Pre-script: This may not be your favorite topic to discuss or read about, but bear with me. I have a point somewhere in here, I promise!
We all know that feminism is looked down upon, so much that many people are intimidated by the mere mention of it, and anyone who is up for the “rights” of women is labeled a feminist. Whether feminism is a good thing or not depends on those who are carving the label on “feminists” and those who are receiving the label.
People have this negative view of feminism, as if it is the idea that women want to take over the world and rid it of men – or that feminists hate men and spread hatred of men all over the world. Perhaps that’s true for some extremist feminists, but it’s certainly not true for most. Some people also think that feminism means letting a woman go half (or all) naked in public and having her abandon her family (husband and kids and parents) for selfish reasons that have to do with her desire to be free. This is what a lot of people are basically indicating when they call you a feminist in an insulting manner. (Note: I don’t think it’s an insult to be called a feminist at all; I see it as an honor, and I’ll explain below.)
Nonetheless, if women have been treated worse than animals throughout history, should we really blame many of them for the negative attitude they hold towards men? I can't.
Feminism is just the notion that women are just as human as men are, or – as other feminists say – it’s the radical notion that women are people. (No, seriously. Believe it or not, but there have been major historical debates over the argument that women are people! You'll be surprised to know how many people (scholars, in fact :P lol) DON'T think women are humans!... but anyway). That's all it is. But many people misunderstand it and due to this sad misunderstanding hold a negative attitude towards those who label themselves feminists, as though it is a sin to be one. This is not true if one really studies the concept of feminism.
My sister interviewed some women, here in the U.S., for a class about their thoughts of women in the 70s, 80s, etc. and their opinions on the basic rights of women. Every single one was all for women's rights (e.g., rights to education, vote, divorce, marry, and so on), but when my sister asked them in the end, "Would you classify yourself as a feminist?" at least 90% said, "Oh God no! Never! I'm certainly not a feminist!"
I thought it was amusing because on the one hand, they say exactly what the feminists say, but on the other hand, they hold a very negative notion of the group. Interesting, no? Maybe it's the label. We don't wanna be associated with a group if it's got an overall really bad reputation.
I say that because I really don’t know what people think feminism is. If you believe that women are just as important as their male counterparts in a society that they run together and that women should not be treated as lesser humans than men are just because they’re not men, then – oh my God! Believe it or not but – you are a feminist! (I hate placing labels on people, especially the label of feminist, so I should make it clear that I'm making only a general statement here and nothing personal at all.) Oh, and I should mention that feminists aren’t just females; there exist many, many male feminists as well.
What’s more, feminists don’t just focus on women all their lives; they focus on humanity. To be a feminist is to recognize and react (or simply respond) to injustice in any society against any individual or any group of people. Thus, feminism acknowledges the oppression and sufferings of all people, not just women’s. I’m a part of this Women’s Group at my university called “Feminists in Action” (FIA)), and I tell you! These feminists have to be the best group of people on earth. Their openness to differences amazes me, their attitude towards those who don’t believe their way (be they anti-feminists!) relieves me, and their knowledge in different fields impresses me. In our last week’s discussion on feminism and women, one of the members said, “You know it’s natural for women to stay at home and cook, clean, take care of her babies and all because she was born that way. And it’s natural for men to be the breadwinners of the family and to be outside the home more often.” Now, to be perfectly honest, I was shocked to hear a member of the FIA say that out loud, but then I remembered that this group is all about listening, understanding, and respecting: they are not the type to attack or abuse anyone just because they disagree with the majority of feminists might say. And you know how everyone responded to her? With such decency that I’ve never seen before! The first person to express disagreement raised her hand (yeah, we raise our hands before we speak, and each of us lets the other speak before we speak ourselves) and said, “It’s interesting that you should say that because I don’t see anything natural about a woman’s ability to cook and clean and being inside the home all the time. I think society has made us see it that way, that the man belongs outside the home and the woman inside...” and she went on to finish her response. A male member raised his hand to express his view, and other members expressed theirs, and so on.
I am totally respected for saying that although I believe every woman should have the right to work if she wants to, even if it calls for her leaving her home, I would prefer to be with my kids all day long because I don’t trust people around me to raise them the way I think they should be raised. (BUT!! If I'm FORCED to be at home and clothe and feed and raise the kids myself while the hubby darling wanders off wherever and for however long he wants and *I* am expected to cook and clean and all, then we're gonna have some problems - BIG problems. In that case, I'll purposely resist in my own ways. Yeah, I expect Hubby Jaan to share domestic responsibilities with me :D I sure as heck am NOT doing all the cooking/cleaning/etc. I know, I know, I pity him more than you do.) But anyway, so yeah, these people are not the type of feminists who will say, “What kind of a feminist are you then?! How can you call yourself a feminist and prefer children to work?!” They understand that every feminist is different and has his/her own preferences.
