What the Feminist Movement Needs

Cross posted on genfem.com

When I had dinner with my brother last week he asked me what battles were left for feminists to fight. To him, to most people, the very term “feminism” sounds outdated. Like “civil rights” it doesn’t get much airtime outside of the 1970’s chapter of American History textbooks.

I gave him a summary: abortion, unequal wages, sexual assault law, caretaker rights. I told him he’d be surprised how far we haven’t come. But his question is something I’ve been thinking about for awhile.

Most people, even educated liberals (my brother went to an ivy league college and he went to law school) don’t understand why the feminist movement is relevant anymore, and those in the movement haven’t provided clear answers. 

At the Reproductive Rights in Health Reform rally in New York on Friday, a recent college grad confessed that she didn’t really know why we were gathered there, but she knew that something bad for feminists was going on and she wanted to be involved.

I asked her if she knew what Stupak-Pitts was. She didn’t. I asked her if she knew about abortion issues in the health care bill. She had heard something about it, but not much. The handouts that were circulating assumed a basic knowledge that many people don’t have.

What the feminist movement needs, what people who aren’t in the movement need, is a simple, clear explanation of what the issues are and why they matter. I have yet to see any of the major feminist organizations, the newer groups and online magazines, or even this blog, provide it.

Michelle Haimoff is a writer, blogger and activist. Her writing has appeared in PsychologyToday.com, The Huffington Post and The Los Angeles Times. She is a founding member of NOW’s Young Feminist Task Force and blogs about First World Feminism at genfem.com.

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  • evanf

    I agree completely. Not everyone has the time to research the many issues that plague the feminist movement, and unless people begin stating, and in a clear and concise fashion, exactly what it is we are seeking through feminism and why it is necessary, gaining support will always be difficult.

  • rebekah

    I think its time for a new feminist manifesto. I think its time that we as feminists decide together what we truly believe is at the heart of our fight, because I think that everything can be covered in a few different core topics, and get it done. To jessica if you read this, you are the published one, would you do a book with those criteria? Would it even be possible to get something like that published?

  • dj_sex_ed

    Jessica already published Full Frontal Feminism, which is basically the “this is why you ARE a feminist” book.
    Even so, I don’t think a book is the answer to this problem. If everyone here is arguing for a snappy, concise summation then a book isn’t cutting it. What we might need is something that will fit on a banner ad…

  • Diana

    Unfortunantly I have been looked down upon for being a feminist. People think we have equal rights but we don’t. Hell once you get married and put your husband on a bank account you manage suddenly everything gets sent to him even though it’s still in your name?
    Once we had a problem with our security system in the house and the person on the other line (a woman even) told my mother she needed to talk to my father. Ummm my mother set up the account.
    It’s even simple things like this we are still fighting. I’m only 18 and have been told that I can’t be President someday (even if I wanted to) just because I am a female. Therefore I get my period and “may make decisions that are bad because of my hormones during that week.” WTF?
    I have also heard a guy (more than once) say “I believe women should have equal rights. But be CEOs? They have children.” On this site I don’t need to go into how wrong that statement is. Thank God.

  • fe.MOM.hist

    I think the problem is that defining feminist issues is not as easy a task as it appears. Philosophically, debates such as equality v difference, identity as a construction v an innate characteristic as well as overlaps with other political theories, such as socialism, anarchism, etc make a coherent focus almost impossible. While considering what feminism means to you, what your bottom line issues are, rather than seeking a prescriptive view on “the issues” is less satisfying and definitely less politically expedient, it is “truer” to the ideas behind feminism

  • Lilith Luffles

    There are plenty of reasons for feminism to still exist, people just don’t want to accept or believe the answers that they are given. You can explain really easy reasons for why feminism matters, and still people refuse to believe it does. That’s the obstacle we face, not the fact that we don’t offer any reasons.
    I can’t walk alone at night without fear of being raped or cat-called. I can’t get angry without someone telling me to calm down. When my family wants help with a computer problem that I have fixed before, they ask my boyfriend and give him credit when I fix it anyway. People assume I can’t defend myself and my parents don’t think I should learn. Health insurance costs more for me than it does for men. Strangers call me honey and put their hand on my shoulder. I’m expected to take my boyfriend’s name when we get married. People tell me to smile all the time because I’m a lady. Men sit with their legs wide open and think i should close mine even though I am wearing pants. Lawmakers are trying to limit my access to abortion. The biggest health concern people have over me is if I get breast cancer and have to lose my boobs as opposed to heart disease, the most likely illness to kill me. People look at the closest man to me if I am with one to reply to something I said if the topic is something not typically feminine. If I choose to have a career and a child, I’m likely to be judged for not staying at home and waiting on their hand and foot. These are issues most men rarely face, if they ever face them at all. These are also only my issues as a skinny, white, middle class college student. There are many more issues that all different types of women face that I will not have to most likely.
    The problem is not that I have no reason to care about these issues, I actually believe that women wanting these things to change is enough reason for people to think they should change. Unfortunately, people do not care about these and find it easier to ignore them, and so they do. It is that there is no clear-cut reason for feminism, it is that people don’t care about the reasons for feminism.

