Explaining Feminsim

12:02:00 AM

Greetings from Copenhagen! As many of my readers know I'm in Denmark chaperoning my 80 year old grandmother at a conference.  It's been fun but also exhausting making sure she knows where she's going, finding food that she likes to eat (she only eats spinach, onions, cheese, salmon, and French fries and only drinks sprite and coffee) and figuring out the logistics for places she wants to visit outside of the city.  She is also a bit eccentric and is passionate about topics that aren't entirely my cup of tea. She also talks about them consistently enough that it becomes a bit of a headache when they're the only things you've talked about for 5 days straight.  So, one of my strategies for changing the topic is to transition questions to ones about her, her childhood, her hopes and dreams, etc. Yesterday at dinner after listening to here talk about cognitive testing for dementia patients for probably the 50th time I bluntly asked her, "Nana, are you a feminist?" Frankly she was caught off guard by that question, gave her signature coy and bashful grin, and fired back "well, what does it mean?" My response: "Do you think women have the right to vote?" She quickly said "Well of course!" What about the right to own property? Absolutely. Do they have the right to pursue an education? Yes.  Do they deserve equal pay to their male colleagues? Of course. Do they have the right to pursue their passions and careers of their choosing, whether that's a mother, a professional or both? Her own 45 year career as a physician and a mother of three pretty much was a resounding yes to that one. After she responded back, I confirmed that she was in act a feminist and returned to eating my delicious scallops for dinner.

The point of this story is that I think it is crucial to have positive discussions on the meaning of feminism. The stories of women like my nana are part of the feminist narrative and part of growing up as a woman. She faced harsh criticism about becoming a doctor in India in the mid 1950s. She struggled to raise three kids and pursue her career aspirations. These are things that still impact women's lives.  I hate that feminist is often considered a "dirty" word and has been thrown away as a thing of the past. Feminism is just as important now as it was when women where getting the right to vote or the right to choose reproductive health services.  Please share your own stories about conversations you've had about the "F" word below! I'd love to hear them.

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  1. I couldn't agree with you more, Leah! Sadly, I find that the biggest fault in a lot of discourse on feminism is that women are the main contributors. Which I will explain. I have had such moving, inspiring, challenging conversations with women about feminism that I feel as though my opinions about what 'F'eminism represents have changed immensely, even in the past year. Theirs are the voices everyone should be hearing, as they have been educated, insightful and forward-moving. However, it really only took one or two chats with some close male friends during a time in which I felt extremely vulnerable living abroad as a woman, to realize the enormity and breadth of opinions I was not hearing. This experience led to a new habit of mine: incorporating 'gender' into all discussions about feminism. If you're talking about feminism, which I personally define as gender equality, you're talking about relationships between many different identities and people. The 'F' word, a word that is neither clean nor dirty but rich with historical significance, desperately needs allies that will promote it from more diverse backgrounds. Ideally, conversations in unlikely places, with voices from all genders contemplating and discussing the importance of gender mainstreaming and a life more aware of the 'gendered lens,' would probably make me the happiest feminist on the planet! So yes. Let's have conversations, and share stories, and kivetch to each other about frustrations that accompany different gender identities around the world today. ... But let's also always try to notice who is not present during these discussions and include them in the next ones! Maybe in that way we can re-frame a word that, to many, still sadly represents unshaved legs, hating men and an over-sexualized Beyoncé.

  2. I 100% agree with you Kiely. Discussions of feminism must happen within the context of perspectives across the gender spectrum. It's crucial to have multiple voices as part of the conversation.