In the beginning of her "Odyssey" article, "I Am Not A Feminist, and That Is OK," Amanda Sankey blatantly states that she is not a feminist. She goes on to say that when she tells people this, “they assume [she doesn't] understand." She denies that assumption, claiming to have a grasp on the concept of feminism, but simply does not agree with what the feminist movement stands for. I am here to refute that claim. I think Amanda has a vast misconception of what feminists believe, and I would like to outline exactly what the problems in her thinking are, and where they come from.
I believe I need a disclaimer before I continue. My purpose for this article is not to demean Amanda or anyone who agrees with her views. I do not mean to offend her or anything she believes. She articulated her views, and I am simply arguing from a different perspective.
Amanda's first assumption is that feminists' main goal both historically and currently is closing the pay gap. This assumption is simply incorrect. I do not think she is ignorant to the fact that feminists tackle other issues, but, in the introduction to her piece, she simplifies feminism to “equal pay." An understanding of the history of feminism is absolutely necessary before even speaking on the topic, so I'm going to give a short summary. First-wave feminists fought for the right to vote, second-wave feminists fought for equal job and education opportunity, reproductive rights, and Title IX legislation, among other things. The third wave, which we are currently experiencing, has taken more of an intersectional approach to activism. Historically, American feminism has been dominated by straight, white, middle/upper-class women. Now, in the third wave (what Amanda labels as the “fourth wave," which hasn't happened yet), feminists approach issues regarding different classes, varied sexual identities, and diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds. As we explore the intersections of different identities, feminists have fully recognized the complex roles of modern women.
I do not believe that Amanda understands the concept of intersectionality that third-wave feminists embrace. We see women as mothers and wives, but we also believe that is not the only role that women must have. Amanda makes simple statements such as “it is OK to like cooking," and “it is OK to take care of your husband and children," but that, “feminists wouldn't have you believe [these things are OK]." Her perspective on the issue is very clearly uninformed. Every feminist I know would agree that being a housewife or mother is a perfectly acceptable role for a woman to take (as long as she is not forced into it). Feminists who do not hold that believe are few and far between. I believe Amanda's misconceptions come from a lack of understanding, as many people have, about what modern feminism means. Second-wave feminism, which occurred from the 1960s to the early 1980s, created the idea of feminists as “bra-burners" and “man-haters," when, in reality, they were only trying to counteract the widely held notion of the early 20th century that a woman's sole place was in the home. There were riots, and women who did hate men, and some bra burners — but, in general, the second-wave movement was more about institutional change, and using personal injustices to create political change.
Unfortunately, the negative stereotypes of feminism have carried into the 21st century. To counteract what you may be thinking about feminism, I'll give you a quick list of what it is and is not:
1. Feminism is about equality between men and women. It is not about female domination
2. Feminism does not shame women for taking on traditional gender roles, it does condemn institutions for enforcing them, rather than attempting to expand women's roles.
3. Feminists don't hate men. We just don't. Men can be pretty awesome. However, we don't like the patriarchy, which does not mean “all men."
4. Feminism no longer revolves around white women, or, at least, it isn't supposed to (but that's a topic for another day).
All right, now that we have that cleared up, it is time to talk more about some other fallacies in Amanda's arguments. As I said before, feminism does condemn the enforcement of traditional gender roles because feminists believe that, due to the social construction of gender, not every woman or man is required to adhere to the roles society has given them (which, again, does not mean feminists hate people who do adhere to these roles). This being said, Amanda's statement that the man is the head of the household, the provider, protector, and the sole leader of his family, is extremely problematic. I understand that, in general, women have more “nurturing" tendencies, but suggesting that men should be (at worst) domineering or (at best) the main leader in a relationship or marriage is concerning for many reasons. First off, putting men in dominant roles gives them overwhelming expectations of masculinity and sexual superiority that they cannot always fulfill. When a man does not conform to society's expectations or perform his masculinity “correctly," a number of negative things can happen (including sexual assault, domestic abuse, and other types of violence). On the other hand, giving men more power over women on the basis of biological structure is just inherently wrong. I don't know how else to explain that one.
