My niece is taking a Women's Study class in high school and asked me if I'd answer 7 questions about equality and feminism, and, it seems, 1 question about a favorite movie. I am a huge fan of my niece and have rarely felt so honored as when I received this request. And since this one of my favorite topics, I was pleased to respond with what, for me, are deeply considered opinions.
Sharing the answers here because I have worked - through writing, reading and talking with people about these issues for 25+ years - to hold these views of feminism which are about equal opportunity and individual development, not about being better than men, or being anti-men. I do not believe I need to put others down in order to raise myself up. I believe in balance and fairness, and personal responsibility and empowerment. It's a little uncomfortable for me to say, like, hey look! I think I have some really good ideas here, but... here goes:
1.)What two words would you use to describe an ideal female? 2 words for an ideal male?
I honestly cannot think of any ideal for a man that doesn't also suit a woman. Be strong, be wise, be kind, be brave... and make your life awesome.
2.)What is your favorite movie from your early childhood?
3.)Do you believe there is equality between females and males today?
Equality does exist between some people, in some situations, but certainly not all. The thing to look at is progress. You likely won't be sold into marriage to a stranger for a bag of seeds and a goat... and that's progress! Because women have been, and in plenty of places still are today, treated as property; a thing to possess.
Though women are 50% of the population of humanity, they control just 30% of the money, 20% of the land, 20% of the businesses. 20% of engineering degrees are awarded to women, but they comprise just 13% of that workforce. We have had 0% female presidents. Lawyers and congress are comprised of just 20% women. Last year women accounted for a mere 4% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. In some places, women cannot vote, or drive, or go to school, or have a job they're paid for, or be the one to initiate divorce from their husband, even if he is abusive. We have made progress, because those numbers are improved from, say, 50 or 100 years ago, but we can and must continue to improve. We've got a lot to do. (These stats come from minimal Google research and the latest numbers that appeared reliable. Ymmv, but if they are not exactly correct, I would be surprised if they are very far off the mark.)
That said, I have seen progress in women's rights, achievements, status, and interpersonal treatment over the course of my lifetime. I regularly see men and women treat each other like people first and foremost, while recognizing their sex and/or gender as an attribute, a characteristic... like hair color, race, sexual preference, nationality, or right-handed vs left-handed (Also, not everyone's attributes are binary - traits can exist on a scale, not 100% one way or another. Some people can write with both hands... or not very well with either!) But, those are all just individual parts of our whole selves, and no one thing defines us.
The important thing is that none of those characteristics should limit our beliefs about what we can or cannot do, or should or should not do. To me that's the point of aiming toward equality, to allow each of us to manifest our best selves, our individual gifts. Everyone has something to offer, and if we are limited by constraining ideas, societal expectations, physical threats, unfair systems, laws and policies, or a lack of rights, then we are not reaching our full potential - which is a loss for all. (This applies to men, too. They are boxed in by expectations and societal pressures just as women are, it's just that they've had most of the power for most of the time and that dynamic is not awesome for us women. Nor, in my opinion, is it truly most awesome for them.)
4.)What is your definition of a feminist?
A feminist, in my opinion, is anyone who supports this basic principle that women are people and deserve all of the rights and responsibilities, just like men, in (striving toward) a fair and civil society.
A key second aspect is * recognition and acknowledgement * that women have been oppressed, threatened, assaulted, even killed, denied credit for their ideas, denied equal compensation for their work, and in about a 1000 other ways held back for a very, very long time. And like all forms of oppression and inequality, it needs to be addressed, now, at a systemic level. It is deeply ingrained in cultures all over the world, so it is unlikely to improve unless we actively work toward progress.
5.)How did you learn this definition of a feminist?
I guess it started when I took a Women's Studies class in my first year of college. :) It was eye opening to realize that marginalized people benefit from extra focus like this class you're taking or an annual call to attention, like Black History Month, because we have been relegated to the sidelines in history. (There's a reason feminists sometimes write "history" as "herstory.") When we learn these stories in school and in life that feature men prominently and as the majority of participants, as our HUMAN history, it tells us that women play a very small role, when that is not necessarily the case and should not be the case in the future. Sometimes "the best man for the job," is a person who happens to be a woman.
My feminist education flourished by participating in Riot Grrrl in Olympia, WA in the early 90s. Listening to the stories of women who, like me, have survived sexual assault, helped me realize that it wasn't my fault and wasn't something that was wrong with me. (Though, sadly, it took decades for me to fully integrate those truths.) That movement exposed me to and made me recognize the potent music, literature, film, activism and art that casts being a feminist in a positive and empowering light. Basically, I am in charge of - and responsible for - my life more than anyone else. That's it.
I have always looked to strong women (even fictional ones) as role models. Last year, my mantra was, "What Would Hillary Do?" - not what would she actually do, but what would my ideal of a tough, smart, accomplished, self-aware total boss do? It was a great help, even when she lost the election. She stayed classy and strong.
I also have a great group of amazing female friends. They are super smart, creative, adventurous, active in their communities, self-reliant, industrious, gorgeous and just downright impressive. They are artists, tech workers, healers, CEOs, mothers, educators, political activists, culinary artisans, lawyers, astronomers... Many of them have started and run their own businesses. My friend Nadine kicked cancer's ass, returned to work in the tech industry, and at the same time, with her partner, bought, built, and now runs a huge farm with goats and llamas and loads of fruits, veggies and flowers. She's amazing. And, the best part is that we help each other. We are loving, supportive, forgiving, honest, and keep working towards bettering ourselves and our lives, together.
6.)What one word would you use to describe the ideal or typical feminist?
7.)Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
I consider myself a person and a feminist.
Why? Because I have to... in order to survive, to have hope, and to feel powerful in my own heart and mind.
8.)What’s your opinion of my taking a Women’s Studies class?
I am so happy, and I'm thrilled you get to do this in high school. And again, so honored that you asked me to participate.