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Why Feminism?

Let me break it down: I am a feminist so that my daughter, and all daughters, are safe walking at night, are valued for their minds and deeds instead of their appearance, are taken seriously when they speak up at home or in school, can seek any level of education they desire, will not be sexually harassed by their bosses, will have access to contraception when and if they decide they want it, will be believed and have recourse if they are raped or abused, can be elected to the highest positions in government, and are recognized for the incredible labor and contributions to society of bearing and raising children. I am a feminist so that if our daughters choose not to bear a child, they do not lose their lives due to a deadly infection from an unsafe, unsterile “back-alley” abortion.

One definition of feminism is “a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women.” Does this definition surprise you? Maybe you thought feminism was about hating men? Or burning bras? Or was over? Or was just for middle-class white women?

Notice the definition says there are a range of feminist ideologies. We see a range because women’s lives are lived in different contexts. The day of the recent Women’s March on DC, there were similar rallies and marches in 60 countries around the world including Kenya, Germany, Canada, Italy, Lebanon, Australia, Serbia, Uganda, Greece, India, Mexico and Poland. The women marching that day probably did not agree on everything, and had different priorities, but in the face of Donald Trump’s blatant misogyny, racism, and denigration of immigrants and Muslims, they were at least temporarily united. Whether that unity will hold and be effective in dismantling this new regime and nationalist grab for power is yet to be seen. Unfortunately, history would show us that time and time again, women of privilege can be co-opted to overlook the complexities and urgencies of less privileged women. But not my feminism.

Feminism involves movements because women have had to organize and fight for their rights: the right to vote, the right to own land, the right to use contraception even if they weren’t married, the right to an education, the right to be in the military, the right to run for political office and to participate in government and policy decisions, the right to determine when to have sex, the right to be a faith leader, the right to equal pay for equal work, the right not to be considered a man’s property, the right to choose a profession…and the list goes on. None of these rights have come without struggle. They have been opposed, often violently, by men, and sometimes by other women.

There is a Women’s History Month in recognition that the experiences of women have been ignored, have been left out and minimized in traditional narratives, just as Black History Month is necessary because the majority that controls our education system is entrenched in the perspective of people who “have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white” as Ta-Nahesi Coates explains in his extended letter to his son.

Kamala Harris, the Democratic Senator from California who spoke at the Women’s March on DC, stated that the economy, national security, criminal justice, immigration and health care are all women’s issues. Harris said, “We are tired as women of being relegated to simply being thought of as a particular constituency or demographic.”

In addition to the list above, I would include, as women’s issues: child care, housing, education, the military, the media, sports, and the arts. Can you think of an area of life in which women’s rights and perspectives are irrelevant? Do you see how the traditional work of women — cooking, cleaning, clothing, and caring goes uncompensated? Is made invisible? Is consumed greedily while the cost to women is ignored?

I end with this thought: there is a lot of discussion about who we commemorate in our community. People are starting to think critically about the preponderance of shrines to the Confederacy. As a feminist, I’d like to broaden that discussion to consider why so many of our statues and commemorations are of men. Where are the statues of women? Where are the major holidays recognizing the contributions of women? Where are the buildings and streets named for women? What woman would you most like to see honored?

Gail Esterman

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Vinegar Hill Magazine is a space that is designed to support and project a more inclusive social narrative, to promote entrepreneurship, and to be a beacon for art, culture, and politics in Central Virginia.


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