My son’s baseball coach likes to tell the team, when they lose, that they “played like girls.” My son doesn’t even know what that means. I’m the one he grew up playing baseball with, throwing the football with him, and taking him to games. I’m the one he can talk stats with. I know all the players’ names and their positions, and I don’t cheer for teams just because I like their uniforms (Although I must say that the Cleveland Browns’ colors need to go).
Which brings me to an important question: As a single mother raising two boys in the twenty-first century, how do I explain feminism to them? It’s sort of an outdated word these days, and the concept has certainly changed since its heyday in the 1970s. Feminism today encompasses more than battles over birth control and abortion (Although these battles still do exist). Women make up 52% of college students and a significant number of the workforce, yet our pay is still lower (by about 80 cents to a man’s dollar). Women still bear the brunt of most household chores; and we still do not have daycare in the workplace.
When I engaged a woman on Facebook about the concept of feminism, she was quick to label me a man-hater because I advocated for equal rights. There was also some charge of wearing “comfortable shoes” lobbed at me, as she babbled incoherently about the cute stilettos she buys, with her husband’s money, in order for him to take out the trash. The implication was that since I called myself a feminist, I was a butchy, ugly woman, who hates men and wants to tear down all distinctions between the sexes.
We saw these same arguments being used during the ERA debates. Anti-feminist voices like Phyllis Schlafly, excelled in frightening women with dark scenarios of equality like unisex bathrooms and women forced to look and act like men. The epithets stuck. The ERA was famously defeated, and Reagan ushered in an era of uberfeminine women, reveling in their evangelism and their dutiful subservience to their husbands.
I don’t even think women today know what being a feminist really means; it means nothing more than wanting to be treated like a human being. If women would take a moment to study the not-too-distant past, they would see how far we have come. Not too long ago, we were expected to forego college, and to throw ourselves, heels first, into a life of service to our husbands and children, the middle-class American Dream. We could not apply for our own credit cards, but had to have our husbands procure them for us. There were no laws to protect us from sexual harassment, and very weak ones to protect us from domestic violence and rape.
Feminism changed all that; it brought women’s issues to the forefront of the national debate, proclaiming that women could be independent and intelligent and, yes, still sexy. But all women saw in the media were the bra-burners and the lesbian activists and the radical voices screaming that pregnancy is a deplorable, parasitic condition that we must overcome. This is not feminism. This is radicalism. Just as we do not judge a movement solely on its most insane expressions, we should be careful not to base our opinions about feminism on these myopic illustrations, for they do not represent what this movement is really about.
I will do my part to resurrect the movement, to convince American women that supporting feminism is indeed in their best interests; but I will not be drawn into silly debates about my shoes or whether or not I wear makeup every time I leave the house. There are differences between the sexes. Real feminists do not deny that. We simply believe that those differences should not condemn us to a life of subservience, a life not of our choosing.