Okay, I am going to drop the F bomb… ready?
Did you scoff? Did you roll your eyes? Or did you sit up and smile?
The stereotype of a feminist used to mean a man-hating Amazon with bad hair, prickly legs and orthopedic shoes. Old news, right?
But there is still a shameful residue associated with the word. Admitting you’re a feminist, feels a little like admitting you’re a Sister-Wife to an Elder Mormon. But possibly the prevailing attitude nowadays is more, “Hey! We don’t need labels! Aren’t we beyond all that?”
I have to admit I was in both of those camps. But in the course of the last couple of months, I have gone from knee jerk recoil to a full-hearted yes! Here’s why:
Back in May I was invited to be a panelist at the 2nd annual Forbes Women’s Summit, which is the brainchild of Moira Forbes.
There were women of all ages, all professions, all ethnicities, and all nationalities, coming together to share, brainstorm, and expand our horizons. How cool is that?
My panel took place on the first day and was comprised of five women. Our topic was, “The New Face of Feminism.” Carly Fiorina moderated it. She is the first woman to lead a fortune 100 company and is at the forefront of empowering women to be agents of change.
Next was Khalida Brohi, a young Pakistani woman who fled her small village in the dead of night after witnessing the “honor killing” of her 16-year-old friend after the friend married someone she loved instead of the family-approved choice. She has since started the Sughar Empowerment Society to help rural Pakistani women with education, skills and promote economic growth. Khalida quoted her father’s galvanizing advice: “My dear, don’t cry, strategize.”
There was Maysoon Sayid, a female comic, who is also disabled and Muslim. This trifecta she turns into the very rocket fuel she needs to succeed, be powerful and be really funny. Check her out on youtube, you won’t be able to stop laughing or stop yourself from falling in love with her.
Finally, there was Diane Von Furstenberg. She started designing in 1970 and has since reinvented herself numerous times as a fashion brand and remains a powerhouse today. DVF quotes her mother (who survived the Holocaust) with two sentences that deeply impacted her life: “Being a woman is a huge advantage” and “Fear is not an option.”
These women were feminists. It didn’t matter if they were wearing a business suit, a traditional Muslim sari, or hip New York black, they were the real deal and it was electrifying. They came to the issue from very different paths but ended on the same position: a level playing field for all.
I won’t be self-deprecating and say, “what was I doing on this stage?” …But come on! What was I doing on this stage? What did I have to contribute? I wasn’t even sure what the definition of feminism was. So, in the weeks before the Forum, I feverishly read and researched women’s issues and the history of feminism. There were five or six BIG QUESTIONS the panel was going to tackle, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself.
I read a wonderful book, A Call to Action, by President Jimmy Carter.
He wrote, “I have become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls. This is not just a women’s issue. It is not confined to the poorest countries. It affects us all.”
Okay, my first lesson: we are not “beyond all that.”
My second lesson came from my 13-year-old daughter. On a hike one day, I asked her what she thought feminism means. Without a pause she answered, “A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
I was stunned! “Where did you learn that?”
“It’s in Beyonce’s song ‘***Flawless,’” she replied and then she quoted Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk We Should All Be Feminists mimicking her English accent perfectly. “Wow…and are you a feminist?” I asked. “Oh, yeah,” she replied, “Isn’t everyone?”
My third lesson was revelatory; I realized my original recoil was just an ingrained assumption, much like other ingrained assumptions over the ages: women belong in the home, shouldn’t have the vote, access to birth control or any number of beliefs that women first accepted, then questioned and finally challenged.
All of this led me to the conclusion that, yes! I am a feminist. I want equality for all women on all fronts. I mean, to paraphrase my daughter, who doesn’t, right?
On the day of the panel I sat backstage pouring over my 10 pages of notes; trying to pretend that chatting with Diane Von Furstenberg was not a big deal. She said things like, “I have never met a woman who is not strong. She might not show it, but her strength always comes out.” I said things like, “I like your fishnets.”
She also burst my bubble by glancing at the panel questions and announcing, “Oh… they are all really the same question, no? Just … rephrased.” “Yes,” I agreed and surreptitiously shoved my 10 pages of sweaty notes in my purse.
The panel was a big success, the women were fascinating, smart and insightful, and I believe I held my own. I know I learned a lot.
So I want to ask the What The Flicka? community the first question and according the DVF the only one:
What does feminism mean to you and are you a feminist?
I ask this question because I think the first thing that needs to happen is an inquiry, which then moves into discussion and then into action. As Harvey Milk said, “Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.”
Wouldn’t it be lovely if feminism were unnecessary because it has been replaced with equality?
I would love to hear your voices. What are your thoughts?