“What is feminism to you and are you a feminist?” It was a question posed by some of the women in my sister circle during an evening gathering. In the black community, we know that we have traditionally been excluded from the traditional feminist conversation and that opened up the door for womanism – an off-shoot movement often focused on black women. During the first wave of feminism, much of the focus was on white women being able to vote and own property, while the second wave sought to provide women with reproductive rights, allow them to take control of their sexuality, work outside of the home and to achieve equality in other facets of life. For black women and many other women of color, we typically weren’t viewed as equals to white women and though you had black women fighting for those equal rights, there were other systems of oppression that kept black women from achieving “equality”.
All that being said, feminism in the broadest and most inclusive sense, allowed women of all walks of life to open doors that would have been otherwise shut. Even if all of the advances of the civil rights movement would have happened, black women might still be unable to vote, own property, or decide to run for public office had it not been for the fights that feminists had to gain equal footing. Yet, there is a group of mostly young women who are casting off feminism. The anti-feminist movement exists on a Tumblr page called, “Women Against Feminism” and has expanded through other social media. Recently, it’s been getting a lot of attention and even has its own meme featuring cats. The irony of the anti-movement is that it underscores the very principles of feminism. One woman says, “I embrace what makes me different from men. Being different isn’t the same as being lower or less important than men. #WomenAgainstFeminism”
Poor dear. Only if she understood, feminism is about being equal to men, despite our differences and having the same rights and protections.
It’s obvious that many of these young women likely grew up without understanding what feminism was and is and have only heard about its most radicalized and fringe members and notorious moments. It’s like learning about something through hearsay. Most of it will be wrong and half of it will be lies or misinterpretations. In all honesty, the word feminism or feminist has the ability to strike a polar chord with most people and for the very historical reasons that I briefly mentioned before. But ignorance is no excuse and this moment serves as an opportunity to educate young women and anyone else who remains clueless about what feminism truly is. All of the fights of the past about women gaining equality have allowed these young women to even have a choice about so many of the things that they have and will encounter in their lives.
The truth about feminism is that we still need the movement toward equality because we know that the fights still exist. There are issues like reproductive rights and equal pay, childcare and family leave that have yet to be won. Too many women are still struggling to achieve true equality in all facets of our society. The fact that these young women are disillusioned into thinking that the war has been won, shows the progress that our foremothers have been able to achieve, but it’s all for naught if we don’t teach our daughters how we got here and how much further we have to go.