Monday, January 9, 2012

I am a feminist

I am a feminist. Perhaps more accurately I should say I am becoming a feminist, because I have only begun to become aware of what this means and the implications it holds for how I live. But I have come to recognize and decided that I will no longer be ashamed to declare that I am a feminist.

How can that be? It it even possible for a man to be a feminist? The succinct answer is: yes, it is. Consider the basic definition of feminism, as I've read it on several good blogs recently:

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

Another definition, this one pulled from the dictionary and posted on this site, states that feminism is:

the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.

I wholeheartedly affirm the first definition above and only reluctantly affirm the second due to the use of the word “theory,” which I suppose is obligatory because of the -ism at the end of the word. I certainly don't consider the equality of men and women to be a theory, although in practical reality it often remains only that. So I am a feminist because I believe absolutely in the equality of men and women. Women are people and worthy of the same treatment that men receive in society. I believe that the equality of men and women is a fundamental, universal truth that should be expressed and upheld in every culture.

I first became interested in feminism after living overseas and seeing how women are still so severely subjugated in so many places. I felt angry, frustrated and grieved to see women I know treated as second-class, inferior beings by the men around them. I become angry when I see a woman's identity defined solely by her role as mother, wife or daughter and her value determined primarily by her ability to bear male offspring. I believe that such behavior should result in outrage in any human. The marginalization and dehumanization of women is not a minor, peripheral issue in our modern world. It is a central, key issue. As Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn state in their profound book Half the Sky:

We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world.

As I have begun to delve more deeply into the discussions of the feminist community, I have come to realize that the equality of women and men is not only the paramount moral challenge in the developing world, it remains a (the?) significant moral challenge in the developed world as well. Previously I would have argued that women in the Western world have it pretty good. Compared to women in the developing world, this is largely true. But having it better than a severely oppressed group of people is not the same as enjoying equality and I have begun to understand this better.

I have been awakened to examine more carefully how women are portrayed (and often not portrayed) in media and to make my choices about entertainment more carefully in light of this. Someone (I must confess that I do not have the link ready at hand) pointed out that in the recently released movie Tin Tin, there are NO significant female characters. While acknowledging that the movie is a flight of fantasy, what does it say to those who watch it that this fanciful world contains no meaningful women? While watching the TV show NCIS the other day I realized that, although there are a couple significant female characters, they do not fill half the roles in the show, although women make up roughly half the population of our world. Would men be satisfied if they were given only a quarter or less of meaningful roles in movies and television? I think not. Yet NCIS is by no means the exception, unless it is exceptional simply for having at least one decent female character.

Perhaps this seems insignificant. After all, what does it really matter how women are portrayed (or not) in the media? In answer to this question I refer you to the website If possible, watch the film because it gives good insight into the significance of this issue.

There are many other compelling arguments demonstrating that equality of women and men remains an unreached goal in the West and in coming blogs I hope to explore some of them, although there are many great blogs out there that are doing so even better than I could hope to. I have added a few of them to my blog list at the right. (As a disclaimer, I do not necessarily affirm everything each of these writers/bloggers posts, but their arguments are still worth considering and taking into account. I do not have to fully agree with someone in order to be able to learn from her or him.) For me the most central reason to stand up for women is that they are created equally in the image of our Creator. Unfortunately, those who call themselves by his (her?) name are often the least willing to put this equality into practice. But more on that in my next post.

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