Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The return of American feminism

I am what you could call an on-again, off-again feminist. There have been times in my life when I've strongly identified myself as one as well as times when I just didn't think about it that much. Nevertheless, I've always objected strongly to right-wing attempts to demonize the movement. After all, what's feminism? The belief that women are equal to men. That they are entitled to the same rights and opportunities that men are.

Of course, that's the way I've always seen it, but the truth seems to be more complex. There is not simply one version of feminism, but many. There are the radical feminists, the moderate feminists, the libertarian feminists, the eco-feminists, the egalitarian feminists, the womanists...heck, there's probably some newly emerging branch of feminism I don't know about. Just check out Wikipedia's entry and you'll see 'em all listed.

That said, there are plenty of feminists who've mangaged to completely distort what feminism stands for. Yes, I'm talking mainly about the now-outdated Dworkin/MacKinnons, with their toxic view of sex and their willingness to ally themselves with the religious right to get rid of dirty pictures. As it turns out,I edit erotic romance books for a living. Books written by and for women. And I don't believe that porn/erotica is inherently evil. On the other hand, really badly written porn is more laughable than sexy. But that's neither here nor there. The antiporn feminists, along with the goddess worshippers and the recovered memory therapists, are largely relics of the 1980s and 1990s. With the return of liberal populism, the time has come for feminism's reemergence. But this version will have to be very, very different from the feminism of decades past.

Here is Redneck Feminist, libertarian and rock 'n' roll drummer, explaing why "feminist" does not equal "victim."

Just because I realize that sexism still exists (against both women and men) doesn't mean I think life sucks and I'm oppressed. It just means that I recognize it exists. It's a little hard not to notice when a guy walks up to me during a sound check and says, "Are you really the drummer? Really?" Um, no...I'm just the band's eye candy. And they let me tune the drums. Cuz that's hot.

Personally, I think that she should just mention Maureen Tucker, Cindy Blackman, Terry Lynne Carrington, Patty Schemel, Sheila E., or Gina Schock next time a guy acts all surprised that a girl, like, plays drums.

For me, feminism should encourage women's responsibilities along with women's rights. I've discovered a new blog by Erin Solaro, author of a book on women in the military and proponent of what she calls "civic feminism." "Now we’re pretty much equal and it’s time for a feminism for the hard years ahead," Solaro writes. I'm not sure if men and women are entirely equal at this point. In the USA, yes, things are pretty good. But you look at the Senate and how many women are there now? Sixteen. In Sweden's parliament, half the members are women. We still have yet to elect a female president.

But at the same time, women in America aren't sentenced to be gang-raped or subject to genital mutilation. We don't need permission from our fathers, husbands, or brothers to travel. We can drive and go to college. And in my opinion, the Feminist Majority Foundation deserves credit for keeping the plight of Afghan women in the news, years before 9/11. I think it's important to remember this. Feminism can be effective when addressing gender discrimination around the world.

Solaro, meanwhile, is justifiably annoyed at feminists who focus on frivolous issues, proposing a new, relevant version of feminism:

Women have a stake in the United States of America. But America is not immortal, and is currently walking open-eyed into disaster. This new civic feminism, while continuing the fight to remedy past injustice and remove the remaining barriers to equality, now concentrates on preserving this

What the new feminism offers is the belief that civilization is nothing less than that which men and women together add to, create, guard and defend, as public and private equals.

This sounds like a version of feminism worth following and, in time, worth supporting. With disparate feminist voices out there, it's possible that a new feminist movement could emerge from the grass-roots movement along with the new American liberalism.