Ozzily Yours

Thursday, March 27, 2008

It's What You Believe, Not What You Know

Last night, the husband recounted a conversation he had had with a friend who mentioned that she does not consider herself a feminist. Given that she definitely doesn't believe in gender roles, he found that sort of surprising and said as much. She replied that she's not anti-feminist - rather, the reason that she doesn't call herself a feminist is that she hasn't studied the movement and, without that academic knowledge, doesn't really feel she knows what the word means, and therefore doesn't feel qualified to call herself a feminist.

My first response was to tell him about Sarah Bunting's amazing essay "Yes, You Are," and to suggest he forward it to her - it's a wonderful piece that I think perfectly addresses people's concerns about what feminists are supposed to be, look like, or do. That said, while I am nowhere near as eloquent as Sars, I found I had a few more thoughts on the subject.

Feminism does have a history, sure, and it's sort of complicated, but I would argue that knowing that history is not required to be a feminist: it's what you believe, not what you know. After all, you don't have to know details about Jim Crow laws to be a racist, or be able to recite facts about the crusades to be a Christian.

Sure, it might be handy to know some of the history if you're trying to state your case. For example, just three generations ago, women were not legally allowed to own property, and may have been considered property themselves... and today, just outside Chicago, the town of Aurora has been doing its damnedest for months to keep Planned Parenthood from opening an abortion clinic which would also provide much needed information about contraception and general health issues. But those are just facts. They're not beliefs.

Beliefs come from the confusion you felt at age 9 when someone told you girls couldn't be doctors, girls had to be nurses. Beliefs come from the anger that boils up when someone mentions Hillary Clinton's fat ass and you just know no one gives a damn about McCain's ass. Beliefs come from the defensiveness you feel on your brother's behalf when people smirk upon learning he's a stay-at-home dad. Beliefs come from your being told, over and over, that girls should just smooth things over, they shouldn't stir up trouble or raise their voices. Beliefs come from your amazement at the sheer number of rape cases which still address the alleged victim's sexual history, or what she was wearing. Beliefs come from your own shock, even years later, at how badly you allowed your high school boyfriend to mistreat you, because you thought that, as a woman, hanging onto your boyfriend should be among your primary goals. Beliefs come from the fact that you can't bring yourself to be friends with one of your husband's friends because it just makes you want to cry that he has said, flat out, he does not think he could ever work for a female boss.

At least, that's a little bit of where my beliefs came from. And sure, I took several women's studies classes in college - and some of them were great, and some of them sucked, but they're not what made me a feminist. You don't need women's studies classes to be a feminist. You don't need a college degree. You don't even need a high school diploma. You just need to look around you and decide that the jokes, the stereotypes, the behavior that you see just might mean that, despite all the important strides that have been made over the last several decades, there's still more work to be done to attain gender equality. And it's still incredibly important work, too.

It's what you believe, not what you know.


  • Wow, not working for a female boss, some of my best bosses have been women!

    By Anonymous Moth, at 3/28/2008 6:30 AM  

  • I forgot to mention, I was talking with Isabel about something after a Doctor's visit and I asked her if she was going to be a doctor, and already at the age of 3 she said "No, girls can't be doctors!" and I was very quick to correct that. I think part of what forms stereotypes in peoples minds is what they see around them at an early age and the overgeneralization that happens when young. Isabel has a male doctor, so all doctors must be male. I bet if she had a female doctor she would have told me that boys couldn't be a doctor.

    By Anonymous Moth, at 3/28/2008 6:33 AM  

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