“Women Power,” “Fearless Women,” “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures,” and of course, “Feminist” – all of these wonderful and empowering words are flying around with March being Women’s History Month.
Ever since we re-launched MeaningfulWomen.com in December, I talk a lot about “the awesomeness of women,” and the term feminism comes up a lot. Like many of my contemporaries, I’ve been reluctant to call myself a “feminist.” However, maybe it’s age, having a daughter, writing for MeaningfulWomen.com and reading more about trailblazing women, I’m beginning to embrace the term feminism. I’m also drawn to this word because I see some danger signs – women’s rights being stripped by the government and a downward spiral with many young girls – and I think we women need to unite more than ever.
From talking to many women about this word, the consensus is that there are two reasons mainstream women in the U.S. today don’t refer to themselves “feminists.”
First, the word “feminist” has become somewhat irrelevant. Legislation dictates we can vote, that we have equal access to education and jobs, and we are protected from harassment in the workplace. We’ve won – at least on paper (statistics tell a bit of a different story, however). Therefore, many believe that there isn’t a need to embrace feminism. Our problems today are different: gas at roughly $4/gallon, 8.3% unemployment and general economic uncertainty, not to mention what to make for dinner.
Secondly, women shy away from calling themselves feminists because there are negative associations with this word. There are connotations of anger, confrontation and righteousness – sometimes even superiority – that many women don’t want to be connected with. On the rare occasion that the word feminism does come up, most of my contemporaries agree reluctantly that they are feminists, but they add context to their answer. For example, a friend recently said, “Well, I’m kind of a feminist, but I’m not angry like my college professor who had me spell “womyn” because she didn’t want any man to be in the word woman.”
I see some women, particularly young ones, going down dangerous paths. The rate of eating disorders has doubled since 1960 – it’s estimated that approximately 15–20% of girls “cut” themselves today and we’ve recently seen this vanity obsession with the “Am I Ugly” phenomenon on YouTube. These insecurities lead to less productivity and depression; it’s estimated that one in five women battles depression in their life.
Therefore, I’m embracing the word feminist. I’m hoping we can form a community of feminists to support each other against media that dumbs us down, against marketing campaigns which lead to mindless consumption and against this wave of pettiness and bullying that leads to self-harm, eating disorders and depression. It’s time for a new frontier of feminists! We need to embrace and channel the trailblazing feminists who came before us and had to get angry. Their passion drove the changes and liberties that we enjoy today.
Let’s celebrate women who fought for suffrage, fought for education and fought for equality in the workplace. Let’s join them and fight against today’s media that tells us what to care about. They tell us to obsess over Kim Kardashian; she’s a “hero” for what she wears and who she dates. Let’s fight against this image of “beauty” as something purely on the outside and teach young women that true beauty is in your heart and mind. Lastly, let’s fight against anything that takes our power away from us. Is it a friend who makes you feel like less than your best, is it a husband’s cruel words? We are strong and need to make a stand for what’s acceptable to us. We need to honor ourselves and other women.
I am a feminist.
Every time I declare this I’m standing with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Gloria Steinem and the millions of women who’ve demanded female equality. My stand is for women to recognize their brilliance, heart and power. We need to do this together. It’s our battle in 2012.
Ellen Padnos lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with her husband, Ben, her children Anthony (5), and Annie (19 months), and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Lola. You can also follow her on Twitter (@ellenpadnos).