keen to learn, feel free to educate me (politely) either here or on twitter.
A final note: In all this, I’m aware of problems with the gender binary. I’m also aware that there are a multitude of forms of discrimination other than sex discrimination, and that these can affect the ways people experience sexism too. However, since I can barely find the words to write about what feminism feels to me, I’m trying to keep things as simple as I can.