Amanda says she doesn't understand why feminists take on so much “pressure," when I first read that, I was confused about what she meant. I can only guess that she is speaking about the pressure of the activism that feminists often take on when they see systemic inequalities. However, I do not look at feminism as being a burden, but a privilege. The fact that I can speak my mind freely, as a woman, is a fairly new concept. In addition, I believe it is fully possible to recognize injustices without feeling the “pressure" of them. Feminism can simply be a lifestyle: raising your sons to treat women equally, letting your daughter wear an army costume instead of a princess dress, etc. Being a feminist does not necessarily mean you're at a protest every weekend, or even working in a feminist organization. Small changes, like raising your children differently or calling out everyday misogyny, can lead to systemic changes. I don't know if Amanda really understands that the problems feminists are addressing are systemic. But 1 in 5 college women being sexually assaulted is not an isolated problem, nor are the millions of girls trapped in human trafficking rings, or the ongoing oppression of women of color in the media. I could go on and on about the problems our society has, but that is not the point of this piece. The point is that, as individuals, it may not seem like we can do much…but when women get together, they get a lot done (and feel less “pressure").
A troubling point that Amanda makes is in reference to the biblical concept of “women submitting to their husbands." I do appreciate that she says that women should not submit to anyone but their husbands, but I do not believe women should submit to anyone in the first place. Submission to one's husband, in the Bible, meant that a woman was supposed to let her husband lead in every way, but also that her husband was to treat her with respect and praise her fragility and beauty. It is important to put that text into context. In the time period the text was written, women were basically property of their husbands. Clearly, that is no longer the case (at least in developed countries). Considering the context, there are still two main problems with the biblical concept of submission: placing men over women, and highlighting the concept of female fragility. In modern reality, “submission" has often translated to oppressive husbands and silent wives. While I respect her belief in biblical texts, Amanda does not truly understand the implications of the word “submission" in our society. A marriage should not be led by the husband, because the husband is not inherently more qualified than the wife. Ideally, a husband and wife's relationship should depend on their abilities to listen to one another and make decisions together for the good of the relationship or family. In addition, the belief of women as delicate beings who need to be coddled or handled with care is just completely false. Of course, women deserve respect and care, but when women are viewed as “fragile," care becomes condescending.
A little more on religion, Amanda says, “it's OK to believe in God and traditionalist values." Well, of course it's OK to believe in God. The feminist movement does not condemn religion. But when traditional values have become oppressive to 50% of the population, that is when holding those ideals becomes wrong. Feminism is not counter to religion, but it is counter to the perpetuation of rigid roles for women that no longer give them freedom to be themselves.
To finish up, I want to address what I found to be the most concerning quote from Amanda's piece:
“I do not want the power that men are assumed to have."
If you clicked on the link about the patriarchy above, or if you already know what it is (good for you!), you know that men's power is not just assumed. Men still overwhelmingly control government, business, education, and several other aspects of society. That is real power that is simply not being shared with women. Why someone would not want an equal balance of power is beyond me…but I'm not judging you, Amanda. That's what the patriarchy does. Men and, more commonly, other women can make you feel inferior, like you can't handle or don't need the power. And that makes me sad, because women are strong and brave and intuitive and wonderful, so we should be working together, not competing.
At its core, feminism is about choice, inclusion, and equality, not about maintaining the status quo, certain classes or races of women being held more highly than others, or female domination. I understand the desire to be a housewife, to have children, and to cook as much as you want. Those things are not wrong. They are all valuable, but I think that, for the women who have different goals, feminism enables them to choose a role for themselves that would not have previously been available to them. Our culture is progressing, but we are nowhere near being done with feminist issues, it goes much further than equal pay. Please, do not think I look down on anyone for not being a feminist, but I do think that their choice not to do so comes from a very skewed perception of the movement. At the least, I believe that all women have an obligation to respect where feminists have gotten them, and how feminists are expanding options for their sons and daughters.