  • Comrade Kevin

    The idea of seeing a complete picture of the challenges makes it difficult to state in exceptionally precise language what Feminism’s aims, goals, and mission statement is. In truth, I’ve always found the word itself insufficient since it implies that there would be some easily identifiable agenda. When we contemplate just how interrelated and interlocking is all oppression and how it can’t just be pigeonholed on the basis of “race”, “class”, “sexual orientation”, or even “gender”, then one understands the challenge.
    It seems to me that the challenges of this day are closely linked to those of others and I think that they always were, but we came to believe that everything was as simple as advertised. Broad questions of injustice have many root causes which is why they’re still with us.

  • Lisa

    I think one of the most difficult parts of defining modern feminism is that it’s no longer centered around big legal issues. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of legal battles to be fought, but much of the feminist fight has shifted to changing culturally ingrained sexism. And that’s why it’s so hard to get a clear picture of what we’re fighting for, because we are subject to socialization from day one. We don’t have the benefit of peering in from the outside as an objective viewer. Women face endless injustices, not from laws but from how society says we are valued and how we should act. Millennia of a being systematically disadvantaged in nearly every society is not going to be undone with a few decades or even a century of legal rights.

  • GalFawkes

    “Men sit with their legs wide open and think i should close mine even though I am wearing pants.”
    I haven’t spent long at all thinking about that, but doggone, you’re right! That DOES bug me!

  • fireeater

    Let the men worry about the men.
    Women, be pro-woman and pro-daughter. Raise your daughters to value something besides their boobs and their faces and their hair. Don’t reproduce with men who are sexist. Don’t ‘yoke’ yourself to them.
    I don’t have time to educate all men. If they’re being sexist I walk away. When they ask why I’m leaving, I simply tell them,”Life’s too short to listen to a sexist idiot. And I’m not looking for a fixer-upper.”.
    Men are without excuse and have been for several decades. They can no longer play the ‘ignorance’ care..”Wull, golly gee…you mean I’m being sexist by doing x, y, and z?”. They know what it is and they maintain it because they feel it works to their advantage and the payoffs are greater than the risks. They can always count on a certain percetange of females with daddy or general self-esteem issues to shake their butts for money, to marry them, and to reproduce with.
    The only way out for women is to stop giving a damn what men think and turning the objectification card around. When women stop deferring to every man they meet in every social situation, when they stop turning into weak-kneed little girls when the handsome prince strolls by, when they stop being catty and jealous of other women….they’ll be able to focus on not wondering if someone else is going to treat them as equals or not. They’ll treat themselves knowing they ARE and not accept any less from anyone else ( no matter how hot he is ). Period.
    BTW, I had an older lawyer ( woman ) I know told me she was idealistic in college and then ‘grew up’. Uh huh. Essentially she was saying, I think,”I sold out.”. This is true of many of the speudo-feminists of the 60’s and 70’s. They start out idealistic but inside themselves they still secretly wanted the whole fairy tale. Feminism was a fad. It’s not totally the impact of sexists out to destroy ( though they’re certainly part of it ), it’s when we’re undermined in our own group by sellout sisters.
    What was leftover was unappealing to many heterosexual women. It’s not just a cliche or mean stereotype that feminists were ‘bulldogs’ ;) with really extreme tendencies. IOW, since the 70’s the problem has been the lack of UNIFICATION and this cannot be had so long as homosexual, or bi women are yelling at hetereo women that they are ‘sleeping with the enemy’ and that hetereo women tell gay women to ‘tone it down’ or ‘fem it up in public’. To beat people at their own game you have to get in it to win it. Equalism will not be had with compromise. Not ever.

  • fireeater

    Your mothers teach you things to, no matter how it is stated, to gain the approval of men.
    Men need to start learning, in any way necessary, we do not give a damn about their approval so much as we do our own. That means 1) meaning it and 2) living it.
    I’d recommend the next time you passively allow your boyfriend to take credit for your computer work, you don’t let there be a next time. Simply state,”I’m sorry you’re confused. But it wasn’t boyfriend who fixed your problem, it was me. Now you’ll know who to come to next time.” and drop it.
    The next time someone, who knows you or is a stranger, speaks to you in a condescending or patronizing tone of voice, answer back with a cursory glance in their direction and back to what you were doing while saying,”I’m sorry, whomever you’re speaking to obviously isn’t listening.” and do not re-address them until that tone changes. Reward positive behavior towards you, ignore negative ( as much as reasonable, of course. We’re human and as such, have limits ;) ).
    You are trained to sit with your legs closed for the following reasons:
    1) the church has always found your genitals repulsive and in need of hiding ( fig leaf anyone? )
    2) opening your legs instantly demonstrates your sexual power and desire – two things men are desperately afraid of
    3) if you open your legs to a room with more than one man, then you can’t be owned by just one of them…which is why mommy said to keep them closed. Has nothing to do with wether you get pregnant or not. Mommy knows no man will marry you unless you are going to be his property alone.
    Pardon certain facetitious tones, but there’s only so much space to reply.
    It is no longer a matter of men ‘getting it’ or not. It’s like saying that no one’s ever heard of Jesus in America with hundreds of years of Bible thumping going on and televised envangelism. It’s christ saturated!! The same with men. They know damn well and do not let them try to con you with any other different excuse. It’s bullshit. Call them on it and move on.
    Listen…men reward those who respond positively to them or support their particular agendas. Women could learn a GREAT deal from this simple principle. Will it make them uncomftorable? Yep. But you know how men tend to get hysterical about everything ROFL!!