The reason these people aren’t like that is that they know what feminism really is about: choice. We believe the woman should be allowed to do what she *knows* (or even believes) to be best for her and others around her, and no one has any right to disrespect her for her choice.
In the same group, I’m part of the “’Zine” committee (I found out only a couple of weeks ago that “zine” is like a tiny magazine), and when the other members and I were planning how it’ll be run during the school year, we decided that we’re going to cover a lot of issues, not just the issues that have been and are haunting women. Sure, we’ll feature stories that deal with injustices and discrimination against women, but we’ll also deal with war victims, children, intersex people (those who are born with both male and female reproductive organs; they’re commonly referred to as “hermaphrodites” but since this term has been used in a rather debasing manner for a few centuries, they prefer to be called intersex), physically/mentally disabled folks, and others who are mistreated only because they are either born a certain way or choose a certain lifestyle that society disrespects them for.
As for my view ... well, I think feminism is good for humanity because it acknowledges the sufferings of all people, especially women, and actually does something about it. It doesn’t let people just complain about what’s wrong in society and how much people are suffering and leave it to God to rescue us from our miseries but actually says, “Okay, now that we realize what’s wrong, let’s unite and fight these injustices.” It’s not easy being a feminist. In the U.S. even until a few decades ago, feminists were imprisoned, if not killed, for openly fighting for their basic rights – especially to vote. Feminism is the reason that women in the west can now earn PhD’s, vote (and even run for office), speak freely in the media, and so on. And forced marriages are certainly not heard of anymore because of feminism.
Of course, nothing comes without a price, and – Alas! - feminism doesn’t seem to be an exception to that universal rule! So it’s got its ups and downs, and perhaps it has ruined the west in many ways, but its positive consequences have outweighed its negative consequences.
So I don't think feminism should be feared at all, nor should anyone be intimidated by feminists. They happen to be among the most misunderstood groups of people on earth, and I understand what has brought about that misunderstanding. But I want people to realize that not all feminists are man-haters or wanna dominate men or wanna leave their children behind and be free outside their homes and dress however they want and do whatever they want even if doing so will mean breaking society apart. Believe it or not, but there exist feminists who would very so enthusiastically spend their lives worshiping (not literally) their husbands, ONLY IF the husbands are just that good to them. Why not? It is a relief to feminists to see that there are actual male humans on earth who would respect and appreciate a woman for who she is rather than for what she is expected to be by society.
It should also be noted that, in general, women instead of men are the main reason that the position of women is low in many societies; it is women who abuse and insult each other more than a man ever abuses/insults other women. (I'm not referring to domestic abuse here.) What I mean is that feminists realize that the strongest enemy of feminism is generally the woman, not the man. While society has a large say in how women are treated, women often bring it upon themselves by not standing up for themselves. They're a very powerful breed of people IF only they would let their power come out for once. If only they spoke up for themselves on their behalf and stood up against the abuses (especially physical abuses) against them . . . This goes for every society, including the western.
Anyway, I can go on and on about why things are wrong in every society and what women and men need do - both as individuals and as each other's sisters/brothers - to move towards a healthier, more secure, and friendly-towards-both-men-and-women society.
But let's not get there right now. You know what I find very interesting? ... When Muslims stand against feminism WHILE talking about how Islam has liberated women!! lol. I mean, Islam really IS the only religion that’s over 300 years old and actually gives women quite a few rights: women are free to be educated (in fact, they must be), they can vote, they can reject and accept marriage proposals as they wish (and forced marriages are NOT recognized by Islam, though they’re the norm in many societies with majority Muslim populations), initiate a divorce (though the process is rather difficult, not at all as simple as it is for the man), have custody of her children in case of divorce when the kids are young, and so on. If these aren’t women’s rights, then what ARE they? If this isn’t feminism, then what IS? Just because the word “feminism” didn’t exist until some decades (or centuries?) ago doesn’t mean it’s a new thing. The concept has ALWAYS existed; just the term for it is new.
So I’m interested to hear how you guys define the following terms: feminism/feminists, oppression, and liberation. It'll be interesting to see what you think it means to respect women as well. Perhaps other people's understanding of respecting females is different from mine (it actually is, lol). Yeah.