“Are you a feminist?”
Then, “I don’t know what that means,” one student stammered. “Maybe?” another student responded, hesitantly. “No, I don’t know what it means to be a feminist in the male context,” another (male, obviously) student answered confidently. And, lastly, “Yes?” a student said, posing it as a question more so than an answer.
In an informal interview for a class project, in which my group and I eventually made a video of and showed our class, most of the students we randomly approached in the halls were initially very willing to answer what we assured them was going to be a simple, no-fuss, set of yes-or-no questions. Once they learned for which class (Feminist Legal Theory) and the fact that they were going to get filmed, nearly all of them grew somewhat anxious to get away.
Later on, a professor, when asked to answer the question of whether or not he was a feminist, answered, “ . . . I would say that I understand the values of feminist analysis and sympathize with the project of feminism. But I wouldn’t say that I’m a feminist in the same way that I would say I’m a Democrat or a Republican.”
The general consensus, from what I could gather while working on this project, read to me very clearly: the theory and idea of feminism is complicated, it comes with many an implication, and there apparently remains either a negative or too politically-charged of a connotation to the term or label for most lay people to be really comfortable enough to dub themselves easily as such. On the very first day of class, Professor Pruitt had us introduce ourselves and then answer the same exact question of whether or nor we considered ourselves feminists. Most of us answered yes, almost plainly and surely. I myself was included in this batch, and I was definitely someone who sat there on the very first day, entirely unsure of what that term really meant. Months later, I emerged after reading an abundance of articles on a variety of feminist topics, ranging from essentialism, radical feminism, pregnancy, issues in the workplace, and varying definitions over time of the term.
Over these past few months, my relevant and academic knowledge on the topic of feminism has definitely expanded ten-fold, but it still has very much stayed in tact that if I were to place a sweet and simple definition or explanation of the label, it would remain: equality and empowerment.
I can now confidently apply the many theories that I’m now comfortable throwing into conversation in the academic sphere of life, from intersectionality to essentialism. I’ve read, understood, and discussed, at great length, an incredibly wide range of articles and topics on the related subject of feminist legal theory. By no means do I claim to be an expert. But, I do claim the status of a fairly adequate student of the topic.
I have come far and I know much more on the topic than I did before I’d enrolled into this class, and I’m appreciative and very happy with what I’ve learned and now know and feel much more empowered and enlightened. But, still, what has also hammered into place for me after all this time is that, despite learning so much, I personally still don’t think that, while valuable and interesting, the scholarly or academic route is entirely necessary for those who want to support the cause of feminism. The issue may remain that while there is an obvious barrier between those sitting comfortably in the ivory tower and the layperson who’s often unaware and turned off by big words and ideas such as intersectionality and essentialism, there doesn’t ultimately have to be a problem with understanding, appreciating, and acting on behalf of the title of a feminist.
Learning about the strength of a woman doesn’t require a degree. Before I knew a lick of information about feminist legal theory, I’d already observed that we are able to give birth to a child – something that a man is literally incapable of doing physically (they can open our jars of spaghetti for us while we do that). We are strong beings who have overcome centuries of oppression ranging from issues like discrimination and rape to refusal to rid of our names when we marry. We are resilient beings who menstruate – are men forced to look at the sight of their own blood on a monthly basis? No. We are physically curvier and objectively and perhaps just personally, I think that on the whole, we are physically more beautiful. This is not to get into the matter of trading gender stories or to start up the timeless debate of which sex is the better or stronger or funnier or better-looking, this is simply just to recognize that it is what it is: females are powerful, females are amazing, females are strong.
That is, has always been, and will always be, to me, feminism.