So I have decided to get a better idea of what it means to people to be a ‘feminist’. This was sparked by a friend of mine who went on a date on Saturday night. It was a first date and the man she went out with arranged a place to meet for some drinks. He bought two rounds of drinks and they were getting on very well. He then said to her ‘aren’t you going to get the third round in? I gave you a chance to get the second round and then gave you the benefit of the doubt by getting them myself’. My friend is a very ‘traditional’ girl – partly to do with culture and partly to do with her own views on men and women. She laughed and explained it was a first date and she believed that if a man asks you out he should pay. It sparked a debate between them and he explained that he was a real feminist. He put it down to the fact he was ‘artsy’ and people in ‘that world believe in feminism’. (Thanks for believing you speak for the whole of the Arts world). It got me thinking, does being a feminist mean that the roles for courting are now the same? Should a woman be just as willing to carry her groom through the threshold? Should he wear a fake breast and feed his newborn baby? Should she court him? Should she open the door and let him through first? Does feminism mean that men and women do not have differences?
The definition of the word feminism is different to different people. I have taken some time to ask men and women from all different backgrounds and cultures what it means to them and what being a feminist means in a relationship between a man and woman.
The dictionary definition of a feminist (dictionary.com):
Advocating social, political, legal and economic rights for women equal to those of men.
The world, in my opinion, owes a lot of thanks to feminism and there are still a lot of issues that are being fought or highlighted in regards to women’s rights that, without feminism would go unnoticed. I have listed just some of the changes made below by people who have fought for women’s rights:
- Women were once largely absent from standard history texts.
- Women did not used to be allowed to vote
- Women could not have credit cards in their own name
- Women could not legally terminate a pregnancy
- Women could not attend certain Ivy League colleges
- Women could not become an Astronaut
- Women could not join the Army
- Marital rape was ok
- Sexual harassment at work was not illegal
In the Western world a lot has changed for women and we now have many equal rights to men. There are now lots of issues being highlighted across the rest of the world and feminists, are fighting hard to stand up for women.
Often I hear people using the term ‘feminist’ to make a woman feel like less of a woman. It will be used to try to put down her independence, her career or her relationship. It is a way of defeminizing a woman.
I asked the people around me what they thought. I asked men and women, some older, some younger, some gay, some straight, some single, some married. I asked two questions, the first was what feminism meant in everyday life, the second about what feminism meant in a relationship.
The general feedback about feminism in everyday life seems to always come down to the workplace. They believed that a woman should be paid the same as a man in the same role and that they should be able to apply for any job a man can.
One friend of mine is doing a college course in plastering and she has had a lot of negative response about doing so, particularly by males. Not in the sense that they are ridiculing her but in the sense that they can’t understand why she would do that being a woman. She has even had comments about doing a nice easy job instead, one where she can look nice instead of learning this trade. For her feminism is about being able to do whatever she wants to do regardless of gender and not being judged or believed to be unfeminine.
Nothing was really highlighted about political rights, medical rights or even really social rights – i.e credit cards. I like the idea that we have come so far as to not even recognise there was ever a difference in these now, although they should not be forgotten. It shows that everyone involved in fighting for these rights really accomplished something, so much so, that they are a natural way of life now in certain parts of the world.
The feedback I had about being a feminist in a relationship was a little more varied. However, it has been quite common that people view a feminist as typically a woman who will be challenging, difficult or stubborn. She will expect to be regarded the same as a man but with the man still paying on dates and pulling out a chair or opening doors. Perhaps it would be fair to say that there is a feeling of hypocrisy. She is also seen as somebody fighting against the entire male race and she is typically not feminine, I even had a friend describe it as unfortunate that a feminist is often thought of as ‘a woman with short hair, tom-boyish with unladylike mannerisms’. This is so true and often joked about socially. The stereotype is quite ironic – A feminist, is not feminine.
Some of my friend’s view feminism as being able to be respected and seen as strong and succesful in their careers, as much as a man would in the same role, and even though that is what THEY are, they don’t view themselves as feminists because they are a stay at home mum cooking dinner for their husband. I found this interesting.
I had one response that I found so important and so right that I was almost sad to see that it was neglected to be highlighted in every other response I received, it was in regards to feminism in a relationship – I quote:
‘It would also be about respecting each other’s bodies and not forcing the other person to do what they don’t feel comfortable doing. ‘
This is a great point because like I mentioned earlier, at one time marital rape was not considered a crime. Without feminism this would still continue to be acceptable. By regarding a woman as equal it means that she is equal sexually too and her body has to be respected. Something still not adhered to in many countries today. Sexual abuse and domestic violence are very serious and very damaging to a person. Can you imagine living in a world where this is deemed acceptable? Many people do and even those that don’t and still suffer it often don’t feel supported enough to come forward. This was just such an important point that is actually very much to do with feminism (whether or not you are for or against it) and yet it is forgotten far too easily, by myself included.
I started to question people a little bit more to find out whether or not you could be a feminist but still have a traditional relationship.
Once asked this question and given time to think, many of the people I spoke to actually agreed you could be a feminist and still have a traditional relationship. That there are in fact differences between men and women that need to be respected. That these differences don’t make one gender more important than the other.
I talk a lot about the roles of men and women and you hear me always support the idea of being a strong and independent woman. I do not believe men are better than women or vice versa (maybe I do take my own side occasionally, but come on, girl power and all)!
I was thinking about a young woman I met in Bali who was telling me that her husband forbid her to work so she couldn’t work. We knew each other well and I leant to her and said ‘Where I come from, I do what I want to do, no man can tell me what I can and can’t do’. She laughed because she knew I was telling the truth, but she also laughed because she didn’t believe she could ever get away with having the same attitude. It angered me that people could feel so controlled. That women believed they were lower than men. If I could teach every woman on this planet to stand together and unite and empower each other to understand their worth, I would. I would teach them that no man has the right to take from you, no man should be paid higher than you simply for being a man, no man can control your life.
I believe that a woman should be ambitious and not be defined by a man. She should be educated and follow her dreams. She should be self-sufficient. She should make her own money and have her own career. She should take herself out and spoil herself. She should love herself. She should have choice and control over her own life.
Doesn’t this make me a feminist?
Yet I believe that a man should be the head of the household. The protector, the provider (to a certain extent), the one to take out the rubbish, he should be respected by his kids and they should fear crossing him. I believe a woman should raise the children (however she so pleases of course – she can work or not work that is none of my business). I believe a woman should nurture and care for her man, she should take care of him by being a woman. The love of a woman is different to the love of a man. We both provide different things. Being equal does not mean we are the same. I believe a man should impress and court a woman and she should allow him to do so. I believe anything else emasculates or defeminizes either gender. This is not healthy and not in line with our animal instincts. For me I do not find the idea of carrying my groom over the threshold attractive, I expect him to open a door or pull out a chair. I expect him to be as much of a man to me as I will be a woman to him. That is still equal.
I believe that a traditional and feminist relationship is healthy. Feminism is not about attacking the entire male race. It is not about proving our physical strength to be the same. It is not about becoming a man, but knowing that by being a woman we are as strong and magnificent and powerful as any man could be, but in our own way. The way of a woman. Most men I know and have spoken to, agree with this.
How has the word feminist been changed to this stereotype that most people today believe it means? I myself have pictured this stereotype when hearing the word feminist. I do not now.
What do you think?