What is a feminist?

Tired of arguing what it meant to be a feminist, I decided to find out just what a feminist is . . .to me it used to be burning my bra, taking birth control pills, free love and taking a stand for equality for women.  Life was a lot simpler in 1969 when all I had to worry about was free choice, equality and misogynistic pigs.  Younger women look at me and ask, “There are all kinds of feminists, what kind are you?”

What kind?  It made me think about what feminism means now and what it meant in the past.  I knew what some of the ideals of feminism were but had to do research to sort through.  I also wanted to answer the question; is the women’s movement dead? Old feminists who run non-profit organizations and women involved in action committees often lament, “We need to mobilize, the women’s movement is dead.” 

 So, what is feminism and is the women’s movement dead? 

Liberal feminism is a philosophy based on the principal of individual liberty.  Liberal feminists believe that inequality of women stems from the denial of equal rights and from a learned reluctance to demand equality.  As suggested by the term liberal, these feminists believe that equality is gained through social and legal reform.  I don’t think I am a liberal feminist.  I agree in part but can’t commit.

            In the seventies I thought I was part of the radical feminist movement.  I certainly was radical but I have never completely believed that women’s oppression is the worst form of human oppression.  Although I embraced women controlling sexuality by way of birth control and abortion when I was twenty, I no longer see things that way.   I know I will create a lot of argument by saying this, but the so-called sexual revolution destroyed a lot of women.  In an attempt to be in control, many women ended up being promiscuous, having abortions they didn’t want and instead of being a strong woman, lost self-esteem and clarity.  The major goal of radical feminism was to eliminate violence against women by men.  A worthy goal but we didn’t succeed.  I am no longer a radical feminist.

            The roots of socialist feminism were planted in the 19th century but still are at the core of all feminist belief today . . . women’s work is underpaid.  It is a lot more complicated than that and led to Marxist feminism which sought the dissolution of women’s economic dependence from men.  Both valid and good points but limited in scope to what I think a feminist is.

            In the seventies lesbian feminist called for the complete upheaval of the sexist patriarchal system.  That didn’t work in the mainstream but spawned many womyn-only events.  Lesbians were labeled racist and exclusionary and today the lesbian feminist movement is but a shadow of what it was.

            I had never heard of standpoint or anti-racist feminists but apparently they arose out of the fear that mainstream feminism was too focused on white, middle-class women.  This type of feminism looks at the needs of women as individuals by trying to understand the context in which certain groups of women live.

            When I got older I considered myself a not-so-radical feminist.  Now that I am old and wise, I appear to be a post-modern feminist. Post-modern feminism seeks social harmony rather than gender equality. The ideal is equal rights among genders, no blaming and placing less emphasis on the physical differences between men and women. Departing from other feminist beliefs, post-modern feminism places the responsibility for the actions of the movement on the individual rather than the government.

            There is a lot of argument over this wave of feminism saying it is too kind and gentle to make any change.  I would point out here that the histrionics of the past have not stopped the highways from being littered with murdered women.  Taking responsibility for our own actions and the choices we make makes more sense to me then finger pointing and blaming. Men are as frightened in today’s world as we are.  Men are as addicted and abused as we are.  We live in a diseased society.

            Naomi Wolfe is considered to be one of America’s foremost feminist thinkers and while she has come under attack for having visions of Jesus she says quite simply, “I believe each of us is here to repair the world.  She calls the feminist movement fractured and is aware that people are waiting for the Jewish girl to cross-over.  Feminist critics accuse that there is no room within feminism for spiritualism. Just a thought, but maybe that is why the movement is fractured.

            The women’s movement was strong in the sixties and seventies and brought with it positive change but it seems that now the women’s movement has turned on itself. There are women’s groups that war with one another; definitions have become more important than truth, and women do not support one another.  Is the underlying discord about non-profits chasing government funding dollars?

            The women’s movement was an amazing force and should not be written off because of the internal weakness now.  Maybe the focus is on individuals and our ability to make change one person at a time; stand for what we believe in and not be swayed by political funding.  Too many sisters have been bought off by political patriarchal sugar-daddies who write the cheques.  I refuse to say, “in solidarity’ anymore.  It has lost its meaning unless you belong to a union.

            I know this view will make me unpopular but I am unpopular anyway.  I don’t conform to the standards set by the women’s groups with the money.  I’m not angry at men or governments, just tired.  Tired that women and children are still being killed and recognizing that the disease runs deeper then violent men acting out rage against women and children.  It is time for us all of us to stand on our own to heal and love and care.  Reach out and help another woman who is struggling, take a moment to mentor a child, stand up against the bullshit and the rhetoric.  Women are dying; ravaged by beatings, burnings and brutality. 

            The women’s movement is dead because the strong thinking women who fueled the fire quit fire-walking and are now only poking the fire with sticks.

About Gwynne Hunt gwynne1@telus.net

I am a writer, activist, producer, director and creative performance artist. My new book Through My Lens is based on newspaper clippings going back to 1928; the stories in-between the clippings are about my mom Gunvor Berglund, my step-dad Ronald Robinson and my DNA father Harold Larsen. How did they come together to make me? Some of the research was shocking, some funny but it left me to define the parts of the story I did not know. a tribute to my three parents. My last book, Unlocking the Tin box is about my journey into trying to find our who I was, who my father was; a complicated con man and a carny. But he was more than that and the journey took me as far as doing DNA tests, digging through his old tin box and an examination of my own life. Published by Silver Bow Publishing, available from the Publisher, Amazon and the Author. Fifteen years ago, the book ‘Rampage; the pathology of an epidemic’ written by me was released at the International Celebration of Women in Abbotsford. The book is my personal journey over six years working on the book and the Memory March (a walk/vigil honouring over 4,000 missing and murdered women and children in Canada). It includes interviews with grassroots' workers she met. There are a lot of individual, concerned people who work to end violence against women. One of those women is Mary Billy, a writer and activist in Squamish. There are interviews, case stories and conversations with family member’s who have lost loved ones. The book is not about how we are going to end the violence but an examination of the problems, concerns and stereotypical thinking that keeps us trapped in a cycle of violence. Included are the names of 4,000 missing and murdered women and children that have been compiled for The List. Other books include bruises & bad haircuts (poetry) and Bob & Boo. (illustrated by my grandkids)
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