I was recently asked how I defined feminism, and, like a robot, I regurgitated the tried and test "equal rights for men and women." That's a scant response at best. Feminism is about so much more than equal rights. Here's how (written off the cuff, so no linked studies or articles, and a bit of jargon here and there, but, its Friday!):
1. Feminism is also about equal value
Its difficult to have equality if we still believe that men are just, somehow, 'better.' If, somehow, we think they're more truthful, more reliable, better as leaders, as decision-makers, at making money, at being powerful, at saying stuff on stages, at being smart, at just... everything? Equal rights are one thing, but if we still kill the girl babies because their value brings nothing to a family, if we still believe men over women about sexual violence and rape, or we still choose John over Amina because he just 'looks more like a leader', we're not going to be able to realize any of those equal rights any time soon. This comes down to value propositions: value is the foundation on which the house of equality is built. Without equal value between girls and boys, men and women, there's not much else to hope for. Equal value then translates into girls attending school in the same number as boys, and having the same opportunities afterward. It translates into maternity leave. It translates to equal pay. It translates to reduction in sexual violence, street harassment, rape. It translates to women as leaders, decision-makers and influencers in a normalized fashion. When women and men, boys and girls have the same value, dehumanizing, disrespectful, degrading and discriminatory practices make no sense.
2. It has interesectionality at its core
If someone is white, gay, a teacher, from Spain and likes to play soccer, those are all different identify groups that intersect in one human being. Some of those identities give this person benefits/privileges, others may lead the person to receive unequal treatment or access to services or power, suffer disrespect or indignities. Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that various social identities intersect or overlap and contribute to the oppression or discrimination that a particular person experiences. Feminism has a pretty crappy track record of understanding this: 1960s American feminists were all about their whiteness, often leaving every other woman behind. Not only did white feminists believe that black women had less value but also that their compounding racial oppression was not a feminist issue. Its 2018 now, and feminism is woke af and has learned from and made actionable reparations for her mistakes. You can't be a racist and be feminist. You can't be anti-semitic, homophobic, transphobic, basically you can't be an asshole or wield power in a discriminatory manner and be feminist. (You also should be very aware of the power you hold, and not steal the spotlight because of your whiteness, or your power. Give space. Use your privilege to make space for others. Raise other people's voices who aren't as loud as yours. Give them the megaphone. Don't think you have all the solutions, just because you have a degree. Ask women for their ideas and their solutions. They may not have the means you do, but they probably know what needs to be done.) This brings us nicely to Point 3, shining together.
3. Shine on, my sister!
If you don't shine, I don't shine. Men have loved to believe that women should fight among themselves for the spoils of getting the guy. That message has been reinforced through movies, songs, and historical context which really did mean, and still does in many places, including the American Midwest, that men continue to hold the center of power and access to resources and opportunities, so if women are 'back stabbing and gold diggers' its truly because they have no power themselves. This has been reinforce when women were allowed into the workplace, because it was made quite clear that there was a one-woman only slot in the boardroom, so naturally women fought over that one spot - to the benefit of everyone else in the room. To this social and economic system of competition, feminism says: f off. I'm going to hold the door open for you my sister, because if you're not succeeding, neither am I. The strongest bonds and friendships I've ever known or seen are between women. And times, they are a changing. Divorce rates are skyrocketing (why is this always decried as a bad thing? It would seem to me that the rising number of women initiating the divorce is a sign of shifts of power, where women have the means and are empowered to leave what used to be the power source: the man), women are choosing to get married later because now they've got degrees and jobs, and they're far more picky in choosing their mate, basic standards of decency, anti-discrimination policies and positive impacts on the bottom line also mean there are more spaces availed to women in the top ranks of companies. This gives space for women to see other women, and to see the lack of other women in all spheres of life, and especially in decision-making roles. And so women come together, help each other, lift each other up. There's nothing more beautiful than watching women come together, surmounting history and odds. Female friendship and support is possibly the best thing in the world.
4. It flattens hierarchies and destroys power imbalances
This one is tricky tricky because, capitalism. Capitalism thrives off hierarchies. If there are no poor people or no underdeveloped nations or no institutional racism, then there is no cheap or slave labour. Since inception, capitalist, read industrial, 'revolutions', have been on the backs of slave/cheap/child labour. "But look where are now," some Matt or John will cry out gleefully. First, slow your roll. 'We' is basically a tiny minutiae have everything and the rest of us having a little more than we did. And if you're going to talk about the middle class, I'll remind you that 2008 wiped that funny term out, and the recovery has been about that tiny minutiae again and a new economy with little job security, tons of temp work and a policy mandated breakdown of unions. Not exactly a recovery, John.