Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Not a Wave, but a Million Ripples

Or What I Originally Wanted to Title ‘Suck it, Gloria Steinem’ 

[I wrote the following a few weeks ago. I didn’t publish it because I wrote it from a place of bitterness. But it’s the beginning of Women’s History Month, as well as Super Tuesday election day, so I figured it was apropos.] 

Despite my concerted efforts to stay politically aware while avoiding daily election drama, one particular piece captured my attention. Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright support Hillary Clinton. (Ok, sure.) And they think all women should support her (again, ok) on account of being women (not so ok anymore). Isn’t that the very definition of sexism, generalizing an entire group based on sex? Shouldn’t people support or oppose Clinton on her political stances and service record? There are plenty of legitimate, political reasons to support Clinton. Voting for her because she’s a woman is as sexist as not voting for her because she’s a woman. This all-girls call isn’t new; in 2008, I had a male professor tell me that I should be supporting Clinton, because she’s a woman too. Not because of her political views, not even because her political views would help women, but on the fact that she and I share the same number of X chromosomes. If Albright is right that “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help women,” then I should expect her to help Carly Fiorina as much as Hillary Clinton. Unless she just said that to coerce women to do as she wants. Steinem said that young women who support Sanders instead of Clinton are only doing so because “that’s where the boys are.” How flippant and sexist is that? 

Just maybe millennial women see feminism differently than an octogenarian second-waver. Our mothers have always worked. Murphy Brown was their revolutionary, not ours. We had Agent Scully and Ms. Frizzle. Hell, we had Buffy. We grew up in a world of female doctors and astronauts and Secretaries of State (yep, including you, Albright). While there is still old-school sexism (lack of female CEOs, wage gaps, Gamergate, etc.), our starting point is lightyears away from Steinem’s. We don’t want a president that looks like us; we want a president that thinks like us. The Cold War was over before kindergarten started; the 1990s are in our history books. Elizabeth Warren is more of a role model to me than Margaret Thatcher. In fact, why should an ultra-conservative PM from a foreign land be a role model to me at all? On the lone fact she’s a woman? Gender is pretty low on my list of impressive, ambitious qualities. 

Like our entertainment and ads and apps, we millennials expect everything to be custom-built and individualized to our tastes. There is no singular feminist movement. There are women fighting for equality and representation in dozen of issues on dozens of fronts. Various women experience life, including injustice, completely differently from one another. Socio-economic, racial, religious, geographical indicators seem just as, if not more, important than sex. That’s a victory for the old feminists. So don’t expect millennial women to fight battles we think have been won. I was raised to be a strong woman, and that includes dismissing people who think I should or should not do something based on my sex. 

I respect the work that past feminists have done. But I reject the idea that feminism is a monolith, a way to group half the population and have them act as one force. There are lots of feminisms, as nuanced as the men and women who claim the word. I identify with some feminist movements more than others. My feminism values the voice of women—in the workplace, in academia, in government. It treats women as equal to men, and judges a person on their merit, experience, and morals. My feminism abhors abortion and sexual promiscuity, is ok with the theological justification of an all-male priesthood in the Catholic Church, and thinks taking the husband’s name in marriage makes sense. My feminism stems from my mother, grandmother, and aunts. It stems from being raised to naturally assume the sexes were equal. It stems from striving to carry on the legacy of great-grandmothers who voted in every single election since women gained that right. My family’s women comprise of staunch Democrats and staunch Republicans, but both sides agree on my right to hold a staunch opinion and vote accordingly. My feminism is about that right, not about mindlessly doing as Gloria Steinem tells me.

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